He arrived at my house every day like a clockwork. He would walk across the neighboring fields before turning his attention to the garden’s orchard.
He would often come in and join me on morning walks, as well as my morning coffee.
Having left London after lockdown to pursue a new life in the country, this was exactly the rural experience I’d dreamt of — deer strolling about and my two boys laughing on rope swings we had tied to the trees.
My blissful bubble burst.
It is not a coincidence, that this happened just as I was finding my deer once more magically, glassy-eyed eviscerated lying across my lawn.
That was in fact a very grim metaphor of our hopes and expectations for our new lives here.
Rebecca Wilcox with Camperito (pictured after she left London for the countryside): “It was the rural experience that I had hoped to have, but my bubble burst,” says Rebecca Wilcox.
While I wanted to find a new community to rival — or even better — what I’d had before, the reality has turned out to be far more isolating and less pleasurable than I’d expected.
It was the first time that I saw an online photo of our house. After kissing the rest of the frogs, it was almost like meeting Prince Charming via Tinder.
It was the ideal country I had been looking for.
An old house, with garden and near London. After spending many days looking through photographs and calling agents to find the right house, we found it in Surrey.
The rose-framed cottage windows and Aga-warmed Kitchen, flagstone floors, open fireplaces, and Aga-warmed cooking area took my breath away.
It promised a happy, healthy place for me to raise my children, which is quite different from the London lifestyle we lived.
Like many other people, we were in love with big cities.
Our house and our garden were located near parks so we had more luck than others.
Although I had hoped to find a community like the ones I have before, I found it far more difficult. Pictured are Rebecca’s nine-year-old son Benjamin and six year old Alexander
Yet, it was difficult. The four-bed bed was all we had for living, sleeping, working, training, schooling, and endless food.
My husband created an office in our spare bedroom and worked 12 hours a day from behind a tightly closed door.
Benjamin, nine, and Alexander, six were my children. I was trying to get them to focus on math and housework while also teaching them about fractions.
As we moved from one room to the next, our house began to crackle around its edges. Our small, cramped garden proved to be too little for our two active boys.
Muswell Hill, a lovely suburb of London that is frequently voted as one the top places to live in Europe had turned into a hamster house. Daily walks made it boringly easy to see the wooded park and High Street, which had become dull.
It felt like we were trapped. We began to search for greenery, space and places that would allow children to run freely on roads and paths not tarmacked.
The Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence estimated that 700,000. had been displaced from London by 2021.
Living in close proximity was no longer an option for Covid.
As a result, rural property prices soared. Hamptons’ survey found that property prices rose three times faster in rural England than in urban areas.
The possibility of our dreams of moving abroad became more real when we witnessed others doing it. Many close friends moved away before the start of 2020. Some of them fled without telling their families, and they never returned to their home.
London was our first stop for research into green areas, which would allow the children to play on untarmacked paths. Pictured are Rebecca and Alexander, her two sons.
Friends also discussed their moves with me via FaceTime. My mother Esther Rantzen (broadcaster), a city girl and stalwart, sold her London apartment quietly to relocate permanently to New Forest.
When spring 2021 was beginning to bring a brighter light into London I noticed that almost half of my friends, and my entire family had moved on. They were all happier.
That is how I began to plan for our future in this country.
Once I’d found our dream house in Surrey, it was as if the decision had been made for us — and after living in the city all my life, we finally moved out in July.
My friends assured me before I went that it wouldn’t be a problem to meet people. My personality was outgoing. At the school gates I could find fellow mothers, runners, and families with similar values. I would love it.
We were encouraged by them and I sent messages on Facebook the day we arrived, in hopes of making the first day at school easier for everyone.
They were friendly and only one responded. They were both very busy so they couldn’t get together. I never saw them again until the end of term.
It was nevertheless a positive beginning and I kept going.
London was the best place I had ever been to make friends. It was unrealistic to think that I would find a friendship group with established friends within a few days, weeks or months. I did expect to be able to meet new people, but it was a good thing to have found friendly people.
Spring 2021 began to shine a new light on London. I realized half my friends had gone and everyone seemed happier. Alexander, Benjamin, and Rebecca
This was unfortunately not the case. Unfortunately, most of the groups that I attempted to join were either full of people or meeting at unsuitable times. Can you imagine if they run at 5:30am here?
Covid prevented me from meeting people I wanted at school socials. The few that went ahead turned out to be nerve-racking evenings, which I stood alone and tried to smile at everyone.
My inability to succeed made me feel even more alone. Therefore, I became desperate to make contact with others. Making friends would be much harder than I thought.
Now I feel a bit lost, and if invited, I worry about whether or not I have laughed loud enough. This is a social anxiety that I don’t remember ever having.
People I speak with seem to be more open to new ideas and move quickly. My presence is clearly a problem, and I am sadly not attractive to others.
Even the running club I was a part of disbanded eventually and was reformed without my participation. It turns out that you can’t talk on 5km runs. You never knew!
This was something I did much better than before, standing at the epicenter rather then awkwardly at the peripheries.
Our area in London was very young and family-oriented. This resulted in a lively social life. There were many people you could chat with at every drop-off school, whether they wanted to go to dinner or simply to laugh.
However, unlike before when we walked to school in our neighborhood, most of the parents now drive. It is unsafe for a 6-year-old to walk three miles down country roads.
Parents should not gather around the gates. Instead, they can sit in the car until the doors are open and rush to get their kids inside.
Not even the children’s first year were there, so no welcome drinks were offered to new parents.
Muswell Hill in London, which was voted the Best Place to Live in Europe during Covid, became a hamster house. Pictured: The London home of her sons
Parents who have been friends for many years feel cliquy in class Whatsapp groups. It is difficult to navigate.
Although I have tried to volunteer at some events, it seemed that everyone has reached their limits with energy and time, especially in the lead-up to Christmas. Very few people are able to allow a new person into their lives.
I think my husband has suffered less from this change. My husband works from home, but he commutes daily to London to be a journalist and writer.
But, men are not as drawn to social contact like women. My husband never ventured outside as much when we lived together in London.
While he was happy to visit his friends only once or twice per month, I prefer more regular contact with my family and make plans to meet people every week, if possible,
Add to my loneliness, the fact that I’ve spent months trying to escape the silence from every corner of this echoy house for the past few months.
It’s hard to keep up with the kids when they are home. But when the children have gone to school and my husband has left for the office — he works for a property company in Central London — the house is silent and I am utterly alone.
You can hear the birdsong in the country, which is a great way to escape from city life. This is a major draw for most, but it made me feel disengaged from the rest of the world.
London was a city I lived in. Every day, there were people who came up to my street and tried to keep me away from all the traffic and builders. It was amazing how connected I felt to others through all the hustle and bustle.
These days, my only constant company is the electricians, plumbers, and roofers that our home needs.
What at first seemed a quaint old place turns out to have many foibles and problems — a new leak or crack appears daily, something Aviva Home Insurance has said is a common problem.
Around 92% of those who purchased houses in the aftermath of the pandemic discovered faults that they didn’t notice during viewings. It’s still my dream house. However, the price is a bit higher than I expected.
I’ve even got a horse — Camperito — as part of my strategy to connect with other people. The children have always wanted to learn how to ride a horse, and there is a field next to the garden. It might be a way to attract more people to our garden.
It turns out that you can have a horse anywhere in Surrey, and you may already own one if your are interested. Now the horse and me go on quiet strolls up and down local bridle trails.
This should provide some consolation that 75 percent of friends who have made the move feel alone and dissupported.
You can hear the birdsong in the country, which is a refreshing change from all of the noise from cities. This is a draw for most, but it made me feel disengaged. Pictured is her son riding on horseback.
“Becca, I know you don’t have friends,” one of the men said to me after I had admitted my doubts.
“Moving in February, right after getting out of lockdown meant it was impossible to meet anybody new.”
One friend stated that he didn’t regret his move to London. However, it was difficult for him to meet new friends when he moved to smaller communities where he had more friends.
It will likely take at most a year for you to feel comfortable. A friend says, “In one year you’ll see this as just another blip.”
It’s not me, though.
The children are asking me every day when I can go back to London. The children miss their home and old friends very much.
“Why do you find this surprising?” My mother-in law asked me. “What did you anticipate?” The boys and you had many years of experience to form a London friendship group. You won’t find it in a snap once you get there.
She smiled knowingly and said, “But they are children.” They are resilient and will continue to grow.
This is also what I need to do. Acceptance of the fact that things are not always as they will be is what I have to do.
You will find future friends who just want to get together. In the meantime I’m open to all suggestions for how they can be reached.