mumsnetBack along, my family and I swapped a house for a three-acre field in Devon and a leaky caravan where we lived off-grid for two years. Sadly, we failed to get the planning permission we needed to stay. We are now back within four walls, with a proper loo and everything in a cottage in Dartmoor. So this is now a blog about living ethically amid a fabulous landscape with our home educated kids while we adjust to being 'normal' - for a while... and what we plan to do with our land next

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Living in the country – not for wimps

'Living in the country is tough, a little bit dangerous and not for wimps,' said author Mavis Cheek last week as she launched a campaign to warn retirees that rural life is not the idyll it's cracked up to be.

Of course, the 'quick-to-take-offence' brigade have got on their high horses – literally in some cases. But I think what poor Mavis was trying to say is that there are some stark realities about living in the countryside – such as isolation and transport – that some people may not factor in when planning a retirement growing their own veg and walking the labrador.

And one doesn't have to be so old to appreciate this – since transport issues were brought home to us this week when the water pump on our car finally and irretrievably rattled off its bearings.

This happened on the trip home from Brownies, as heart in mouth I negotiated steep, narrow and isolated lanes in the dark with my eyes fixated on the temperature gauge, which was jammed on red. 'Please,' I whispered to the car, 'please, just get us home.'

Bless it, it managed to get us back to our gate where it sat smouldering slightly and smelling strongly of hot.

That was the easy part.

The next day Gully, carrying a large container of water, drove to the small garage in a neighbouring village – who couldn't fix it. They gave him a telephone number of a garage in another village. They could fix it, but wouldn't be able to for ten days.

Let us pause here and examine what ten days without a car in our village might be like. The nearest stop for a regular bus service is three miles away from where the great metropolis of Tiverton – or South Molton, if you prefer – can be reached. Of the two, Tiverton has more connections to elsewhere, it being in possession of a train station, albeit eight miles from the town.

In other words, unless you are a keen cyclist or have the time to walk long distances, one is pretty stuck without a car.

Happily, Gully is a turn-his-hand-to-anything sort of chap. He set off for Exeter with enough water to have kept us going for a week, where he and my extremely useful nephew, Scott, spent several productive hours fitting a new pump themselves.

So in the end, the sum of our experience was an enforced day at home, which even then pretty much depleted our food reserves since our fridge is the size of a small box. Were we old and infirm, or I single, or Gully not so handy with a wrench, the outcome would have been far worse.

So Mavis has a point and her campaign raises wider issues about modern rural life – not least that the age of the those living in the countryside is disproportionately older than the general population – not to mention wealthier.

It seems to me that the rural population's almost complete dependence on the motor car is not unconnected with its demographic. Neither of which are particularly sustainable. The end logic being that we either abandon the countryside to become a giant theme park or set about restoring it to a place where people can actually make a living, which will both change the demographic and bring back stores and schools and, heaven knows, even buses.

Now, that would be idyllic.

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