Tuesday, 15 September 2015

I thought you were going to move down here?

That's a question I may well get asked when I reach North Devon.

This time last year I was having such a good time there, and felt so at home there, and had garnered such a number of local friends there, that the notion of leaving Sussex and establishing a fresh life in North Devon seemed very attractive.

I went so far as to work out how to arrange the actual move - selling my Sussex bungalow in the spring without more than a quick tart-up and declutter; banking the cash; putting whatever furniture and surplus possessions I'd not already discarded into store at a handy place in mid-Devon owned by the removers recommended to me; and then looking for a suitable bungalow in my target areas at my leisure, while I lived a summer existence in the caravan on the farm at Great Torrington I always went to. And if matters extended on into the autumn, then renting a centrally-heated cottage at the same farm, on a special deal from month to month until the new home was in the bag.

The caravan would still be my holiday accommodation, as well as my temporary home, and when not viewing likely bungalows, and making offers, and getting the purchase under way - and of course having a great time throughout with my local friends and acquaintances - I'd be off on caravan tours, just as I did from Sussex. But every time I'd now return to the glorious West Country, and not to a county squeezed in between dusty London and the sea.

And Devon was where Dad had been born, and his childhood home, and there were Dommetts galore in the churchyards there. (It's 'Lucy Dommett', not 'Melford', on my birth certificate). So I felt a spiritual affinity with the place, and a strong family connection with it. Some of my DNA had its origin there: it was blood calling to blood. No wonder I found the notion of moving to Devon enthralling.

But I do not have rose-tinted vision, and I am trained by nature and my former career to take a hard look at all propositions, especially in the light of some ill-judged mistakes I've made from time to time, all of which were impulsive, or the result of people persuading me against my own gut feeling, instinct, or personal preference.

Moving might be another such mistake. I could of course make it work - I'd plan it meticulously, and it would proceed in smooth steps, all snags and delays taken in my stride or worked around. I had no doubt whatever about that. But would it really be the best thing I could do? What ought to matter to me, a single woman in my early sixties?

The age I'd reached was important. My life wouldn't last forever. Health facilities - their quality and my closeness to them - would come to matter enormously. I wasn't convinced that the health provision in North Devon was good enough. If I ever developed a chronic condition, then being an out-patient at distant Exeter or Plymouth did not appeal. It was too long a drive if feeling ill, the Barnstaple-Exeter railway line wasn't up to Brighton-London standards, and I wouldn't want to mess up someone's entire day by asking them for a lift there and back. None of this applied in Sussex, where health facilities were thick on the ground.

There was the prospect of gaining financially, of course, or at least of swapping my little bungalow in an inland Sussex community for better one with a sea view - and with money left over. That was alluring, living in higher style conveniently close to a sunny beach, and still ending up with a nice wad of cash at the bank! But house prices in the nicer parts of the South-West were now at Sussex levels, and although it would be perfectly possible to buy what I presently had in North Devon, I could only afford a like-for-like exchange. There wouldn't be a nice nest egg left over.

Socially I had no fears. I still felt young enough to move my world to a different place and relaunch it. I was very good at making new friends. I was very good at pro-actively seeking out interesting things to see and do. The blogging and photography would carry on as before, and might intensify. I certainly wouldn't be at a loose end, with nothing to do. Nor was I afraid of long-distance car travel: I relished it. Really I would regard the whole of the South West as my back yard. And I'd be nearer South Wales and my relatives there.

But what about friends and family left behind in Sussex and Kent and London? It was perfectly feasible to see everyone by making a circuit, with car and caravan, every two months or so. Indeed, I'd probably get to see my niece and nephew oftener than now. But this plan would gobble up money, and restrict the time and funding for other things. How long before I reduced the number of visits? And I might not do it at all in my dotage. One thing was certain: nobody was going to trek westwards to North Devon, just to see me for a few hours. No, moving would mean saying goodbye to a lot of people, and social continuity would be lost. I'd miss them.

And I was touched when friends and family in the South-East heard about my plan to move. Everyone thought it a bad idea. Everyone said they would miss me. One or two had wet eyes at the thought. I couldn't ignore that wall of protest.

The rest was a neutral balance of pros and cons. North Devon had great beaches, magnificent coastal scenery, and attractive little towns full of pleasant little shops and pubs. It was a paradise for photographers. Artists and artisans of all kinds were everywhere, and there was no dearth of galleries. But it was short on cultural events, major museums, high-class shopping, high-class dining, and out-of-season activities generally. There was no Brighton in North Devon.

Nor did it have the distinctly mild and sunny climate of Sussex. It was all too often wet and windy. All this meant slopping around in poor-weather outfits for much of the year, and, pub gigs apart, nowhere very special to go to or see. Did I really want to look like a waterproofed Exmoor rambler in the winter? Or a tatty beachcomber in the summer? And for a big night out, confine myself to a select few pubs or restaurants visited so often they had become boring?

So hard reflection, sober reality, and the protests of friends have all stopped me taking any further steps to move. And it's easy to be firm about that, snug in my little bungalow here in Sussex, with a diary decently full of pleasant social happenings, and my life well-ordered and under control.

But will I hold fast when my North Devon friends show me their luxury apartments and cottages once again, and tell me about their own fulfilling lives? Will the Book Festival buzz and those North Devon candlelit dinners seduce me afresh? Will the cliffs and beaches and the smell of the fresh air, and the flood of nostalgia for childhood holidays long ago, get the better of me?

I don't think I'll fall in love again with the notion of uprooting myself, but I must be on my guard!


  1. Having a permanent base in Surrey and a caravan for roving are the best of both worlds. You can indeed have it both ways.

  2. Lucy, you had BETTER BELIEVE that I would ABSOLUTELY schlep over to Devon to see you for a few hours. Have car and advanturous spirit, will travel. That said, I am very happy you aren't moving!


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