Property: `More than anything I miss being at the centre of things. There's not even a Gap in Winchester'

All city dwellers dream from time to time about escaping the rat race and moving to the country, but what happens to the minority who actually do it? Ginetta Vedrickas listens to three salutary stories.
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The Independent Online
Wouldn't it be lovely? Scampering around country lanes in search of twisted willow for floral displays then home to the farmhouse and buttery crumpets for tea. Quick, slap my face, I'm having one of those rural idyll fantasies again.

Peter Ripley, like myself, obviously read too much Enid Blyton as a child - I spent every summer in Devon with my granddad, roaming fields and beaches like the Famous Five. After an idyllic holiday in Cornwall with his children, Mr Ripley decided to act: he gave up work, sold their Putney terrace and moved the family to a remote, Cornish mining village. Did it live up to expectation?

"At first it was like being on a fabulously long holiday, away from pollution and noise. It was summer, we had friends down and spent weeks exploring the coast, collecting fossils and enjoying our cottage," says Mr Ripley.

But eventually summer turned to autumn, friends visited less frequently and the only work Mr Ripley found was poorly paid. "Everyone takes huge pay cuts in the country so you end up with a worse standard of living." Isolation became a problem: "I was the only man at home with children so people in the village thought I was odd." Were the neighbours friendly? "They were Cornish nationalists and liked badger baiting and breeding lurchers. It was like being in Alabama," he says.

The family stuck it for a year but even the lure of the summer couldn't tempt them to stay. The cottage proved difficult to sell but they were was so desperate to return they left anyway and rented in London. When Mr Ripley finally sold, he'd lost pounds 30,000. Is London worth it? "It's fantastic. We make much more effort to take advantage of theatres, galleries, everything that's going." Any advice for aspiring Arcadians? "It depends what sort of person you are. We had friends who were just as isolated but they loved it, they were artists and liked sitting around naked."

Roger and Maggie Hands yearned for a "chocolate box thatched cottage" where Maggie could bake and potter in the garden. When Roger, an architect, was offered work in a remote village near Kendal, Cumbria they seized the opportunity to exchange life at the "heavy end" of Finsbury Park for something more peaceful. The Hands spotted an advert in the Kendal Gazette for a tiny shepherd's cottage to rent. After an interview with the estate manager, "we found ourselves cleaning out 10 years of rabbit shit that the previous tenant, a shepherd, had left". The family settled down to a radically different lifestyle and the children attended the tiny village school with two classes and 37 children.

Domesticity reigned: "It was stunningly beautiful in winter and summer and I was busy with the house. I'd always wanted a real coal fire and I made lots of quilts," says Ms Hands. On the edge of a country estate, gamekeepers passed by in their Land-Rovers: "We were plucked from one kind of lifestyle into another. Cows poked their heads over our garden fence and we'd spend days walking by streams and waterfalls." The locals heard that people from London had moved up and Maggie, Roger and their children soon found themselves involved in the community: "I relied on events like Tupperware parties, things I wouldn't normally do, just to fit in."

Eventually Ms Hands tired of Tupperware and wanted to work. "There wasn't any and I felt I was stagnating. I was bored with things I'd hoped would become a way of life." The Hands missed London's spontaneity: "If you fancied popping out for a drink or a bar of chocolate at night you couldn't. You had to plan because everything was miles away." Rain and icy winds drifted in from the fells and Ms Hands soon got fed up cleaning out the grate for the coal fire.

When Roger's firm had little work the family felt the decision to move back was made for them. Although sad to leave they felt ready to go. How did they find heavy Finsbury Park? "It seemed so lively I got a thrill just from walking to the shops at night," says Ms Hands. They have no regrets although the children insist they won't move from their road.

Davina Nicholson moved with baby Tasca from London's Kensal Green early this year to a remote cottage near Winchester. "Its only an hour and a half from London, but there's no shop, no phone box, just trees," Ms Nicholson says. "I thought this would be our final move, just me and my daughter, but maybe it suits couples more."

Having grown up in the country she felt she knew it well and could adjust to rural life again. Has she? "It's incredible how much slower, quieter and just totally different it is." She loves walking and has a social network but at night on her way to parties... "The fucking mud, what do you do? There aren't any street lights," says Ms Nicholson.

The Rural Development Commission published a survey this week showing that 42 per cent of rural parishes have no shop but Ms Nicholson has more specific requirements: "More than anything I miss being at the centre of things. There's so much you don't think about in London, the billboards, the style. I'm no fashion victim but there's not even a Gap in Winchester."

Ms Nicholson believes London is atypical of England: "I'm used to London not England and ultimately it's very limited here." You get the feeling she will be placing her (Donna Karan) wellies in storage in the very near future. The next time you have one of those "Famous Five" fantasies, remember, they never mentioned the mud.

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