Firstly, unless you’re loaded and never have to work again, you will have to make compromises as to where you end up.
My wife and I agreed on the basics – we wanted to get beyond suburbia and ‘comfortable’ countryside. We wanted hills and valleys, peace and beauty – all within commuting distance of Bristol (more on this in a later blog). All within a tight budget. Have our cake and eat it, of course.
My original choice would have been the Wiltshire downs. I love the wide open spaces, ancient sites and sense of olde England. But I was increasingly drawn to the Brecon Beacons, which are far wilder, far less known and far more attractive to my Welsh wife (and much cheaper). So we refined our search to the other side of the Severn.
And the one mountainous place within an hour’s drive of my office, with its own train station, and with a lively market town feel was Abergavenny. We knew a couple of people in the area and had visited dozens of times from Bristol. So that became the epicenter of our search.
We also wanted a bit of land for that Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall self-sufficiency dream – a large garden up to an acre would have been perfect. Dream on.
Most small houses with big plots had sold the land to developers years ago, while the next stage up was a huge house with a minimum of two acres, and way beyond what we could afford. We found ourselves making crazy low offers on houses that had been on for over a year and being swiftly rejected.
Soon we’d seen everything and were about to make an offer on a place that was too expensive and neither of us really liked. It was that or give up. Sense prevailed and we made no move despite two viewings and endless discussions.
And then, as in the movies, just as we were going to throw in the towel, another house came on the market. It was February and icy cold but we shot up to Abergavenny immediately.
The place was a couple of miles south of the town, up a steep winding lane – one of the steepest lanes I’ve ever driven up. It was an ancient whitewashed cottage with an acre of sloping garden, just within our budget.
We had a 20-minute walk around taking in the extensive damp, the expensive LPG fuel, the vertical garden encroached with bracken, the dodgy roof, the prohibitively steep lane and, due to being tucked into the eastern face of a mountain, the lack of evening sunlight. But the views over the Usk Valley and beyond were life changing.
Within another 20 minutes, while sitting in the local pub, we’d had our offer accepted.
So, in short – don’t give up but don’t expect to get everything you wish for.