Have you ever dreamed of packing up your city life, driving down to the countryside and starting over among rolling hills, endless sky views and lungfuls of fresh air? Tube chaos replaced by country lanes, office blocks traded for tree-lined moors, and no more city hustle or bustle. It's an idyllic vision - but is it realistic?
Just over a year ago, former speech therapist turned lifestyle blogger Sara Tasker did just that, with her partner Rory and young daughter Orla.
She’s been documenting the entire move on her blog Meandorla.co.uk, and now exclusively for Stylist.co.uk, shares her thoughts here on what it’s really like to pack-up and move to the country as a thirty-something professional.
18 months ago my fiancé and I, lifelong Manchester dwellers, relocated to a tiny village in the Yorkshire hills. It was a move prompted by a lot of things; the birth of our daughter, changes to our jobs, my ever-growing itch to escape the house that he'd bought with a previous partner.
Mostly, though, it came from our craving for space and a little more green than the weeds between the pavement cracks. Our red-brick terrace house looked out only on more red-brick walls; the only wildlife we ever was our neighbour's staffy snarling in the yard.
It's a dream for a lot of us, but we found most people were saving their plans for later in life. We didn't want to wait: why spend the next decade dreaming when we could make it a reality?
We spent every weekend escaping to greener landscapes, then driving back home again. Why not wake up where we wanted to be?
Ever-anxious and over prepared, I searched for stories from people our age who had already made the move. I wanted to know what to expect - the pros and cons, but I found very little information.
Over a year later, I've got the inside scoop. So for anyone dreaming along similar lines, here's how it really goes...
Property is more affordable
We quickly realised that the further and longer you're prepared to travel to get to a city, the more house you get for your money. The more remote the location, the more affordable the property - but a car is pretty essential. Our search area grew wider and wider, until the dream houses became within reach.
The cafes aren't the same
Though most have finally left the instant coffee behind, you're unlikely to find a chai latte within a 20 mile radius of our home (I'm including at our home in that, as I have zero idea what a chai latte actually is). I still haven't found anywhere where it feels OK to work on my laptop all day. The new deli-cafe that opened near us had to install two formal tables with tablecloths and chair covers at the request of their older customers who dislike the bistro style. It's just... different.
The phone reception's crap and the WiFi is slower
At first this was a negative: my first few weeks were spent hiking to the top of the nearest hill to receive text messages and check my voicemail - but now I've grown to love it. If it's really important, people can email me. I've fallen out of love with being at everyone's beck and call, anyway. Though a faster Netflix speed would always be nice...
There are fewer options
Having lived in nice, gentrified areas of the city for so long, it was easy to take the sheer availability of everything for granted. Of course, where population is reduced, so is choice: from education styles to types of cheese to takeaway standards, your options are limited. We still haven't found a decent Chinese; we drive half an hour for handmade sourdough bread. Both of these things are outrageously first world problems.
You get to know people
I was worried about how this would happen - making new friends as an adult can be surprisingly difficult - but out in the sticks people seem to be a lot more chatty. Within a month we knew most of the village on first-name terms, something we'd never achieved with even our nextdoor neighbours in the suburbs. We're invited to parties and barbecues and fetes. There's a proper sense of community.
There are like-minded souls
The very same things that inspire and excite us about the place we live appeal to other people like us, and you invariably cross paths. I'd found and teamed up with two brilliant creatives within my first year of living in Yorkshire; this simply didn't happen when I lived in the city. That's not to say there weren't plenty of them there, of course, but when the pot is larger, perhaps it seems less imperative to look.
It takes time to fit in
It took well over a year for the owners of our local pub to stop glaring at us mistrustfully whenever we went in. Occasionally now they might even smile.
Without all the buildings and pollution to cozy up with, temperatures tend to be 1-2 degrees cooler in rural areas. This means more snow, colder winds, more pronounced seasons, and draughty old houses. There's a reason everyone has a fire or a wood burner in the countryside, and it isn't just because the log pile looks nice by their front door. That said...
Snow isn't a problem
In the city, snow spells disaster for commuting and public transport, so I expected - perhaps even hoped - to be snowed into our steep hillside village in winter. Sadly, this looks unlikely to happen - though it snows a lot more, the authorities are prepared and employ local farmers to plow and grit through the winter months. All the same, I'm keeping a stash of tinned goods, Famous Five style, just in case.
Wellies become everyday footwear
I also bought a practical raincoat, something I'd previously managed to avoid for 30 years.
It feels safer
There's a spot in the river where the village children all swim on sunny days. They camp unsupervised in the forests overnight; play at the playground without a watchful adult standing by. And it does genuinely feel safer - while running in headphones after dark in the city filled me with fear, up in the hills I feel comfortably alone. That's entirely my own perception, of course - but the fact that friends and DHL deliveries struggle to find us helps add to the feeling that we're safely tucked away.
You get better at making from scratch
When a quick pizza or bottle of wine is a whole car ride away, it's often easier to make do with what you've got. My bread machine gets a lot more action, and even the bendy carrots in the fridge get a look in from time to time. Still, sometimes the wine is worth the drive, of course.
Attitudes can be a little archaic
There's less diversity in rural areas and sadly that means some attitudes have yet to be fully challenged. We overheard enough casual racism in one village we visited to strike the whole area from our house-buying list. In the end, we found a hub of glorious liberalism to live near, but even now I'll sometimes hear a snatch of conversation that takes me by sharp surprise.
I love the city again
Whereas before, any free time was spent racing to somewhere open and green, now I quite enjoy a day whiled away in the Big Smoke's cafes and stores. I suppose it's that typically human desire to want what we don't have, but it isn't a negative - I felt so burned out with the city when we left, and it's nice to have some love for it back. I think for me, a big part of that joy is knowing I can leave it behind, drive into the hills and watch the sun set from my window seat over the valley. It's the best decision we ever made.