The re-birth of the English country village
Country Life UK|September 02, 2020
The re-birth of the English country village
Thanks to broadband, rural areas are set to be transformed by an influx of newcomers freed from the shackles of a daily commute, finds Flora Watkins
Flora Watkins

SAMUEL JOHNSON would despair, but some of us have tired of London. Within a week of lockdown, it was apparent that our main reasons for being in the capital—a short commute, an outstanding local primary school and flat whites on every corner—were redundant.

With three children and two dogs, the Victorian townhouse we had renovated as a newly married couple was no longer working for us. Our woolly ideas about moving to the country began to take shape. With my husband, who works in Fintech (financial technology), unlikely ever to go back to five days a week in the office, we felt liberated to look beyond the ‘golden hour’ of commuter-land.

We wanted to travel past the manicured lawns and verges into wilder countryside —as described by Nancy Mitford in The Pursuit of Love, where ‘the roosting pheasant and the waking owl filled every night with wild primeval noise’.

Suddenly, great swathes of the countryside have been opened up to us: Dorset and Somerset in the west and, heading north, the Norfolk coast and as far north as Rutland, even York. We wouldn’t be what one country friend calls, disparagingly, the ‘DFLs’—the Down From Londons—second-home owners using the village as a dormitory and contributing little. I’d walk our children down the lane to school, go to Pilates in the village hall, help with the flowers in church.

‘I have always said that broadband would be the renaissance of rural communities,’ says Sarah Lee, head of policy at the Countryside Alliance (CA), ‘as it will enable more home working and, therefore, people supporting their local shops and services. In my mind, this was eight to 10 years away. It’s amazing what the pandemic has done.’

Property finder Greta Hillier, who covers Somerset, Devon and south-west Wiltshire (www.rusticmoves.com), has witnessed such a surge in people wanting ‘a complete lifestyle change’ since the easing of lockdown that, when we spoke, she had temporarily closed her list to new clients.

Somerset is particularly popular, with buyers —including the former Chancellor, George Osborne—lured by the vibrant market towns of Bruton and Frome and the fast (90-minute) train journey from Castle Cary to Paddington. Mr Osborne recently bought Prospect House in Bruton, through local agents Lodestone.

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September 02, 2020