A few years ago, I experienced an epic and somewhat premature mid-life crisis. I was falling out of love with London, which came as a surprise, having been immersed in the ebb and flow of city life for over a decade. My relationship with my career as a People Strategy Partner was…complicated. Dust gathered on my piano and violin – instruments that had once brought me so much joy – and while my fingers and my voice continued to betray me, my relationship with my partner Liam also fell into chaos. We had only been married a few months. On top of all this, a diagnosis of CIN 3 (usually caused by HPV) and a series of invasive hospital procedures meant my mind no longer felt like my own, and along with parts of my womb lining, I lost my sense of identity.
After a lot of soul-searching, getting dragged to therapy by a fiercely caring friend, hard work and some help from apps like Calm and Headspace, I started to regain my sense of self. I reconnected with the dreams Liam and I had once shared of owning a house in the countryside where we could raise our own animals, maybe some chickens, and make marmalade over an Aga.
Gradually, Liam and I began to consider the possibility of actually living that dream. It didn’t take long to realise that the only thing stopping us from making the leap was us! Cue budgeting spreadsheets, and evenings and weekends googling countryside villages that were commutable to London for work. Our eager eyes grew in anticipation of what we could get for our money if we sold our 900-square-foot, two-bedroom flat in Blackheath.
Within what felt like a second, our flat had been valued and was on the market for £570k. We reduced our monthly outgoings, making lifestyle cutbacks to pay off our wedding debts, which helped us save for the inevitable expense of moving home. We knew that in order to afford what we wanted and to cover the cost of a deposit and stamp duty, we would have to make a significant ROI on our flat. The word 'Brexit' was uttered six months before our decision to sell and so we found ourselves in an ever-changing housing market… Nevertheless, on we went, and excitedly started to book viewings across a range of commutable villages north of London. Having both grown up in the love letter to roundabouts that is Milton Keynes, and with our immediate families still residing there, we were drawn to this area especially.
After eight months of little to no interest in our flat, our dream was quickly becoming one of the pipe variety. Then, just as we were about to give up hope, we received a viewing request from a first-time buyer. Fast-forward 24 hours and he had put in an offer, we'd danced the obligatory negotiation dance and accepted at £555k. The move was on! But where we were moving to was another matter entirely.
We viewed a LOT of houses and cottages on Rightmove, broadening our search to Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire, eventually stumbling upon a three-bedroom, 17th century stone cottage in a pretty countryside village whose name we could barely pronounce. The online photos revealed a sunny garden, big enough for us to keep some small animals, and with an asking price of £450k it was definitely worth a viewing – but as a link-detached property, it was very much at the bottom of our impressive shortlist of fully detached properties (we'd had enough of noisy neighbours after years of living in a flat!). We scheduled 12 viewings over one weekend, all beautiful houses and cottages that frustratingly, we just couldn’t see ourselves living in for one reason or another. After the 11th viewing, when we were about ready to throw in the towel, we drove wearily to the semi-detached cottage in Yardley Gobion, the last property on our shortlist.
On entering the property, we could tell that it needed some love but having completed a big renovation on our existing flat (which we had bought for £430k and were now selling for £555k), we weren’t daunted by the prospect of hard work. None of this really mattered, though, because from the moment we walked in, the cottage felt like home. The inside was inviting, spacious and full of light. The kitchen had an Aga and the three outward-facing doors offered easy access to the garden, which was a huge priority for us. For a link-detached property, the privacy was impressive – much greater, in fact, than many of the detached houses we had seen. We put in an offer that same day for the full asking price and five months later, completed on the sale of our old flat and the purchase of the cottage.
So here we are, nearly a year later, living among the rolling farmlands of Northamptonshire, right on the doorstep of Milton Keynes. We wake regularly to the sounds of sheep, visit the horses, goats, alpacas (and a rogue wallaby!) at the neighbouring farms, and, despite our intentions to get rid, have unexpectedly fallen in love with our sizeable pond. It truly is a different way of life. We swap home-baked gifts with our neighbours, genuinely make marmalade on the Aga and as of last month, we have five exquisite hens roaming around the garden.
The radical change in scenery has undoubtedly improved my sense of wellbeing, but more surprising are the unforeseen positive changes it has brought to my life. The move coincided with a fundamental shift in my perception of how I want to live my life. No longer fearful of making bold decisions, I’ve found myself for the first time able to achieve happiness in the present moment. This has been such a revelation to me that it’s reignited my relationship with music and I’m finally writing and recording again, after taking a seven-year hiatus to climb the competitive London career ladder. It’s also triggered my decision to go part-time.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you have to move to the countryside and create a poultry paradise to achieve enlightenment. A big part of my life will always remain in London – I still commute three times a week and have close friends living there. But giving myself distance from the city and permission to be honest with myself, and letting that be the driving factor behind my decision-making, has given me a life I didn’t think would be possible for at least another 10 years.
Yes, we’ll have to make some cutbacks as I transition to part-time pay, but with fresh eggs for brekkie and lambing season just around the corner, I’m sure we’ll find a way.