Veterans of urban jungle get lost in the country

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The Independent Online

Poor Meg and Noel. It seems country living has done for their relationship. Until this week the Gallagher marriage was considered one of the most solid in showbiz, cemented by the birth of their daughter, Anais, nine months ago.

Poor Meg and Noel. It seems country living has done for their relationship. Until this week the Gallagher marriage was considered one of the most solid in showbiz, cemented by the birth of their daughter, Anais, nine months ago.

But the shock of swapping Supernova Heights, their former home in Belsize Park, for a mansion in the sticks was just too much for Meg Mathews. While Noel wanted to abandon the drink and drug-fuelled celeb circuit, Meg remained a shopping and partying animal, and compared to her London haunts, Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire, just doesn't cut it.

If one partner hankers after a rural idyll and the other can't bear to be more than 10 minutes away from Harvey Nics, it doesn't bode well for their relationship. Take Charles and Diana: he loved the country, she loathed it.

Transplanting a townie can lead to problems because too often the reality doesn't live up to the dream, says the writer Deborah Bosley, who shares a rural pile in Berkshire with Richard Ingrams.

"People who grew up in the country know what it's like and don't have that burden of fantasy," she says. "But if you grew up in London you don't know what it's going to be like. People who move don't factor in the loneliness. In London, if you pop out to the shops you are likely to meet four friends on the way. You can nip out for a pint of milk and end up getting home pissed at 2am. In the country, life runs on very narrow lines."

No wonder others beside Meg Mathews find themselves hot-footing it back to city comforts. Sandra Bale, a freelance marketing consultant, moved to a cottage on the outskirts of Yeovil in Somerset two years ago. Within six months she had abandoned her partner and fled back to London. "I can sympathise with Meg Mathews because it's a real culture shock moving out of the city," she says. "We had the whole rural cliché, right down to the roses round the door. But after a while the view just starts to be something you have to drive through to get to Sainsbury's."

In the evenings, it was the local pub or nothing. Her career suffered too, she says. "I was working from home and it was amazing how quickly I got out of the loop; people just forget you if they don't see your face."

Ms Bale has not regretted her decision to come back to the city. "Look at me now. I'm sitting talking to you from Amsterdam, wearing DKNY. I'm staying in a nice hotel and in a bit I'm going out for a lovely lunch, paid for by the people I'm working with. If I was in the country, I'd be slobbing around in a disgusting old tracksuit, waiting for the phone to ring, with an hour's round trip to the supermarket as the week's big highlight. My then boyfriend loved it and he's still there as far as I know, but I'm a city girl."

Living in the country is particularly hard if you have a small child, adds another reluctant rural resident, who has become disillusioned with Dorset. "I've just had my second baby, and I'm incredibly conscious of how far it is to the nearest doctor. My oldest will be starting school next year and that'll mean a long drive morning and evening, which will be tiring for all of us."

Her husband commutes to London in the week and has the best of both worlds, she says. "He's footloose and fancy free during the week, he often stays over in town and for him it's almost like being single again. I'm keen for us to throw in the towel and move to a town; it doesn't have to be London, somewhere like Bristol or Southampton might suit. But he loves the house so much that he won't hear of moving. It's all very well for him; he isn't stuck in the bloody place all day."

Suzie Hayman, relationship counsellor and author of Make Your Honeymoon Last (Hodder & Stoughton, £6.99), has made the move to the country and says she lives in rural bliss in Cumbria. But, she adds, it would have been disastrous if her partner hadn't been equally committed to country living.

"If you're going to make a drastic life change you both have to agree on it," she warns. "It's no good if one person is all starry-eyed about roses round the door and the other is hankering after their old life."

A hectic social whirl can be a way of papering over cracks in a relationship, she says. "If you're rushing around with a busy social life in town, it can hide the fact that there is a hollowness between you. It's when you suddenly find yourselves alone together that the problems can be thrown into sharp relief." And, she adds, simple practical changes can be difficult, particularly for a new mother. "I've found rural living much more supportive than town living, but you have to search out support networks and make an effort. That can come as a shock to someone who is used to having everything on their doorstep."

Deborah Bosley can also find some sympathy for Meg Mathews. "She's just had a baby, which always turns your life upside down, and the combination of having a child and moving away from her friends and family must have been a shock."

But she says that the blame does not lie wholly with fields, trees and cows. "There are so many things that affect relationships, and living in the country is no different to any other. The people who really suffer when they move to the country are those who have always been used to big urban cities, and they have an idea of what the countryside is like that just isn't true. But it's their ideas that are at fault - it's not the fault of the countryside."