Town or Country living? You decide

Country VillageThere can be few people who at one time or another have not entertained the thought of what country living would be like. The yearning for a rural idyll like a hidden Shangri-La.   For some who are committed urban dwellers the notion will probably not stay in their minds long. Others will hold the thought a bit longer before it fades into the obscurity of practicability. A much smaller minority will continue to nurture the thought weighing the pro’s and cons in their minds until some are suddenly motivated by thoughts of “Why not? Let’s do it”.

After a lifetime of urban living, that is the decision my wife and I made well over twenty years ago when we moved from East London to rural Somerset. It was a move I have never regretted but it did take an initial short period of adjustment. In our case it was the pro’s that far outweighed the cons and I suspect many others may have some lingering doubts about what are the realities of country life. The vistas from our new home were one change we could readily accept. We exchanged a view of houses on the opposite side of the street coupled with the view of backs of house in the adjoining street for one of open rolling countryside. Cadbury Castle, Glastonbury Tor and the Mendip Hills can all be easily seen from our new location. Apart from the new vista, opportunities to explore an area of the country steeped in myth and legend also abound.

Certainly to myself, living in a village was a case of moving back to a meaningful community life. A sense of community which once abounded in East London but sadly started to fade into a form of isolationism as the nature of the populace changed, be it new people with different outlooks moving into the area or younger generations growing-up but possibly not with the same degree of neighbourliness that their parents may have once fostered. Whatever the causes the saying about the loneliest place in London is the middle of Piccadilly Circus certainly began to arouse feelings of truthfulness in our particular quarter.

For young parents and their families, country living is something of a bonus. Not only because of the fresh air and lack of urban pollution but because similar families in the same village always seem to gravitate towards forming their own interest groups and blossoming friendships. Gardens tend to be much bigger as well.

That is one positive aspect on one side of a many faceted coin, the opposite side of the coin while not being negative does present differences that require some adjustment. My own village has neither a public house or shops so transport is an essential requirement. In most villages a school bus service obviates the need for the dreaded “school-run”, but travel to shops and stores usually in a not too distant market towns usually requires personal transport. In urban areas despite complaints, public transport is usually available even if sometimes delayed. In rural areas it can sometimes be either scarce or even non-existent. In my own village for example, a few buses run in the mornings on two days of the week only. No street lighting exists in my village either but it does make for magnificent star gazing of a nigh time due to zero light pollution. Silence is something else we have in abundant quantity of a night time, a point which guests always remark on when they awake fully refreshed the next morning. Because the mind tends to filter out noise pollution, it’s sometimes hard to appreciate just how insidious and constant it is.

The bonus is how far and quickly it is possible to travel in a car from ones home. Traffic is usually very light when compared with urban areas and most country roads still have a 60 mph speed limit which is safely achievable. Using the one mile-per-minute rule of thumb, it does mean it is possible travel anywhere within a 40 miles circle from my home in about 20-30 minutes. A 40 mile circle roughly equates to the size of Greater London. Apart from a variety of easily reachable and good shopping venues, it also means we have a greater choice of entertainment and sporting venues of all descriptions than we did within my London locality and at a fraction of the time. Numerous public houses with good restaurants usually modestly priced also abound within an area like this.

Country Village 02Rural rail services tend to be something of a spiders web, At the centre of the web, rail lines and services tend to become concentrated while the further out from the web one travels, the lines become further apart. Before I retired I used to commute to London by rail which meant an early start and a twenty five mile drive to the station to board a reasonably rapid train for the next 95 miles. While the journey to the station could normally be safely and legally completed in 30 minutes or less, (an impossibility in London), account had to be taken of weather conditions. Heavy fog or mist in the Autumn and ice during the Winter. Heavy rain with surface water can create additional problems. I always found it somewhat galling having struggled to work through appalling weather conditions to sometimes find others where I worked  in London and living only a few miles away, not reporting for work due to adverse weather conditions.

Service utilities like gas taken so much for granted in most urban areas are frequently non-existent in rural areas with the likelihood they will never be supplied. Heating is normally by oil-fired boilers and is very effective. Unlike gas available at the turn of a tap, oil has to by purchased i advance and in bulk which can be expensive. It is also subject to day by day price change dependent on the vagaries on the international oil market.  Onsite oil storage is another requirement. One of the adjustments to life is ensuring oil tanks are full before the onset of winter and maintaining an adequate reserve as it is consumed. If you run out of oil there is no gas tap to turn on, you simply go cold and delivery of new supplies may take several weeks.

Extra-fast broadband may be a factor individuals need to consider, especially if they intend working from home. Somerset was an area scheduled by the Government several years ago to have extra-fast broadband in rural areas. However from my own lay-persons point of view, information on what is happening appears to be almost non-existent and once again I suspect that except for villages on the peripheries of urban areas, it simply will not be installed no matter what the Government promises. I did check on anticipated broadband speeds should a guardian angel ever decide to bestow it on us and it appears the so called speed rapidly drops away with the distance of the home from the street telephone junction box. As our telephone junction box is situated about a mile outside the village, anticipated speeds will be little different to what we already have. It does make one wonder how vast countries like India already have broadband speeds everywhere that are much faster that what this country is hoping to achieve in the future?

Most market towns have a full range of shops and supermarkets found in their larger urban counterparts with most of the supermarkets providing ample free parking due to their reliance on customers needing to use their own transport. Car parking charges where they exist tend to be modest in comparison with larger cities.

All important employment opportunities do tend to be lower but clearly do exist. Many rural dwellers know they have to be prepared to commute longer distances to work often using their own transport. As a form of compensation, the urban traffic jam does not tend to exist.

Market towns frequently provide a pleasant medium between city and rural life with the added bonus that the countryside is literally on the doorstep. One striking aspect I have noticed in both urban and countryside housing developments is the newer larger housing schemes tend to feature deserted streets while areas which have developed more naturally positively abound with street life.

I suppose in the end it really is a matter of personal choice governed by individual circumstances that dictate which lifestyle we wish to lead. But as they say, where there is a will, there is also a way and anyone wishing for a more rural lifestyle should not feel they are forever trapped by the clutches of urban shackles. Provided there is a willingness to adapt, then anything is possible.

The one common feature I have noticed amongst of people like myself who made the move from town to country is the overwhelming desire never to go back.

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