The earth is warm again and spring-sunshine streams through the branches of beech trees, turning their new leaves a shocking, almost offensively so, fluorescent-green colour. If I open the kitchen door, I can see the smiling faces of half-a-dozen daffodils that I planted on the banks of the brook last year when the autumn chill arrived. They threaten to become engulfed by lush spring grass, lanky dandelions and the froth of cow parsley that all seems to grow a foot taller with each new day.
I planted the daffodil bulbs unnecessarily early one crisp October morning, the wind biting at my fingertips as I worked. My eyes darted up and down the street now and again expecting a tweed-wearing, pitchfork-waving, self-appointed village leader who would tell me to cease and desist with a thick West Country accent- its sing-songy, jovial lilt betraying his deep displeasure. I worried that planting bulbs on the roadside would be met with cross faces and finger waggling from disapproving villagers who have called this place home much longer than I. In the end, I reasoned that nobody could possibly take offence with daffodils. Even ones that did spill out of the confines of my overgrown cottage garden into the village proper. It was tastefully meant.
Sometimes, on a fine day, I walk out of the open door and wander, cup of tea in hand, over to admire my guerrilla gardening and say good morning to the raft of ducks who call the stretch of river outside our living-room window home. Sipping my tea and gazing at the babbling brook, swollen with spring rain-water, I think, not for the first time, that I must be living in the pages of The Wind in the Willows- Kenneth Graham's timeless world in which anthropomorphised water rats and moles are the very best of friends. And I don't mean that flippantly. I have watched a water rat paddle past this very spot.
Written in April 2018, around a year after moving to Castle Combe.
I was alone for the first week after we moved into the cottage in Castle Combe. My husband was in Barcelona for work, going on to a stag do in another European capital from there. I was a tangle of emotions with nobody around to soothe them. We'd been living in Air B&Bs for months. I arrived with the keys to an empty cottage on a beautiful March morning to await the truck carrying our shipment of possessions from Sydney. There were tall daffodils in bloom throughout the village and the very distinct, earthy smell of wild garlic shoots carried on the cold breeze. The windows were filthy, but the sun shone brightly into the 18th century cottage we would call home.
The road through Castle Combe is very narrow, parts of the village date back to the 14th century. The front doors of what were once weaver's cottages open virtually onto the road in places. So, when a huge lorry arrived at our address, I panicked. The delivery team were unperturbed and spent the next few hours opening the side of the lorry at our front door, unloading what they could, then quickly moving to a wider part of the road to let a passing car go by, then reversing back to our door to unload some more. They must have shuttled back and forth dozens of times. More than once, they'd have just stopped in position at our doorstep again to open the lorry, and another car would arrive. They were very good natured about it all. And none of my new neighbours came knocking to say what a nuisance the lorry was.
It was a wonderful feeling to see the contents of our old life in Australia, now in our new home in England. I had the team get the heavy furniture into position and unpack a few boxes, but I happily waved them off to finish the job on my own, in my own time. All of our things had made it safely, of course, across the world. Even, for some inexplicable reason known only to one of the removals men back in Sydney, a toilet roll with only seven squares of paper left on the roll.
As I pottered in the kitchen that first evening, contemplating what to cook myself for dinner, a couple of riders on horse-back trotted past the cottage, their rhythmic clip-clop accompanying the pretty bird song in the towering trees above the village. Nestled down in that idyllic ancient valley, with the brook flowing gently through, and the woodland filling with springtime growth, I felt incredibly content. I loved it there right from day one.
Inside the cottage
A late winter snowfall
The doors are as tiny as they appear in photographs
We lived in Castle Combe for close to 2 years. Through heavy snowfalls that trapped us at home. Marvelling during springtime at the beauty of blossom trees and blooming wisteria. Soaking up long & languid summer days, and feeling cosy by the fire through woodsmoke scented autumn evenings. Every season was beautiful in its own way, and I very quickly adopted the 'country set' uniform of wax jacket and wellies. If you have a pair of wellington boots, a woollen hat, and an array of waterproof jackets in various weights for the different seasons, then you have everything you need to survive country living. I don't find the weather too much of an adjustment, I just relish what each season brings.
Castle Combe is idyllic and protected by a heritage order, meaning it looks exactly as it did hundreds of years ago. Residents aren't even allowed to put tv aerials on their roof. A picture perfect storybook village like this, as you might imagine, attracts lots of visitors. It especially annoyed me just how many visitors would park on double yellow lines- thereby obscuring the line of sight down narrow and sometimes blind stretches of road in and out of the village. I also got annoyed with people peering in through the living room window, as though they couldn't possibly believe real people lived there. Not everyone was a nuisance of course, but I lived for the days when the village was quiet. It took on such a magical feel at dusk and dawn when it was empty and entirely still, save for the steady flow of the brook and trails of smoke from chimneys.
The local residents were welcoming and we enjoyed being a part of the community for the short time we were there. I have fond memories of chatting with our neighbours as we passed each other on the woodland trails, Christmas merriment over mulled wine in the village hall, carols by candlelight in the church, discussing the various wildlife sightings, and collectively holding our breath as the winter rains swelled the water levels in the brook higher and higher. Ultimately though, it was not the sort of village we could make our home in long term. Parking being one major issue. We still live very close by, but in a lovely Cotswold stone cottage with a larger garden and a driveway that we can easily fit our cars on!
I am quite often asked via instagram about the cost of living in the countryside. I hesitate to answer definitively on this because what is expensive or inexpensive is rather relative to the individual. The Cotswolds is a sought after area (it takes in six or more counties, so there are variations in desirability and price within this), and the pretty villages have price tags to match. We are fairly close to an M4 junction, the major motorway between London and Wales. This pushes prices upwards further due to it being a desirable commuter location. All I can say is that we love being out in the West Country, and even with my husband commuting into London (a journey of about 90 minutes by car + train) a few days a week, we have a better lifestyle balance here than we did in Sydney. City living drained me, I find the countryside endlessly energising. Not to mention a pretty place to live.
Village life is never boring. In the springtime we rejoice at the appearance of ducklings on the pond, the air is perfumed by an abundance of wisteria and lilac, and the woodland next to the village is carpeted with wild garlic which we forage for cooking. The summer highlight is the village fete. Cottages are strung with bunting and stalls & games are erected on the village green. As the autumn leaves begin to fall, the bonfire pile grows in anticipation of Guy Fawkes night. Come December, a twinkling Christmas tree is hoisted onto the green and carol singers go from door to door on freezing winter nights spreading merriment before warming up on mince pies and mulled wine at a beautiful Georgian farmhouse together.
There is no shop or post office in the village. Only a pub. The lack of modern conveniences does not bother me. Being a homebody, this pace of life suits me perfectly. I much prefer being in a warm jumper and wellies, walking the woodlands getting pink cheeks and fresh air than spending my free time in town shopping or at bars for example. In any case, we're not too far from the gorgeous heritage city of Bath for the occasional cinema trip or sushi date.
The countryside in springtime
We have found a wonderful community in our village and are beginning to put down more solid roots. Our next-door neighbours have become our friends, coming over for fish & chip takeaways, inviting us for film afternoons and to carve pumpkins with them at Halloween. My mother in law even helps their daughter with maths via video tutorials on occasion. I have also been incredibly fortunate to find a friend nearby who has seamlessly become a huge part of my life, in many ways becoming like family. She is Australian, so we have common ground. I am certain that life here would've been much poorer if we'd never accidentally met in the local farm shop. We go for long country walks and talk of the books and podcasts we are enjoying, notice the countryside change as the weeks go by, and put the world to rights as we splash through fields and down country lanes in our wellies (wellies really are essential kit out here). We fill each others fridges when the other returns from holiday, I sometimes bake with her children so she can do her grocery shopping in peace, and she was one of the few people who knew I was eloping with my fiancé. The little blue bead sewn inside my wedding dress was a symbolic gift from her.
When you begin a new life in another country, the friends you make also become an extension of family, filling the gaps that would've otherwise been attended to by blood relatives. It is a little sad that I am not closer for family celebrations and events, but I hope that they will relish the opportunity to visit for extended periods of time with us here to make up for it. If they ever need a sabbatical from their own lives, they are welcome here. I am confident a spell in the English countryside- spending hours walking the forgotten lanes, ancient woodland, unspoilt valleys- is a salve like no other.
A misty autumn morning
It never fails to astonish me how many people reach out to say, "It's my dream to live in the English countryside" and, "You are living my dream!" And I have to say, I get it. I am living my dream too. Of course, what I share here and on instagram is a very curated glimpse into life in the Cotswolds. I am not sharing our huge heating bill or the litter I stumble across in the hedgerows, our overflowing shower drain or the invasive ground elder in the garden. These things still exist even in a "dream life." But we are very fortunate to live where we live and I try my best not to take it for granted. I am never anything but thankful. Especially to my husband for extending the horizons of my life and making me a braver version of myself, to my grandparents for capturing my imagination with their stories of England and sowing the seed, and my Mum for teaching me the greatest enjoyment in life can be found in gardens.