Who needs a 24-7 lifestyle, anyway?

Wide open spaces, clean air and now tele-commuting continue to lure city dwellers away from the Big Smoke, says Christopher Browne
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The Independent Online

Does the name Hebden Bridge mean anything to you? Probably not, unless of course you live in west Yorkshire. This charming little town is positively brimming with history, however. The poet Silvia Plath is buried here, Sir Bernard Ingham, Baroness Thatcher's press secretary, was born in Hebden and the World Dock Pudding championships take place every summer.

Though history influenced Peter and Lisa Entwistle's recent move to this Cotswolds town, quality of life played a much bigger part. "We lived in Halifax but wanted to move somewhere that had both beauty and community. As I was heavily pregnant and Peter had just been posted to a new teaching job, we decided the time was nigh," says Lisa. So the couple, both in their late 20s, moved to a three-bedroom terrace in Hebden just before their son Jacob was born. Though it was more expensive than their previous home, the Entwistles knew they'd made the right move when they woke up to find Hardcastle Cragg, a Cotswolds landmark, on their doorstep. "I can now take Jacob with me on peaceful country walks, drop in for a chat with the neighbours at a local café or juice bar, join one of Hebden's children's groups and start the day at a small, friendly gym where everyoneknows everyone else," says Lisa, a human resources manager.

The Entwistles are part of a growing number of buyers who move largely for location and lifestyle rather than for the needs of family, schools, relocation, a sick or ageing relative or the grandiloquence of a stately mansion. It means the Weekenders - as buyers who own second homes in the country are often called - are turning into the Country Cousins. Britons now often move to greener, more pleasant pastures after a spell in the city, and are more than happy to swap restaurants, theatres and cinemas for gardens, traditional pubs, village shops and acres and acres of unspoilt countryside. Neil Lewis, managing director of www. propertysecrets.net, comments on the trend: "Instead of living in the centre of a city for five years, going to a halfway house on the outskirts and then moving into a rural community, people are plunging straight from city to country - often to the place they were born or where they spent their college or university years."

Apart from the joys of owning their own plot, buyers often want an annexe or outhouse, too, says Mark Anderson, a regional director of Hamptons. "Advances in e-mail and the Net have led to a growing number of homeworkers and one of the first things they look for is an extra building they can use as an office or study." The typical homeworker falls into two groups, says Lewis, "young couples with families who commute part of the week and then work from home so they and their children can enjoy the rural life, or those in their 50s and near-retirement age who work from home two to three days a week".

Some have even gone a step further and become virtual employees. Research by the Social Market Foundation, an independent think tank, has unearthed a New Age network of sales, IT and management staff living and working hundreds of miles from the office. Director of research Ann Rossiter explains: "They can work just as effectively, as they have full internet access to the company files and can contact their colleagues by e-mail."

Our growing yen for the good life is also reflected in our choice of name for our homes, according to a Halifax survey. The current favourite is The Cottage, followed by Rose Cottage, The Bungalow, The Coach House, Orchard House and, despite the Royal Mail's recent problems, The Old Post Office. A Halifax spokesman commented that the names "reflect a bygone era and a gentler pace of life".

Our yearning for the peaceful life may explain why we also favour seaside towns, says Lewis. "Town and city homeowners are moving to quieter, more laid-back places like Eastbourne, Broadstairs, Bournemouth and Whitstable, where people used to spend their ember years, and are attracted by the trendier, bohemian lifestyle of towns like Brighton - or Soho-by-the-sea as it's known."

So, apart from Hebden Bridge, what other scenic spots attract us? Top of the hotspots are "clusters of towns and villages in the Costwolds, the West Country and such outlying areas as Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, where the town of Marlborough has become very popular recently", says Mark Anderson of Hamptons.

It may sound extreme, but Rossiter says two of her colleagues now commute from Norfolk and France. Unless you're a confirmed city-dweller, perhaps it's time you too considered a touch of the rural life.