Ever since the lockdown has eased, there’s been a spike in interest in rural living by London-based buyers. Having been mercilessly shut away in flats and small homes without outdoor spaces, city dwellers are beginning to look further afield and are seriously considering moving to the countryside, reassessing and reprioritising what is important to them in terms of lifestyle.

Before we fully accept that urban life has lost its charm, we need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves some important questions about where we’d like our lives to unfold and what kind of lifestyle we are seeking in the long term. Even if Covid does stay with us for another year or two, does that mean that we have to change our entire way of living?

It’s true that living in London with its ever-increasing population is not for the faint hearted, but exchanging the buzz of city life for the inactivity of a rural life when we’re still youngish could turn out to be a mistake. Do we truly need a significant change or are we overreacting to the current circumstances that will eventually pass? Eventually London will resume - it always does, even from Covid! Will ‘panic movers’ ever be able to return to London as residents? Probably not.

Clearly lockdown was so much more bearable for those living in large rural properties. It was more an opportunity to spend quality time with family, catch up with some outdoor DIY projects, bake sourdough and take long country walks.

Of course, I love breathing in that incredibly clean air, standing in a huge field whenever I visit the Yorkshire Dales to see my husband’s family. Staring out across the valley, a lush green and purple canvas, so wild and vast. I enjoy walking to the village shop and post office and chatting with Dorothy as I pick up some milk and send a letter. Slowing down my breathing and my walking pace, happy to linger over a large mug of Yorkshire tea and a slice of parkin in the afternoon or relishing a nice pub roast dinner and half a pint of thick local ale. It’s restorative, it’s a pleasure for a week or so but it’s not really ‘me.’

Dorothy and other people I’ve met within the community up north have known my in-laws for years and so I have been made to feel welcome whenever I visit. This could happen in any context, city or country. Even rural locations can feel very isolated unless you know people. If ‘city people’ are buying properties then moving out after a few years, that rural idyll of ‘a community’ does not have time to form and cemented friendships can’t take hold. It can take a good few years for the locals to accept ‘big shot’ Londoners or any newcomers onto their patch. Why should the locals embrace change? In fact, they are now exposed; their secret is out, and the influx of people is not why they moved there in the first place nor the way it used to be.

Whether we are based in London, St Albans or in the country, if we stay in any one place for long enough, we can experience a sense of community, by becoming part of a parish or allotment group or volunteering for a charity.

Moving to the country to raise a family might be fun at first but it can turn into a bit of a myth. Despite the appeal of vast green spaces and clean fresh air, lower crime rates and less crowded schooling (a dream to jaded urbanites) as children grow older they may need more stimulation. They may want the individual freedom to become themselves away from the family, to connect with different cultures and have more career opportunities.

Before we embark upon an ‘urban exodus’, we need to keep in mind the possibility of locations with patchy internet connections which could severely affect our productivity if working from home. Not to mention fewer shops and restricted bus or rail services.

For me, London is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with its central squares and green spaces, its sparkling boutiques and colourful street markets, its multiculturalism and postmodern buildings, its ancient churches and Soho café culture. Nothing compares to the grandeur of Mayfair, the garden squares of Bloomsbury, the retail bustle of Oxford Street and the huge areas of parkland covering Greater London. The constant flow of people and the buzz of being in the thick of it is simply irreplaceable.

When I was growing up in London we lived in strong and quite safe communities and now it is true with the influx of more and more people and overcrowding there is a danger of less integration. My husband tells me that in his first few weeks of moving to London he didn’t know many people and experienced a terrible loneliness. On the other hand, he was given great job opportunities which could not have happened as easily elsewhere.

I suppose Richmond would be the most idyllic place to live, so close to nature and yet a mere twenty minutes on the Piccadilly line and you a literally find yourself in the middle of Leicester Square!

If we had that sort of cash, we could join Mick Jagger and Sandra Bullock roaming Richmond Park and feeding the deer.

Living on the city fringes as we do is possibly the ideal. Places like St Albans, Harpenden and Welwyn Garden City offer a cosy atmosphere of a small market town steeped in history. Being close to London is far more than just a convenience. It keeps one culturally alive with its theatres, galleries and exhibitions. Imagine all the fun you’d miss without them. The eclectic mix of cultures, or endless diversion that only a huge city can exude.

After over 50 years of London living my mother now dons a pair of Nike trainers, a TK Maxx jacket (perfect for the ever-changing weather) and a crossbody handbag, despite growing up in a rural Italian village. These days, I’ll often find her hanging out in Caffe Nero, sipping cappuccino and chatting with the young Italian staff. I on the other hand, after moving out of London at the age of 30, now feel like a bit of an out-of-towner! I admit that I’ve become more countrified, perhaps a little more fresh-faced, occasionally wearing a Barbour blazer, a pretty scarf and a pair of smart ankle boots. Funny how life turns out!

  • Marisa Laycock moved to St Albans in 2000. She enjoys sharing her experiences of living in the city. These columns are also available as podcasts from 92.6FM Radio Verulam at www.radioverulam.com/smallcitylife