How to move to the country without losing your mind

Words by
Gavin Plumley

17th June 2022

Leading cultural historian Gavin Plumley moved to a little village in Herefordshire: here's what he wished he knew beforehand.

Reading the weekend supplements, you’d think that leaving the city was the worst idea in the world. There may be countless paeans to wild swimming spots, but there are just as many column inches warning that, beyond the M25, there be dragons. Of course, the countryside is not for all, particularly if having Phō delivered at 3am is as critical to you as a range of dog groomers. But if you can see beyond urban spontaneity and flair, the following guidelines might help you settle into an equally rewarding rural existence.

1. Pick a village rather than a secluded spot 
It might be tempting to spurn the world entirely, but it can be debilitating to cut yourself off. A village is where it’s at. They can, of course, have complicated, overlapping hierarchies, but understanding these often ancient forces and getting fully involved is the start to a happy life.

2. Know what you’re buying
Folklore retains great currency, though you need to separate fact from fiction, not least when it comes to your own house. If it’s old, it’ll hold several stories. Do your research, find out when it was built and, even if it’s not listed, don’t change anything before establishing that you’re not in a conservation area or subject to other bylaws. It may be your house but it’s not your village – at least not yet. 

3. Drink at the local
Pick somewhere close to a pub. My home sits opposite the front door to the local in our Herefordshire village. Once you’ve found one, become a regular; it’ll make you feel less of an interloper. And pubs remain social centres where information is shared freely, like when I discovered that Pride in Pembridge was not, in fact, a local LGBTQ+ organisation but a group responsible for keeping the place tidy and attractive for residents and visitors alike. 

4. Embrace the seasons 
The passage of spring to summer and autumn to winter has continually informed rural life. Embrace the yearly timetable. Harvest apples, plant seeds and steep your sloes and damsons in gin – even dye your own clothes, if that’s your thrill. All of it will make you appreciate processes that are often made invisible by an urban setting but which are readily apparent in the country. 

5. Retain a sense of humour
Not everything is what it seems, like when you think the church is being robbed in the middle of the night. It may, in fact, prove to be an annual bat survey. So it’s worth checking before you phone the police. And remember to laugh at yourself when the rest of the village does just that the following morning. 

A Home for All Seasons by Gavin Plumley (Atlantic Books) is out now.

A Home For All Seasons by Gavin Plumley