The great Samuel Johnson famously observed "When a man tires of London, he tires of life". Having lived in London all of my life you would be forgiven for thinking that the city was in my blood, ingrained in my psyche, that I was a true Londoner never to leave. However I disagree with Johnson, and London is not ingrained into my psyche. In 2011, I sold my central London flat, packed up my possessions and with dog and fiancé in tow we moved to the picturesque town of Henley on Thames in Oxfordshire.
We didn't know Henley, we didn't know anyone that lived there and we had never even been to the annual Henley Regatta. We did however know that it is less than an hours train journey to London, has a few good pubs and a Waitrose and to my citified-weary eyes we were moving to the countryside. I couldn't wait to settle into our new home, make new friends, take the dog for walks that didn't involve Hyde Park and be able to choose Oxfordshire as our county in drop down lists.
It was a safe first move away from the city, not too far away, still surrounded by people and shops but on a far smaller scale. However my sister thought (and still thinks) I was mad to move, considering Henley to be twee, my mother suspected the move would last six months maximum, my best friend thought it would last three months and countless others wrote me off as no longer available for cocktails and girlie nights out.
Okay so now we have been here in Henley on Thames for four years and I have not looked back once.
- I still go for cocktails and girlie nights out but the difference is I can now walk home because my sister was right - Henley is thankfully, beautifully, wonderfully twee.
- We now enjoy discovering new dog walks and even when we do the same walk again and again it doesn't get boring. Woodland never gets boring, flat, crowded parkland does.
- We have made friends with our neighbours, something that was literally impossible to even attempt in London. When I use the adjective friend I mean the true essence of the word. Not just a superficial greeting relationship. Granted, not everyone wants to get to know us or us them, but the ones that we are interested in becoming friends with have so far been fun and amazing people, open to proper friendship. Living in London for me meant seeing the same group of friends week after week, sticking rigidly to the same social circle. In beautiful, twee Henley we have made more life long friendships in the last four years than I did in the twenty years since leaving school.
- My two bedroom London flat, the back drop to my twenties bought us a comfortable, three bedroom house with a garden, now the backdrop to family life with two children, two dogs and a million Peppa Pigs. A walk from the station, local pubs, that Waitrose and those cocktail bars, the location is fantastic whether you want to shop, take the kids to the playground or walk home barefoot and drunk with the girls.
- The local pubs here are really good, proper, traditional English pubs. The types that would usually be overcrowded by very loud people if they were situated in London. I used to live opposite the Westbourne pub, a fantastic venue with delicious food, great decor and good staff, but always over crowded. I would walk around the corner to The Cow, an amazing pub with delicious food, seriously great decor and good staff, but always over crowded. I would walk further on to the Prince Bonaparte, a good venue with good food and quite good decor and if I was lucky there would sometimes be a table there. Going further afield meant making a big effort taking a tube journey across town or being lazy and driving which meant not drinking. I do not miss this.
- Since having children, schools are obviously high on our list of importance and my own childhood memories of being driven to school in heavy London traffic every day do not have to be repeated. The local state and private schools all with good Ofsted reports (and within walking distance) are easy to get into. No bun fights here. Yet London is notorious for being an arms race to get anywhere near into a decent school.
- The restaurants here are child friendly places, this might sound horrific to some people, but honestly if you have children under a certain age, this is heaven. Not only do they welcome you in with children but they positively encourage you to have a relaxed meal there by providing enough high chairs, colouring pencils, balloons and stickers to ensure every parent enough time to eat a hot meal that they haven't had to cook themselves. I'm not just describing the local Pizza Express, it seems that here, outside of London even the more sophisticated restaurants don't turn their noses up at families.
- Doctors surgeries, simply hideous places to find yourself at in London are relatively pain free here, an appointment time is generally the time you will actually see the doctor at. Having asked around if this is a usual occurrence outside of London, I hear that not only are the doctors surgeries better but the hospitals are as well (this includes one of the main hospitals in Manchester).
- I'm not totally out of the loop of my old London life now, friends come and visit and best of all they often stay over and we get to properly hang out. The time I spend with old buddies is now definitely more quality time and the ones that I don't see I really don't miss.
- Occasionally I do head into London and I'll usually take the train which goes into Paddington in less than an hour. Settling into my seat I'll immediately have a bit of a thrill of excitement, a sense of freedom. With a ticket to London comes the feeling that literally anything could happen, there are people to see, places to go and opportunities to be had. However heading home is always my favourite part and looking around at the faces of other commuters, I can guess that they feel that same sense of certainty and peace - that living out of London is definitely a good move to make.