“I can’t deny that country folk are friendly, the views of the hills are glorious, and I love the birdsong that wakes me each morning. Despite all this, I’m at the end of my tether. I understand only too well why demographers claim that in the next 10 years, 75 per cent of the world’s population will have fled the countryside for the city.”
With these words, Ioana Miller sparked a recent storm of controversy in Britain. Writing in the Telegraph earlier this month, the wife of eccentric hotelier Martin Miller describes trading her life in Notting Hill for the “mud, muck and loneliness” of country life.
Her article, Why I Hate Living in the Countryside, describes her past two years in rural Herefordshire as, “a theme park without opt-out clauses.” Her only cultural option, she claims, is the weekly cattle market and she complains of having to drive to the local garden centre and endure long queues and local gossip to get a cup of cappuccino.
“I spend whole afternoons staring at the kitchen clock, willing it to fast-forward to 6pm, and drinks. So much for the health benefits of living in the country: I’ve never drunk so much or so many different kinds of alcohol in my life.”
While some online commenters agree with her perception of rural life, others dismiss her as “a dreadfully spoilt woman” or encourage her – with typical British fortitude – to “just get stuck in and do things.”
Some solid advice comes from author Jon Stock, who responds with his own article in the Telegraph offering a list of tips for rural bliss. While many of his suggestions are distinctly British (i.e., “choose somewhere to live that’s within walking distance of a thriving local pub”) there is much to be gleaned from his suggestions.
Here is our take on Stock’s advice for adjusting to life in the country:
Be realistic. If you feel you will struggle without the things you love about urban life, choose a spot in the country that is still within striking distance of a city. That way, with a bit of advance planning, you can get your fix and not feel entirely isolated.
Be creative. Although rural areas can appear to lack culture, look harder. You may not see cineplexes and night clubs, but culture is there if you know where to find it. Most rural communities host film screenings, music recitals, jam sessions and discussion groups. Ask around, read the notices in the local paper and check out the flyers on bulletin boards in your village. Also, be open to trying something new. If the ladies in your local area are avid quilters, ask to join in and have them teach you a new skill.
Be active. Struggling without your yoga studio on the corner? Fitness in the country is often a more solitary pursuit: if working on your land isn’t enough exercise, try running, biking or hiking. But don’t give up on group activities either. Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi classes are often offered at community recreation centers or in people’s homes, run by professional trainers. Again, turn to the grapevine and ask locals for some pointers.
Be prepared. One of Ioana Miller’s biggest worries was about where to get a good coffee. Jon Stock suggests that, “Buying good coffee is not hard, it just becomes more of an event.” Often the best coffee is in a neighbour’s home, something you will discover once you start integrating into your community. Until then, invest in a good cappuccino maker and buy your favourite coffee beans on trips into the city.
Be open. “Be prepared to be a novelty when you first arrive,” Stock says. “Everyone will want to talk to you and be your best friend. It’s very easy to be anonymous in London, not so in a village, where people like to chat.” For many urban dwellers who fled the city, the ability to talk with neighbours, catch up on local events and share a bit of gossip is exactly the reason they moved to the country. Being open to that is essential, at least at first. Newcomers who don’t engage with the community will be seen as aloof.
Be organized. “Sadly, driving around in a car is a necessity in the countryside,” says Stock. Miller misses being able to walk to the shops or to the park. Stock’s answer is to live in a village that has a good shop, “rather than in splendid isolation miles from anywhere.” In North America, we have become all too accustomed to spending time in our cars, but in the country – where things lie at greater distances – it is important to become more strategic about each trip. Think ahead before leaving the house to all the things you need to get done, and plan your route accordingly to avoid backtracking and wasted trips.
Be patient. Stock reminds readers that it takes time and commitment to adjust to country life. “For the first eight years, I was commuting to London every day (two hours each way) and failed to engage with the community. Now that I’m working from home, I have made more of an effort and it’s been richly rewarding.” He has gotten involved in a number of ways, from forming a team for quiz night at the local pub to joining a local tennis club. Find something you enjoy, show up, and prepare to meet new friends.