Am I the only one who find programmes like Escape to the Country unsettling? The clue is in the word “escape”. That idea of rural life being idyllic compared to the nightmare of living in cities. Before anyone gets worked up, I don’t think cities are a nightmare. A buzz of life 24 hours seven days a week. Almost everything available whenever you need it. Walkable neighbourhoods.
But cities and large towns are too busy for me. All those people you don’t know rushing past not saying hello. I don’t think rural areas are a nightmare. Far from it. But people seem who escape to the country sometimes have unrealistic expectations of rural life.
I have had several emails over the last couple of months from people planning to move to Ludlow. I also spotted an article in the London Evening Standard in which a glossy magazine editor told her readers how her hope of rural bliss had been shattered by “the full reality of living in the countryside.”
A lot of people want to move to our verdant county and Ludlow, allegedly the most beautiful town in England is a popular location. I don’t know why there has been an increase in people contacting me in recent months. It may simply be that they search for Ludlow and find my blog. But they may also be part of the wave of people expected to move to rural areas now that businesses have discovered that people can work effectively from home. People value the lifestyle. Instead of a coffee at the desk and a snatched conversation at the water cooler, they can take the dog for another walk across the fields.
Potential migrants to Ludlow ask fairly similar questions. Does it have this? Answer. We have more here than you might would think. Does it have that? No, we are a small town, but you can order it online or drive 30 miles to a larger town centre. Does the town flood? Yes, but only in low lying areas and we are trying to deal with it.
Back to the article by the glossy magazine editor. She moved to the Cotswolds, an area I know well after spending a couple of decades walking its footpaths when not resting my feet in its hostelries. The villages and farmsteads tucked into the rolling chalk hills have long been a favourite haunt for people who see it as being an easy commute from London. But it did not take long for the magazine editor to wake up the reality of life in rural areas:
“One of the biggest misconceptions about living in the countryside: that it is quiet.
“Just as in any town or city, people still do building work, they still sit in their gardens drinking, laughing and playing music late into the night, there is traffic, sometimes lots of it, and farm vehicles are far noisier than your average run-around.”
There is a lack of taxis, she complains. The hospital is a long way away. The choice of schools is limited.
She doesn’t deal with the issues of rural poverty. The lack of housing and support for young people. The damage to the environment that is happening all around her, including by people who think the countryside is designed for city dwellers to escape to. People that clog rural roads on their weekend commute. The environmental costs of that commute. Or the occasional outburst of reggae.
This unfortunate journalist reminds me of a couple with a holiday home west of here. They used to arrive in the pub on a Friday night and ostentatiously study Time Out and talking about what they had just bought from Waitrose in Kensington. Time out in the country reading Time Out and eating food purchased around 170 miles away. I never knew how that worked as a countryside experience. Let alone how they justified their carbon footprint.
“Reality” programmes like Escape to the Country give a false impression of rural life. They undermine the rural idyl that people are seeking by presenting a sanitised image of country life. It’s not like that. There are real world problems here just as they are in the cities. Those problems just let attention in the national media because they conflict with the unspoiled image of rural life portrayed by Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie, John Moore’s Brensham Trilogy and so many other works that romanticised rather than portrayed the reality of rural life.
I am not opposed to people moving to Ludlow. Far from it. Our growing retirement community has created a boom in active volunteers who have excelled over the last year. Others will come to work from home or a small office, taking advantage of Ludlow’s accelerating broadband speeds.
But I do hope that people moving here take time to recognise the gritty and sometimes noisy reality of rural life. The countryside and towns like Ludlow are places where people need to work learn and play. Agricultural places. Tourist places. Ordinary places in a rural setting.