A shopping basket filled with vegetables

The pandemic has prompted many people to trade city life for the freedom of the countryside – but the transition is not always easy. Here, Object Story contributor and fellow Stroud Valleys resident, Anna Brech, shares a few unexpected truths she discovered from her own move. 

I grew up in Stroud, and like many people, I found myself back into the folds of this eclectic and beautiful valley after 12 years living in London. I thought it would be all sunshine and sweet peas from the moment I moved; but the reality was different. 

For a long time I felt out of whack, like my body was still playing catch-up from the accents of city living in a strange new world; one where owl hoots echoed through the evenings.

Yet, slowly (far more slowly than I would have wanted), I got used to my new life in the country; and eventually, I came to love it – appreciating the area far more than I ever did in my teens. Here’s what I learnt (plus a few of my favourite Object Story picks along the way): 

  1. It will take a while to adapt

    I naively thought I’d hop right back into country life like some kind of jaunty Laura Ingalls character (but in the mid-Shires in an ancient Polo, rather than the Midwest in a wagon). Instead, I spent quite a long time yearning for the sensory landscape of my old life: the low hissing thrum of London buses in the rain; the strangely comforting fluorescent glow of the hospital we lived opposite from; the cheery warmth of a Bloomsbury pub on an autumn night. 

    The fact is, life in the countryside is no Disney script. Both city and country living come with their own benefits, and you’ll be sacrificing something whichever way you move. So don’t beat yourself up if you don’t love the lifestyle straight away – a big move takes time and space to adapt to. 

  2. Commuting is overrated

    When I first commuted from Stroud to London, I had daydreams of writing a book – which is hilarious looking back on it. The fact is, commuting is stressful, unpredictable and expensive: and all the more so if you’re doubling your train time by moving further out. It doesn’t matter how chocolate box-cute your local station is, either. 

    With hybrid working on the rise, it should be easier to negotiate your way out of a four-hour daily slog to the office. And if you’re thinking, “That’s fine – I’ll just go up to London/ Manchester/ Liverpool a few days every week”, be warned: it’s a routine that gets tired real quick. 

    Anna’s pick: Reusable coffee cup for the commute 

    Writer Anna Brech in a garden

  3. What you do for a living becomes less important

    Speaking of which – what you do for a job seems less important in the countryside. It’s not the first question people will ask you. They’ll have an interest, for sure, but only among other things: what kind of oak wood chips are best for the BBQ, say, or the latest line-up for the village festival. 

    This is nice because your identity becomes less tethered to what you do. You place less value on work as a status symbol, and start thinking about it more broadly: Is it meaningful? What areas don’t stoke your soul? How can you cut down on hours? And so on. You may love your job, or see it merely as a means to an end; but either way, it becomes less everything

  4. New friendships take work – and bravery

    Making friends is easy when you’re in your 20s; you’re moving around loads, and everything is carefree and easy. By the time you hit your 30s, and starting afresh somewhere new, things are subtly harder. People are already settled into their circles, and they also have different life priorities, like families, to attend to. 

    For me, making new friends in the country has felt a lot like dating. You end up sounding each other out, and there’s always that awkward patch of thinking, “Is it OK to take things to the next stage? Am I looking too keen?” And then freaking out if people don’t reply straight away. All of this is normal, and the trick is to be brave, and push yourself a little more than you would do ordinarily. Some new friendships will fizzle out; but those that do last are well worth the effort.

    Anna’s pick: Letterpress card set for friendships old and new

  5. You’ll discover a fresh level of freedom

    When you’re living in London or another big city, it’s very easy to get caught into a treadmill existence. At least half your wage goes on rent, so you struggle to stay out of overdraft; and life becomes all about work. The access to “better” jobs in sectors such as journalism or the arts is the pay-off for quite a grinding (if still very privileged) existence that leaves little room for error. 

    This pattern explains why, while life in the country narrows some of your options – you can’t just hail an Uber whenever you feel like – it also cracks them wide open. Partly this is about financial freedom: when I moved to the country, I also went freelance, which meant a lower mortgage and living costs, coupled with the potential to earn more. 

    But I think it’s also got a spiritual element. Surrounded by wildlife and golden valley views, you become more aware of life’s elastic quality: you can stretch into being, trying new skills or ideas as you please. Not everything has to be a “success”, or even explainable to an outsider’s view.

    Box of flower seeds by Mabel & Co

  6. Your weekends become fuller

    My London life was tiring enough that I often ended up sleeping half the weekend, just to recalibrate and get my energy back. I also spend more time going out during the week. 

    In the countryside, this equation has flipped. I’m less frantic during the week, and my weekends have become crammed with activity: whether that’s the local farmer’s market, a boot camp on the common, long pub lunches or old friends coming to stay. It’s lovely because it feels like I’m really making time count (rather than feeling guilty about yet another exhibition I didn’t see because life in my duvet was just more tempting). 

    Anna’s pick: French string market bag for your weekly market haul 

  7. The beauty of the seasons is real, and lasting 

    How did I never notice the beauty of the countryside before? I grew up in a pre-phone era, but still; I barely even looked. Nowadays, I sense the seasons like a cat on the prowl, tuning into every little nuance and change. I live for cool spring evenings, where clouds of mist spool across the valley, and the fading sun goes down over plumes of cowslip in the field below. I love nothing better than an icy November morning, with frosted leaves and the smell of woodsmoke in the air. 

    The winters are, in fact, long and dark in the countryside; but the cosiness of a log fire, or things like baking or candles, make the weeks fly by a little quicker. And the summers: well, they’ll make you feel like you’ve won the lottery. There’s no finer place to be. 

May 24, 2022 — Anna Brech
Tags: Body & soul