Everything’s in the city. So why would anyone ever want to leave it for life in the sticks? Charlie Swinbourne, who has just moved from London to Yorkshire with his wife and two young daughters, tells us why they took the plunge
The day we visited London Aquarium was the final nail in the coffin for my family and city life. As I caught sight of the penguins in the Ice Adventure section through a crowd of people four deep, my arms aching from holding a three-year old above my head so that she could see, it hit me that from the penguins’ point of view, it might look like we were the ones being held captive.
Everything you could ever need to occupy a child is in London, from house-sized cinema screens to theatres, museums and parks. But there are simply too many people. As a consequence, when you have kids, London becomes one big queue.
Whether you’re getting on a bus, finding a table in a café, or walking down a busy shopping street, when you’ve got children in tow, you hit one pram jam after another.
The Richmond area, where we lived, is leafy by London standards. But even local community festivals were so packed that we feared we might never see our daughters again if they escaped our sight even for a second.
If you’ve ever taken your kin to a London-based soft play centre during the holidays or at weekends, you’ll know true chaos. They’re overcrowded, everyone’s stressed and overtired, and it always ends in tears. And that’s just the parents!
In the past year, we realised new queues were forming. For school nursery places, with one eye on the reception class next year. For the right pew at the church, so the priest could see you’d been in regular attendance. Even, at its most extreme, for swimming lessons, with parents queueing in the early hours to sign up at the local leisure centre.
The question for us became: is this what childhood’s supposed to be about? We started to dream of a different way of life. One where planes might not fly over every two minutes. Where the air might be fresh. Where we might actually get to know our neighbours.
That’s why, last summer, my wife, two daughters and I exchanged Twickenham for Tickhill, a semi-rural market town in Yorkshire. We’re now surrounded by green fields and farms.
We were welcomed straightaway. On our second day, our new neighbours left us a bag of home-grown vegetables by our front door. The other neighbour invited us in for a cuppa. In Yorkshire, we’ve found that people really do chat to you in shops and smile when you pass them in the street.
There are so many places to visit. For shopping, Leeds is our new Kingston. Sherwood Forest is our replacement for Richmond Park. And who needs London Zoo when you’ve got Yorkshire Wildlife Park on your doorstep? You don’t even have to look over any shoulders.
If we were worried about finding ourselves out of the loop in the sticks, well nowadays it wouldn’t matter if we lived in a hut on a remote Scottish isle. If you have an internet connection, you can still keep up with what’s happening in the Big Smoke. Plus, if you can’t find an item locally, you can buy it online.
Just round the corner, there’s a beautiful walk through the fields. The children have a sense of open space they’ve never had before. They can see the horizon without looking past high-rise buildings. They can see the stars shining like diamonds in a pitch-black sky at night.
Best of all, we can still get to London by train in less than two hours. London is set up for tourists, so why not become one? Go there for a family day out. Visit everything. Gaze in wonder at the landmarks. Then go home and breathe in the fresh country air.
Charlie swapped city life for a more rural setting to raise his kids but what do you think. Is the countryside better for families? We’d love to hear your thoughts.