London

Where to live. Round #2

Last weekend we made a trip to Chichester to grab a bun and a coffee at the Goodwood Breakfast Club. Big M loves vintage cars, thus we made the most of spending a few days in the country whilst being surrounded by old time’s glory in the form of polished chrome and shiny chassis. Being away for a few days once again made us think about the place we want to call home.

Walking through the little pathway that leads up the hill and through the forest, I took a deep breath and realised that I had completely forgotten the distinctive perfume of damp wood, fallen leaves and crisp air. Remember that post last December, when I asked ‘Where to live’? There where lots of lovely suggestions in the comment box, prompting us to leave known ground and venture out beyond the M25.

We visited posh villages in Surrey, had a look up North towards Hertfordshire, snooped around Richmond and read in awe about the award winning schools around Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells. To be honest, the further we looked into the unknown, the more insecure I became about leaving the city behind. And when the sale of our house fell through in June, a part of me was relieved. At least I wouldn’t have to make a life-changing decision.

However, the thought of leaving Islington never really left us. For a short while we thought the combination of a holiday home in the (French) country combined with a flat in Kensington could be the solution. After viewing a few flats in our price bracket, we gave up on that idea. I just cannot see us living on 600 square foot in a damp lower ground shack. No matter how often the estate agent proclaimed ‘light, airy and generous’. With the above arrangement, I’d be mostly living in France, leaving Big M to earn the dough in the big smoke and fight the mould in an empty flat. Not ideal for a happy marriage.

With little L growing by the day, it is getting harder and harder to drown out the fact that she’d be most happy in a place where she could roam freely.  Unfortunately, my hand holds hers in a firm grip, whenever we leave the house. There is no roaming freely outside our favourite little square. Lots of parents in central London attach their toddlers to leashes. I do not like the sight of them (the leashes), but I can completely understand the idea behind it. Things like these make me rethink the idea of living centrally.

But blaming my urge to breathe the scent of rotten leaves and freshly cut grass completely on the budding needs of my growing girl would be unfair. Mostly, it is just me turning into a grumpy old woman. I read somewhere that in Sevenoaks, police turns to shooting misbehaving teenagers with bb guns. Being molested by swearing little assholes every other day, I find that thought strangely reassuring. Of course, I love fashion and shopping and eating out in restaurants. But on a daily basis, I love cooking my own food and enjoying some peace and quiet even more.

For Big M, having a house with a garage to bolt, screw and tinker would be his idea of a corner of heaven. Slowly, the whole family seems to wean themselves off the idea of living in central London. We decided to put the house back on the market. Let’s see where and how far we are getting this time.

31 Comments

  1. Good luck on the hunt, drop C4’s Kirsty and Phil a line, maybe you could be on the next series of Relocation Relocation 🙂

  2. Good luck with your decisions. Moving out of London was the hardest decision we made but now that we are settled I don’t know if we could go back. We were lucky to find an area of Surrey we love where commuting in is still cheap so we are never without the city. While commuting does take getting used to, there is nothing like stepping off the train and looking at our little village and breathing in the fresh air…

  3. We’re leading parallel lives again. We’re intensely happy in Brighton apart from a)the schools and b) we don’t have a garden. So we’re still talking about it and have been to see some houses. But they’re out in the wilds – no coffee shops, no shops for me. Of course I’ll make the sacrifice if necessary but also would he be happier where he can meet his friends, go to the cinema easily, hang out on street corners…well, maybe not the last one.

    I’m seduced by the rural idyll too but not sure how it would work for us all. We could go somewhere totally different if it wasn’t for the small matter of my husband’s job. What to do, what to do.

    Kirstie and Phil would be no help – as much as I love them – they never end up finding anything.

    Do hope your find your solution.

  4. Trees, water, grass, cutting fire wood, planting for spring, baking cake on sundays, fixing the boat. Tranholmen vielleicht?
    Kisses from the island. Missya

  5. My friend lives just outside Sevenoaks, overlooking the Weald and it is heaven. (The fact that she has a huge house and grounds is not the point!!!)
    They can get home from the City in less than 45 minutes and yes, there are some great schools there.

  6. Good luck with your house hunt. I know how you feel – Hubby and I love being close to shopping, the city, etc. But, once you have kids, priorities change. I’m so glad we now have a large yard where the kids can run outside and play. We can always drive into town for shopping and date nights, so we can get our “bohemian” fix. There will come a time when you will return to the bright lights/big city of London; who knows what kind of beautiful dwelling awaits you now? How exciting this could be!

  7. You seem to be in quite a dilemma. I’ve got a book on my bookshelf I’d really recommend. It’s The Telegraph Guide to Commuterland by Caroline McGhie. It basically looks at all the areas within easy reach of London along the main train routes within a 120 mile radius. Does it sound as if we are looking for a new home too? 😉

  8. There’s so much to think about, isn’t there?

    How about Brighton? All the advantages of a city, but right there next to beautiful countryside, and good train links to London.

  9. Maybe this is a million pounds out of your price range but I’d live Hampstead or Highgate then you can pretend you’re in the countryside because you’re so near the Heath.

  10. Wishing you all the best. It is so hard knowing what to do. We have the reverse problem. My husband is tired of commuting. I am tired of him being gone. Will we move to the big city, I am not sure because we are so attached to the neighborhood. Plus cityliving is expensive.

  11. My cousins live in Sevenoaks and they are wonderful kids (actually young adults now) but bullying is rife in the schools award winning or not. Nothing beats being out of the City x

  12. good luck this time!! isn’t it kind of an adventure? do you know where you will go if it sells right away?

  13. Well the country certainly has its pros for little ones. Not for adults though. My brother lives out in Stirling (Scotland) and the kids have horses etc. He still has to make sure his eldest doesn’t come home with a ring through her nose – schools out there are a little rough! But all in all, they’re very happy. Just make sure you’re close to an airport! xx

  14. Hello! How spooky, I live in Chichester! It’s always strange when people visit, as many do due to Goodwood. I am biased, we have lived here forever and even came back here after University, to the place where we grew up. I absolutely love it. I hope you find your happy place… Lou x

  15. I like the idea of being on Relocation too!

    It must be very hard to know where to go- in a way you have so many options and how can you possibly know if you like a place enough without spending time there?

    I always think I’d really feel it leaving London, for so long it was a dream to live here, but honestly I am very happy in Surrey where I’m from too- and I have a sneaking suspiscion I will end up there despite my protestations!

    Sussex is beautiful, I don’t know why more people don’t live there- I love Cornwall and Devon but they are a long way from town, good airports and that kind of thing and Sussex has so many nice beaches too.

  16. Very best of luck to the three of you – it definitely looks like a move to the country is imminent for you. I grew up in the country (in Kent), as did Mr Planet, and we were both quite bored growing up – hence our decision as adults to live in a city (and raise our daughter in a city). But for your little family… well, you must go to where your heart sings 🙂

  17. I also ditto a commenter above – if you try further north from where you are – eg Highgate, Hampstead, Hampstead Garden Suburbs, Crouch End, Muswell Hill, Hornsey or outer still towards Barnet and Southgate then you’ll still be in London but you can, if you look, find a house with private garden on quiet neighbourly streets – still close to Tube line.

    My childhood experiences of the country perhaps were extreme – yes we had a gorgeous house and garden and nice neighbours but there were loads of bored kids making mischief on street corners and lurking around generally, and there was alot of bullying at school.

  18. We moved 18 months ago from London to Dorset. Not a single regret although plenty of doubts before we left. It has made all of us happier and has given us a much better quality of life. Our three young children have access to wonderful open space, see grandparents regularly and breathe a better quality of air.

    Our problem now is the lack of jobs. Husband has been made redundant and is struggling to find any jobs locally. Perhaps we will have to move. I hope not.

    Leaving London had been a liberating experience. Take courage and leap into the unknown.

  19. Good luck this time. I find it strange how much we change over the years. I too thought I would always be a city dweller, never leaving any downtown core for any reason, and yet more and more I find myself longing for open areas, trees, places that are safe without bothersome drug addicts hiding away in the alleys. I think more and more of a home on a plot of land that is covered in overgrown field, and a garden perhaps.

    One can always dream!

  20. We already live in the countryside in the kind of free, roaming existence for children you talk about. It’s idyllic. Yet I want to move. To the sea. I spend hours and hours and hours looking at properties by the sea but can never find anything that is a) affordable b) commutable to London c) has the right mix of town/village amenities, sailing, community

    It is so hard. What we have is pretty darn good, so why mess it up? Because we want to live by the sea dammit.

    Good luck with your search

  21. Mother Hen says

    North Essex is well in the commuters range. We have great school and are surrounded by countryside! love it.

  22. STAY! Don’t leave London. We have a common at the end of the road, and the children climb trees and make dens, while I drink a coffee bought in the common’s cafe. Come move down sarf!

  23. As they say in these parts, west (London) is best baby.

    Come on, you know you want to …

  24. Great blog, sounds like you had a great time on your trip. Countryside is always so beautiful. Whatever you choose I hope it goes great.

  25. Hi Met Mum
    I’m a new reader to your blog and thoroughly enjoying it.
    Similarly on the subject of where to live, i’ve been doing a lot of research throughout my pregnancy.
    I was born and raised in the Ashdown Forest area, right on the border of East/West Sussex/Kent and Surrey and then lived my late teens and early 20’s in ‘Yummy Mummies-villes’ Crouch End, Highgate and Islington. At 25 i’m kinda over the overpriced but convenient city lifestyle and have no desire to bring my child up in the smoke, feeling your grumpy old lady vibes and strong desire for peace and quiet, country wins hands down for me! Having said that presently very imminent with child (i’m a week overdue) we are just about to move back to London for a year as Papa has a contract in town. We’ve chosen Crystal Palace as it’s super affordable, convenient without being s far up it’s own arse (yet) and easy to exit whether you’re headed into town or wish to escape South.
    We’re looking to buy somewhere on the East Sussex coast (Hastings/St Leonards) in a years time, an area where it’s easily possible to find a 3 bedroom period cottage for £300,000. West Sussex is pricier but equally beautiful, especially close to the Brighton/Gatwick/London trainline. Kent is beautiful, Sevenoaks I don’t know so well but have only heard good things and Tunbridge Wells is also a really nice and easy commuter town. Surrey I’m no fan of, but if commuting is your priority then check out anywhere on the East Grinstead to Victoria trainline, a cheap, quick and not too packed way into town. Good luck with the hunt and look forward to updates on your progress!

  26. Just stumbled accross your blog and SO gald! I moved to the country from South London in January. I used to work at a fashion magazine and swapping London glamour for wellies was a HUGE decision that took several years to crystalise. It was mainly dictated by the fact thst our school fees were becoming overwhelming – also, stepping daily onto kentucky fried chicken bones, and negotiating past the local heroin addict with three kids was becoming a trial. I ADORE London and I’ll NEVER knock it, but I wanted to live in a certain way, and personally, we couldn’t afford to do that once the kids came along. What have we gained? Space, a great community and a nice house. What have we lost – well it’s a long commute for my husband and my social life is zero – but the kids are happy, and although it’s a big learning curve – so am I. Definitely not for everyone – gotta be happy with your own company in the beginning – good luck whatever the decision! xx

  27. I agree with Angel Urchins; Don’t leave! We would miss you. And not only that; you might tempt more of us to seek the idyllic foliage of the countryside…

    Why not try Emma K’s suggestion? I too am toying with seeking out a bit more green and am thinking Hampstead, highgate, or crouch end (near heath). We’ll see – but in the meanwhile, I look forward to hearing how it goes with you xx

  28. Claire Napier says

    We swopped our garden flat in beautiful (but barely affordable) Belsize Park for a detached house in Weybridge a year ago. Without a doubt it is a far better deal for the kids. A manageable commute for my hubby who has a very early start in the City, and a friendly community of mums for me. Altho I ADORED and miss Belsize Park, I’d never return to city life now that I’ve seen the benefit of space for my kids.

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