Jamie Summers is 13 and hates school holidays. As the end of term approaches he becomes increasingly morose and even the prospect of a school camping holiday fails to raise more than a weak smile. The problem is, Jamie knows that once the holidays start he is unlikely to see another person his own age until school opens again in September.

He is one of thousands of young people for whom rural isolation means spending long periods alone with parents, seldom venturing beyond the village and having to rely on television and their own imagination for entertainment.

Home for Jamie is a large caravan sited in the yard of a derelict farmhouse on the edge of Exmoor. During the summer, if it doesn't rain, he spends most nights in a tent perched on the scrubby hillside behind the farm so he can avoid the claustrophobia of caravan life.

Every day in term-time, he walks to the crossroads outside the village and then travels eight miles by coach along narrow, twisting lanes to school - the comprehensive closest to his home. Most of his classmates make similar journeys each day.

For Jamie, and many like him, school is the only social life. With little chance to meet schoolfriends in the evenings, at weekends or during the holidays - and few visits from other family members - his only chance for conversation with people other than his parents is the seven hours a day he spends in school.

He never stays for extra-curricular activities and can only go to school plays and discos with difficulty. Last year he missed collecting a prize because his father did not get home in time with the van.

That old boneshaker is the family's lifeline. It means they can carry out their fortnightly raids on Tesco or Safeway; more importantly, it enables Jamie's father to ply his trade as an electrician across north and south Devon. Sometimes he travels 150 miles a day and worries how long the van will keep going.

Their story, a cautionary tale for town-dwellers tempted by the rural idyll, is typical. They came from London to escape noise, pollution, crime and the bullying that Jamie received at school.

The first winter they rented a house in a village, where Jamie could walk to primary school. His mother, Maureen, soon made friends among other parents at the school gate and for a while life was exactly what she and James had hoped for. But summer came and the owner needed their house for more lucrative holiday lets.

They moved to another village, from which Jamie began bussing to school. Then his father lost his factory maintenance job and they couldn't afford the rent. That was when they found the caravan in which they've lived ever since. Their nearest neighbour is the elderly farmer whose cattle graze in the surrounding fields.

In theory, Jamie enjoys the many advantages of country life: fresh air, freedom from fear, friendly people who always have time to stop and chat. In practice, he is mostly alone and doesn't know enough about nature to appreciate it. His mother worries if he wanders, because even in the country 'you can't be too careful'.

He has an old bike, but the lanes, with their high banks and blind bends, make cycling hazardous. Anyway, where would he go? He is reluctant to visit friends because he thinks he can't invite them back. The quaint villages that attract tourists hold little interest for a teenager.

One year, he went back to London to stay with his gran for part of the holiday. But she is too old now to cope with a teenager. Anyway, none of the boys he started school with remembers or wants to know about him.

It is not only newcomers from London who suffer the problem of isolation. Lonely farmhouses hidden in Devon's folded valleys can be prisons for children.

A recent survey of students at one rural comprehensive school in north Devon found 'being able to meet friends' topped the list of improvements that youngsters wanted in their lives. With few youth clubs or other amenities and virtually no public transport, entertainment is a real difficulty.

Better-off parents establish transport networks for taking children to school and village events. But farming is a hard life that demands the involvement of the whole family. Most children have their 'jobs' to do before and after school, and in the holidays they may go for days without seeing anyone of their own age except siblings.

Parents contemplating a move should think carefully about their children's needs. For Laura, who moved from Sheffield to an isolated Devon cottage when she was 14, the contrast was so strong that she attempted suicide and now requires regular counselling.

Jamie hasn't reached those depths and doesn't want a return to city life - but neither can he face the loneliness of the next six weeks. Which is why, unlike many urban children, he is already looking forward to September.

All names have been changed