I’ve kind of lived in the countryside all my life, because I was brought up in it. I had no real relationship with the city until I was around 16 or 17 years old.
Then, I was largely city based until, at the age of 29, I bought a Yorkshire home.
That place became my link to the countryside, while I continued living in London. Although it was lovely at first, a few years later we couldn’t fully enjoy it. It was five hours away, and once our four children started going to school, we were very limited as to when we could visit. It was then that we decided to turn it into a wedding venue, which was a complicated thing to juggle with the children’s mess. About three years ago, we sold it.
But that wasn’t the end because five years ago, I took the leap and decided to fully move to the countryside. We based ourselves in Somerset. That meant moving all our stuff, moving the boys’ schools (they are now in a local school I really like) and going all in – instead of dealing with the back and forth. There were some major differences this time, too.
We now live 30 minutes away from my brother (he has four children, although two of them are London-based), so we see him a lot, and we’re near train stations with good links to London and Bristol. I can get to London in two hours door-to-door, which makes meetings easier. We sold our lovely large family home in London and instead only have a tiny stop and lock which we had owned for some years. But it’s on the right side of town, which also keeps things simple.
I feel very privileged. They say the city feeds your head, and the country feeds your soul, but I get the best of both worlds. Right now, I am sitting on the 15th floor of the Shard, but by midnight I will be on the farm. I feel very lucky that I can go home and recharge my batteries.
My children like it too. The move was probably the most challenging for my eldest, because he was the most embedded in the capital. He knew London better and had started catching the bus and Tube on his own. My youngest hadn’t really reaped the benefits of life in the city, so the younger down you go, the keener my children are on the country.
But even Billy, my oldest, who loves London, gets tired of it. After two or three days, he is ready to be back at home.
That’s very important to me, because life really is about people, and being where the people that you love are. Being centred here, having sold a London home and our Yorkshire home to focus on it, means we are all settled in one place; which is far better for our wellbeing than the old situation was.
Of course, the wonder of the countryside was a massive pull factor too. You just don’t see nature the same way in the city. You realise how ingenious and clever it is, being there – even the insects. The pond we dug only two years ago is teeming with frogs and newts, damsel and dragonflies, not to mention the massive variety of plants that have arrived together with a very beautiful pair of swans.
In the city, you also don’t notice the seasons as much. Everything kind of revolves around the big calendar events like Christmas and your summer bank holidays.
But here, you can go around the same corner and things have completely changed just a day later. It’s impossible not to notice.
Now we enjoy being outdoors so much more. When we lived in the city, we would have to head to the Tooting Bec Lido for a swim. Now I just walk through the kitchen and head to the pond. We also have very bouncy dogs; a mother and daughter called Maple and Picallo that can run around; whereas in London we just had the small dog, though she sadly passed away from old age soon after moving to the country.
I never had a local pub in London where I truly felt welcome and at home. But here, I love going to the Smithy, and just being around everyone else eating their dinner. I enjoy just soaking up the atmosphere.
Don’t look at this lifestyle through rose-coloured glasses though. There are things I miss: theatres, comedy and jazz nights for example. On any day, you are just a cab or a train ride away from something like that in London.
Here, you have to book things three weeks in advance. If you’re bored one evening, you can go to the pub, or go for a walk. That’s about it.
The countryside isn’t right for everyone. If moving here is something you’ve been yearning to do though, if it’s an itch you need to scratch, then go for it. If you hate it, you can always move back to wherever you were before.
My advice is to spend two or three weeks in a holiday let before you make such a big decision, and not just during the summer. Spend a good period of time here when it’s cold, or rainy. Try an October. Perhaps even come a few times in a year.
And don’t forget that you can simplify your life wherever you are. We spend the first 30 years of a career amassing things, and the next 30 trying to get rid of them all. None of it is important.
Get rid of the things you don’t want to do. Focus on the things you do want to do. If you don’t achieve something every day, then that is ok.
Modern life makes us worry a lot about things that we don’t need to worry about at all.
This week I have been…
Holding the lights… as my family (husband Graham Swift and sons Billy, Charlie, Raffey and Laurie) filmed a music video for the latest release from their band The Entitled Sons, at home in one of the old barns. It was busy, but very cool.
Filming started at 6pm in the evening and didn’t wrap up until 3am in the morning. And I was holding the lights for pretty much the entire time! But for me, it’s a lot of fun.
They all know what they’re doing, and run a fairly slick operation, so I get roped in for the odd jobs.
It’s wonderful to see how well they’re doing. This year they won a competition to play at Glastonbury and released a song with Cancer Research, amongst several others.
Last year, they dedicated a single, called “Unconditional” to me, which was a pretty cool highlight for a mother.
Feeling glad... that all the people who turned up to my book signing didn’t seem to be too bored. I had a little moment when I looked out into the audience and saw hundreds of them. I thought they would be super disappointed when they realised just quite how dull I am. It’s almost like a phobia. But they all seemed to be really happy, and so I haven’t been rumbled yet.
I am lucky to have had such nice audiences, and they all came and chatted to me afterwards. We had brilliant, interesting conversations. It was just a truly gorgeous group of people.
Sometimes you get those moments that remind you there truly are so many thoroughly decent, kind and good souls on the planet.
Being myself…the great thing is that if you’re honest about how you feel, it’s very easy to wing it when you talk to the press. I haven’t invented this complex or convoluted persona that I must act out all the time, so I can be really lazy and don’t have to do massive amounts of prep. You can keep things very simple. I sort of just go on and do my thing.
I don’t have any rituals or anything I do beforehand. I think that would make me much more nervous.
As told to Izin Akhabau
Sarah Beeny’s The Simple Life is out now (Orion, £20)