IF you find city living a pinch on the purse strings, it might be time to up sticks to the countryside – but how remote would you roam?
The rise of off-grid communities – and hellish cost of city living – has sparked more families to sell up and sow new seeds in the countryside for a better quality of life.
However, life in the sticks comes with some very unusual sacrifices.
Here, two adventurous mums who left the rat race behind to live in the wilderness reveal all of the weird and wonderful challenges it brings with it…
Opening the kitchen cupboard, Jessica Ord reached inside to grab a box of cereal, only to hear a symphony of squeaks.
There – alongside the badly-chewed packet of cornflakes – was a mummy mouse and her brood of babies.
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While most of us would run from the kitchen, shrieking in terror, Jess, 35, wouldn’t have it any other way.
Back in 2019, she abandoned her hectic London life to live on a 200-year-old isolated farm with her husband Richard, 36, a farmer and their two young children, Monty, five, and two-year-old Primrose.
It was a shock to the system for the former London dweller, who now owns hypnobirthing company, Positively Pregnant – but nothing she hadn’t tackled before.
“I’d grown up in a North Yorkshire village and thought I knew everything about rural living, but when Richard took over his family farm, oh boy was I in for a shock,” she said. “No longer could I grab a burger from the street corner, or pick up my morning coffee fix en route to work. What would I do without my little luxuries?”
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Jessica’s home near Alnwick, Northumberland is a 10-minute drive from the nearest village and when bad weather sweeps in, she’s totally cut off from the rest of the world.
Far from the stressed-out film and TV script supervisor she once was working in the capital, Jessica is now a rope-wielding heroine who comes to the rescue of panic-stricken delivery drivers stranded in the wilderness.
“The property is so remote, the surrounding land isn’t even on a map,” she says. “It’s a delivery drivers’ worst nightmare.
“Once, Richard and I had to take his tractor and respond to a crackly call from a driver in distress minutes from my house after he got stuck in a bog.”
There’s little chance you’ll find their peaceful property among the thick woodland and rolling hills, unless you know where to look.
“The farm sits at the foothills of an ancient druid settlement – complete with amphitheatre, sacrificial font and stone circles. It’s a really special place – so special that it’s had to be kept off public maps.”
It’s a dreamy destination for the family, who rarely see another soul, but Jessica soon says there’s a hefty price to pay for her peace.
“The farmhouse is so far up in the hills that we have no mains power, a very temperamental water supply and patchy internet at best,” she said.
“Then there’s the pests. We have so many mice that I’ve had to put all my cupboard food in glass jars so they can’t eat it.
“We used to call it the mouse house because they were everywhere.
“And don’t get me started on takeaways. Oh how I miss a Chinese or an Indian on a Saturday night.
“They’re half-an-hour away by car, and they don’t deliver. I think that’s the thing I really miss the most.”
Instead of watching box sets and nipping over to the neighbours (who, as it happens, are miles away) for a cuppa like she’d do in London, Jessica spends her days filling buckets and kettles with water – just in case their water cuts off.
“In the winter months, or extremely bad weather, the electricity can go off for days at a time,” she explains. “Sometimes we can’t get hold of fresh fruit and veg, so I rely heavily on baked beans.
“We’ve even had a petrol pump installed in the farm, not wanting to run out if we can’t get out to the village.”
But no matter how bad the weather is, the cows, chickens and sheep on the farm still need to be fed.
“When everyone else was snuggling down under blankets during the beast from the east back in March, I was helping Richard tie tennis rackets to his hands and knees – the surface area of the thick-stringed bats helped him crawl outside without sinking into the 8ft snow,” she recalled.
Despite all the hairy moments, Jessica wouldn’t change her home for the world.
“I’ve grown to love the slower pace of life, the lack of neighbours, watching the kids roam free,” she said. “I used to be highly-strung and stressed out but now I’m relaxed and a lot healthier, physically and emotionally.
"Away from the pressures of city life, Richard and I hardly ever argue – and we have far more time together.
“The kids have never known any different, so they're completely happy. And I’ve built myself a community of friends up here, other rural women who I can relate to.
“It may be a 20-minute drive for us to meet up, but otherwise, we keep in touch via WhatsApp all day, every day. I'm less lonely here than in the city, where everyone was caught up in their own bubble.
“Country living has been the medicine I didn’t know I needed.”
Jessica’s not the only mum who’s moved out to the sticks. Back in 2017, Chloe Haywood left the safety of her terraced house near Weybridge in Surrey for an ancient house in Cheddar, Somerset.
Chloe, 48, lives with her husband Stevie, 52, a production sound mixer, and their three children Christian, 12, Alexander, nine and six-year-old Benji.
“I’ll always remember the parting words of the couple who sold us their house: ‘Don’t forget to shut the gate or you’ll get cows in the garden’,” she says. “I thought it was a strange thing to say, until we were posting lost cow alerts in our local Facebook group.
“An apologetic farmer promptly turned up at our door and shooed his cattle home but since then, giant bugs, snakes and horrifying spiders have made the cow seem like a piece of cake.
“I’ve seen grass snakes, huge slow worms that look more like adders and moths the size of bats. Stevie has even been bitten by a tick on several occasions.
“It’s like the insects are super-sized – the grasshoppers and dragonflies are enormous. And don’t even talk to me about the spiders.”
Chloe, a designer who makes homeware out of recycled waste products, has always loved the countryside, but it took a while to get used to the fact that her home in Cheddar is quite so remote.
“In Surrey, I’d give Stevie a call to grab some food on the way home. Now we’re 15 minutes from the nearest shop, so we have to plan our meals to a tee…or go hungry.
“And there’s no point phoning one another – there’s no reception here at all.”
Chloe’s house used to get its water from a well but by the time they moved in, there was a mains supply – and a very nice surprise waiting for them.
“Due to an old clause about potential contamination in the water, we were exempt from paying for our water for years,” she revealed. “It’s only been recently that someone thought better of it and started billing us. Still, we saved over £200 a year while it lasted.
“And we have the unpleasant job of having to remember when our septic tank needs emptying and call the ‘sludge gubbler’ to come and collect our waste. It’s not a job I’d like to have – if the pressure gets too high, I dread to think about what would happen – but needs must.
“All of that said, I love it here. Breathing in the country air is an instant stress-reliever and everyone is so friendly here, it’s like living in The Archers.
“Luckily the kids love it too. My youngest loves picking flowers and even came home the other day chattering about two racing snails, while my eldest adores the bike rides.
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