This is Not #CottageCore

Here I am, wafting about underneath a canopy of wisteria. It all looks very serene and idyllic, but don’t let appearances fool you! Just out of shot: a cockapoo eating the remains of a small dead bird, a three year-old trying to touch the remains of the aforementioned small dead bird, Mr AMR shouting at both the dog and the three year-old in an attempt to get them to leave the dead bird alone and a four year-old crying because her empty blackbird eggshell has broken again.

(The egg is called Layla. Everything seems to be called Layla in this house, from dinosaur torches to “precious” stones that have been unearthed from the flower bed. But now we also have the remains of a tiny egg, called Layla – it’s the smallest slither of impossibly delicate, pale blue shell. It started off as roughly two-thirds of an empty shell, but four year-olds have no concept of the word “fragile” and so within two seconds it became half of an empty egg and half a day later the majority of that had disintegrated too.)

Anyway. I read an article at the weekend that discussed something called “cottagecore” which apparently is a sort of romanticised vision of what people think their lives would be like if they lived in the country. Possibly in a tiny, wisteria-hung, seventeenth-century thatch cottage, making pots of jam on the AGA and securing little squares of red and white gingham over the tops of the jars with bits of old string.

Now I’m not one to shatter people’s dreams (I also don’t live in a cottage, so perhaps I don’t even count) but if you’re living in the city and tinkering with the idea of finding a remote abode somewhere and replacing your daily London commute with Zoom meetings plus a weekly office trip then note that:

a) you will never make jam, or if you do then you will make it only once

b) you will want to take a sledgehammer to your AGA within a matter of weeks

c) your thatch will have a bazillion insects and small, crawling animals living in it – think of it like Mr Twit’s beard, but with more activity

Oh, it’s easy to see country life as one big romp around the haystacks in a smocked white dress, but the reality is is that you’ll spend 90% of the time wearing your oldest tracksuit bottoms and mud-caked wellies, standing on the roof of your car in an attempt to find some mobile phone signal. And if you’re doing that then you’re probably trying to phone the oil people to come and fill your oil tank or the sewerage people to come and empty your septic tank or a roofer to come and repair your ancient roof.

I jest, of course. I am the most susceptible person ever to romanticised visions of pastoral life – how do you think I ended up here? And country life has much going for it – a slower, less frenetic pace, clean air, lots of space and greenery and wildlife, gorgeous old stone houses and picturesque #cottages – but dear God don’t think that you’ll suddenly turn into the sort of person who has time to make jam. Unless, that is, you’ve already got the time to make jam.

One of the biggest things I’ve realised, since moving to the sticks, is that plopping yourself somewhere geographically different, especially somewhere more remote, will not in itself automatically change your life. We moved from the outskirts of London to the depths of Somerset with a two year-old and a six month-old baby and for some reason, perhaps because I was postpartum and slightly crazed, I thought that by escaping to the country we would also escape the overwhelming intensity of our everyday lives. But if anything it made life harder. People (the three that we knew in our new county!) were suddenly more spread out – there was no peering out of the window on the offchance that we’d get a friendly wave – and each trip to the shops or a cafe or a baby class involved an epic loading and offloading of small children into the car, so much so that eventually I just didn’t bother.

And you think you won’t miss the bright lights of the city (“I never use the theatres anyway! Why pay such a premium to live in a city when I don’t even use it?”) but once you’ve unpacked all of your boxes in your remote Herefordshire manor house/Devonshire bothy and you’ve knitted your hemp blanket to keep the vegetable patch warm, won’t you be itching for just a little bit of excitement?

Just playing devil’s advocate! Don’t shoot the messenger!

It has taken me the good part of three years to get used to living in the countryside. Granted, I did double-whammy and moved the whole way across the country as well as going remote (what can I say? The house sang to me like a wanton temptress) but still. There are things to consider – things that don’t seem important at the time of moving, but will gradually creep up on you after the three month Honeymoon period is over.

It starts with a general sense of unease – a niggling feeling of is this it? – and then it grows, daily, until winter sets in and you feel the full, bleak force of untempered weather. Because there are no distractions, really, if you’re out in the middle of nowhere; you wake up and look outside and it’s all about the weather. In winter that means rain, rain, wind and a lot of mud. In a town, or in the city, you notice the weather but I feel as though it’s more of an inconvenience if it’s bad – and a huge bonus if it’s good. Life still goes on, streets have Christmas lights and stalls have mulled wine; but if there are no buzzing cafes, bustling pavements and nice shops, and your immediate entertainment involves walking, tending to the garden and more walking then… It’s a different way of life.

I now feel at peace with it, but it’s taken a while and I’m not afraid to admit it. I’ll also come out and say: it can be lonely. There.

So, people lusting after the cottagecore life; if you’re feeling isolated now, in lockdown, then it’s a good time to consider how you would feel with the slightly different level of ongoing isolation that living remotely brings. True, outside of lockdown you are free to socialise and visit family and meet friends at the local organic (“all meat is raised and butchered on the estate!”) pub but everything is slightly more effort. You don’t just pop out for a donder to the shops if you live in a hamlet – you pop out to walk the dog and yes, you see the owls taking flight as the sun goes down and you get to appreciate the sound of absolute, definitive silence as you lay your head on your pillow at night, but you have to ask yourself, would you miss the sound of human life around you?

If the answer is no then go full steam ahead with your #cottagecore dream. Have chickens pecking at your doorstep and dry your boots on the top of the AGA and lomp down to the river with the dog instead of queuing to get into the tube station at Holborn at rush hour. For me, the benefits of living in lots of space and peacefulness vastly outweigh the perks of the city, but then I did live in London for over a decade, then a few more years within easy commuting reach, and I feel as though I got my fix.

So who am I to tell you what you want? If the #cottagecore life seduces you and you find yourself on Rightmove then the best of luck – maybe I should write a guide on what to consider! Just don’t expect to make jam…

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33 Comments

  1. nicole
    May 24, 2020 / 3:14 am

    Hi Ruth! I have dreams of moving to somewhere less urban in another 10 years time. I live in a very urban area now and find that I’m doing pretty ok during CB. However, I am deathly afraid of bugs and insects of all shapes and types. Do you find there’s more encounters with them out in the country? esp you mentioned the crawlies on thatchd roof…

    • May 24, 2020 / 5:11 pm

      I don’t have a thatch so can’t say from experience, I just know from researching! I’m not sure there are noticeably more, I have to be honest! We used to get LOADS of moths in London! x

  2. Abigail
    May 22, 2020 / 9:29 pm

    Another point to ponder anyone who fancies a country lifestyle, be aware that now with the government drive to build build build, you could buy what you think is an idyllic country cottage, only to find a couple of housing estates springing up on neighbouring farmland and you’ll end up right where you started more or less. Think carefully before you do.

    • May 22, 2020 / 10:04 pm

      Oh God, did that happen to you? x

  3. Kate
    May 22, 2020 / 7:15 pm

    Great article! I am obsessed with your hat and your wisteria. Do you know the name of the style of your hat? Thanks so much.

  4. Beth
    May 19, 2020 / 10:16 pm

    We moved to the Hampshire countryside from London not long after you (I think – end of 2017). Completely agree with everything you’ve said – I had this idyllic idea in my head that turned out to be completely inaccurate! Nevertheless, I do love it now, but it took (is still taking, to be honest) getting used to, particularly the increased distance from friends and family.

  5. Sarah
    May 17, 2020 / 12:00 pm

    Love this Ruth, such a great perspective. Always think about the idyllic side of living in the country, but as I’m struggling at the moment in isolation – maybe I’m not quite ready for it!

  6. Lucy
    May 16, 2020 / 11:49 am

    I live pretty near where you are and until recently worked in what’s likely your nearest town. I’m not from the area though! I have to say we’ve found living in a market town in Somerset/Wiltshire a good compromise because I can drive a few minutes for a country walk and yet have a choice of 3 or 4 cafés in walking distance. Super helpful when I was on maternity leave. Do you think you’d consider something like that when the kids are older to avoid being Mum Taxi?

    • May 17, 2020 / 1:52 pm

      Yes I do worry about becoming Mum Taxi later on, but then again after this lockdown period I kind of feel as though ANYTHING would be easier – I mean at least I’d be taking them somewhere! Haha..

  7. LilyM
    May 14, 2020 / 7:21 pm

    What a great read. I have lived all my life in London (different parts, if that counts?) and often think I’d like to move somewhere off the grid when I’m a bit older.
    I often feel like everything is too cramped together, too dirty, too loud, too expensive for my salary…but have never thought the countryside would also have its drawbacks!

    P.S having awful flashbacks of Holborn at rush hour now- do not miss the queues, the heat OR walking up a million steps! Roughly whereabouts did you live when you were in London? x

    • May 14, 2020 / 9:51 pm

      I lived in Latimer Road for a bit, then Shoreditch for a long time, when it was properly cool and grimy – : ) – and then Leytonstone for a few years before moving to the outskirts of Herts/Essex. And now Somerset!

      • Olga
        May 23, 2020 / 11:00 am

        Hi Ruth, we are househunting in the Herts/Essex outskirts! Did you like it there? If it’s not too much to ask where did you live?

        I am in Central London ATM but ready to make the move to give my daughter a bit more space.

        • May 23, 2020 / 6:40 pm

          I was in a tiny village called Roydon and it was gorgeous. Hunsdon is beautiful, Ware is lovely but bigger! Trains are mega fast. You wouldn’t regret it.. Just check out flight paths if that sort of thing bothers you as Stansted flights go over some of the villages nearer to the airport really low! xx

  8. Joely
    May 14, 2020 / 4:29 pm

    Ruth…

    I remember reading a comment of yours, years ago, it was either here or in an interview… but you said that you were going to write about the things that had surprised you about living in the countryside/Somerset.

    I got the impression that there are downsides. Downsides to be taken seriously.

    Could I jog your memory… and perhaps ask if you’d ever write this?

    My husband and I have been planning to make the move to Dorset and it would be so, so, so (x million) helpful to be cautioned before we make what could be a big mistake.

    Thank you!

    • May 14, 2020 / 5:07 pm

      I’d say not much more than mentioned here, but I’ve spoken to so many people that did the same as me and it takes YEARS to get used to it. You think you’re used to it and settled immediately but it’s a honeymoon period, then shit gets real! But now I love it again. I don’t think I could ever live in anything busier than a village now. A bit more bustle than where we are would be nice, but equally I’m not sure I could leave my house so… : )
      x

  9. Lisa
    May 13, 2020 / 10:12 pm

    Love it!!! I moved from Manchester out to the countryside on the Cheshire/Shropshire border and it took a long time to get used to it…missed the shops, night life, people!! I’d say at least 4-5 years of settling in but now when I got back to MCR to see family it seems so built up and dirty and my kids who are now teenagers think it’s a big scary place!

    • May 14, 2020 / 7:38 am

      Yes, you lose sight of how amazing it is but then appreciate it when you go back into towns and cities!

  10. Ashley Casey
    May 13, 2020 / 7:34 pm

    This is such an interesting perspective for me because I come from the opposite. I grew up in the country, worked in some very remote places and then had to adjust to much more populous areas. Your descriptions are accurate in such a way as to make me long for it. Someday I’ll get back to the rural life and my mud-caked wellies :)

  11. Hannah
    May 13, 2020 / 6:45 pm

    I grew up in Suffolk, moved to a city for uni, back to a big village, and have now lived somewhere properly rural for 13 years. The best way I can describe it is that lockdown really doesn’t feel that different – the nearest source of food is an M&S garage 4 miles down the road and the closest takeaways/supermarkets 8 miles away. We lost our pub last year, 4th owner in 13 years, and can’t see it reopening this time. It’s amazing in late spring, lovely in summer, pretty in early autumn and an absolute nightmare from November to March – mud and floods. I’d never tell anyone not to move to the country but you have to be self sufficient, well organised, up for your neighbours knowing your business and not mind spending half your life in the car.

    • May 14, 2020 / 7:39 am

      Oh I’m sorry to hear that. What are your plans now? x

  12. Kay
    May 13, 2020 / 3:53 pm

    I moved from London to Lincolnshire over 20 years ago and literally thought I had died. We live in a village just outside of Lincoln and these days there are lots more amenities around in town, our village has more pubs (2) than shops (1) so we have to travel for everything. Saying that, it was a good place to bring up children and i do make jam every year. x

    • May 13, 2020 / 4:24 pm

      Haha do you? Excellent!! Yes it’s great for the kids. Although equally, I think it’s great when they live in towns and cities with parks and museums etc – swings and roundabouts. Literally, lol.

  13. May 13, 2020 / 2:48 pm

    I think I would enjoy the country side, at least the one that comes with a decent phone signal and stable Internet connection, but I have no intentions ever to make jam.

  14. Gillian Pidler
    May 13, 2020 / 1:06 pm

    I’m lucky enough to live in a small market town in Devon and I love it. We’re on the outside edge of town so everything is a hop skip and jump away shop wise/market/swimming pool etc wise, but it’s quiet on the edge and we live in a cul de sac. I have just been fighting with my wireless printer to print out a carrot chutney recipe so your post made me giggle.
    We are also blessed with a huge 75 foot garden so me and my daughter (20), have been planting it up with all manner of veggies and salads. I have lemon trees growing (baby stage) and a beautiful new magnolia tree and maple tree that I am lovingly nurturing.
    I also love watching Escape to the country to see all the beautiful cottages/farm houses/barn conversions. I do love your home Ruth it’s so beautiful but sadly when my sister offered me some wisteria cuttings in trade for a couple of lemon trees, I had to decline after reading your other post about the bees as hubby would run a country mile if I had that growing on our house!! She’s giving me home made soap instead!

    • May 13, 2020 / 3:31 pm

      Oh now that is the ideal situation, for me, I think; being on the edge of a village but with space around. Hard to come by and for good reason! : )

      • Lisa
        May 13, 2020 / 10:18 pm

        I’m selling my beautiful barn conversion…on the edge of a very sort after village in Audlem/Cheshire (plus 1 acre garden)… Going on right move very soon…hope we get some interest with house selling soon and a decent price with this shitty COVID situation and it’s aftermath!!

  15. Cristina
    May 13, 2020 / 9:31 am

    Thanks Ruth, I really enjoyed this post. I live in a medium-size European city and do not plan to move to the countryside, but I think that your warnings can apply to other types of life-phantasising also.

  16. May 13, 2020 / 8:19 am

    I totally agree with pretty much everything you’ve said! A few years ago I swapped central London (10 years like you) for rural south of Spain. Admittedly it was for work so it wasn’t so much for the cottage cottagecore ideal- and instead of jam mine were visions of tapas making- but still.

    Both ways of life have their pluses and minuses and I totally agree it’s very easy to leave out all the boring daily stuff when it’s grey in rainy London and you’re daydreaming about a new life!

    • May 13, 2020 / 3:32 pm

      So true!! Re the tapas, what’s your favourite?!!

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