I'd like to share my experience. In return I hope you'll consider the Yorkshire Dales as one possible destination?!
I was born in a rural area and then made the scarey move to the city, first to Manchester then to London. After several years, I really wanted to move to the country. Here are some of the questions we asked to help us decide whether it would work for us, including the Milk Test!
What are your must-haves? For many people, this is something like a school or train station. Think this through before you look or you run the risk of finding the perfect house in an idyllic village and then spending the rest of your life cursing as you drive far further than you planned every day. We're very fortunate in North Yorkshire that we have really excellent primary schools and you can easily research these online. Secondary schools are often good but some distance away so check out transport arrangements.
If you need to travel into a town for work, chances are you'll need to be within reasonable distance of a train station Don't assume those that are nearest to somewhere like London offer the quickest journey time or are the most convenient. When we were house hunting we realised that although Harrogate station is close to many of the lower Wensleydale villages, trains to London from Harrogate are less frequent and take longer. Parking in the more southerly stations is harder and more expensive than somewhere like Northallerton or Darlington which serve much of the Northern Dales and offer more frequent services. Stations along the Settle - Carlisle railway route offer a good connection into Leeds.
You'll probably want to check out broadband and mobile phone coverage - it's now much better, often excellent but it does vary from village to village.
Once you've thought about the must-haves, the answers to the other questions are more personal.
How rural do you want to be? This might seem an odd question when you're thinking about moving to the countryside but in a place like the Yorkshire Dales, there's rural and there's rural. What does countryside mean to you? I can take you to dales set in a pastoral landscape, with most places close to some kind of market town or village. I can also take you to equally beautiful dales that enjoy splendid isolation. Some people relish acres of brooding moors, whereas others feel they need a few trees to feel less vulnerable. There are areas of the Dales where you could stand by the road and barely see a soul and others where farm vehicles, cycling groups and day trippers will whoosh by with alarming frequency.
Consider the type of countryside you feel most comfortable with. Broad, open moorlands? A smaller village in the dip of a dale? Do you feel most at home at the top of the hill or the bottom of it? The landscape of the Yorkshire Dales varies enormously so there are bound to be some places that just "feel more right" than others.
How do you fare in the "milk test"? It's seven in the morning and you need a coffee before you're properly awake but you've just realised there's no milk. Do you:
- shrug - you're flexible and quite happy to go without something when needed
- feel a bit irritated that you've run out but smug too - you've planned ahead and got a pint in the freezer
- get dressed and dash out to the nearest convenience store - it's 20 miles away
- get dressed and wander over to the newsagent - you knew you couldn't live far away from somewhere that stocks the essentials.
The answer to this simple question will tell you a lot about the kind of place you need to move to!
And when you're looking at houses and spot a village shop, do double check it's open all year-round... Or ask if it's a community shop and if they need volunteers: it's a great way to meet the locals!
When we found our house in the Yorkshire Dales, we also applied the "coffee test" which was a bit more subjective. We enjoy good strong coffee and sometimes it's nice to drink it among others in a nearby cafe. As we were house-hunting in the depths of winter we stumbled across an eclectic cafe which serves excellent coffee in a lovely setting that's a little different from the average tea room. It was open in Winter (not a given) and the owner was very friendly. We chatted and then other locals joined in. That helped us decide: if a cafe like that could exist and open even in Winter, then it meant the place was fairly lively, and when the locals realised we were house-hunting they promptly listed all the benefits they saw in living here. We've not regretted our move!
Another question would be what kind of property are you looking for? If you've got a desire to build your own Grand Design, tread carefully - it might not be so easy in a National Park. Not impossible, but planning restrictions must be considered. Modern houses tend to be limited in the countryside so you're likely to find mainly older properties. And there's old and really old.
Historic might sound appealing but do bear in mind a few key factors. Older houses definitely have "character" and can be delightful to live in. They can also have leaky roofs, draughty windows, no damp proof course and all manner of other characterful defects. If they still appeal, budget accordingly - and then double your budget. We knew our lovely Grade II listed house needed a new roof when we bought it. We didn't expect to spend our first night in it, distributing eleven (11!) buckets to catch the drips. Or to have to pay way over the odds to find exactly the right stone to replace the crumbling tiles. It looks wonderful now, and the roofer spent so long here working on this job, he invited us to his wedding (we think we might have paid for it!).
Finding reliable tradespeople to work on your house in the country isn't too difficult. The good ones tend to be fairly well known in an area where everything runs on recommendations and word of mouth. The difficulty comes when you want them quickly, because they're likely to be busy and in demand with a long waiting list. It's not like in the city when you can just ring the next one on the list. When we first moved here I rang the recommended decorators only to be told he'd be happy to do the job but it would be about a year until he could come and even look at it!
Do bear in mind that if you live in an old house in the country, that house will have plenty of nooks and crannies in its structure. Characterful to you, homely and cosy to a legion of bats, insects, field mice, and their larger relatives. You probably don't want to read the story of the rat stuck in our dishwasher discharge pipe and how we had to remove it? And that was in a clean house... Don't move to the country until you've seen the hypnotherapist about your spider phobia. Do bring a Wildlife Guide with you - you'll be amazed and delighted by the variety of creatures you'll encounter and your love of nature will grow and grow as you sit and watch in wonder. Really.
One of the great benefits of moving to the countryside is that you definitely get more space for your money. When house hunting here, it's likely you can quite literally expand your horizons, which feels wonderfully liberating after being cooped up in a city. Don't forget to calculate the running costs of this lovely extra space. An acre of garden looks idyllic after looking out on your neighbour's paving but it won't cut itself, although the cutting will save on your gym bill. Old buildings often have really thick walls so they retain the heat well - once they're heated. Dales sheep will show you the low cost answer: a woollen jumper, wool rug for TV watching, thick Dales wool socks and a hot water bottle covered in tweed at bedtime will soon give you a lovely warm glow!
When rural house-hunting, you might also want to consider how important mains gas and sewerage are to you? Many houses in the Yorkshire Dales don't have a gas supply, have a septic tank (needs emptying once a year and the law has changed so the local farmer can't do it anymore) and use oil for their heating.
How do you know your chosen location will be a good place to live? Here are a few ways to decide if it's right for you.
- Walk around. Do you need to be near people? Are there any? Look out for notice boards and posters in windows. Does it look like there's much happening in that village/location?
- Check out the area on social media. Some villages and market towns are really active online, showing their passion for the area, telling people what's on and encouraging involvement. Keld is a good example of a really welcoming community who'd love some new families to go and live there! Let me know if you'd like me to introduce you to some friendly locals.
- Check out the local businesses. Speak to locals. Go and sit near the bar in the local pub or cafe, or on an outside bench. Sooner or later someone will talk to you and you'll get the chance to ask what the area is like to live in. Yorkshire people tend to be fairly blunt so you'll get an honest answer.
- Stay. There's at least one B&B or holiday cottage in most areas and if you're planning a big move, it makes sense to try before you buy. Book a stay in the area, and don't bring your supermarket shopping with you so you can enjoy a more realistic experience - we really value people who shop local where possible. Spend a few days mooching around, talking to people (we're very friendly), and finding out what there is to do.
You're welcome to email me if you need some help to decide if you're doing the right thing!