Country Living: Confessions of a Village Dweller ; HESTER LACEY Reveals the Things She Wishes She'd Known before She Made the Big Move from Town to Country

Article excerpt

What's the definition of a village? A small group of dwellings where no one can get a pizza delivered. This definition comes courtesy of an anonymous wag, writing in our local county-council newsletter, and it's absolutely spot-on. Once you move outside the orbit of a decent-sized town, you can't dial up a ready meal of any kind. Not being able to phone for a pepperoni-chili deep-pan pizza to watch in front of the telly on a Saturday night isn't a major factor in the big decision of moving from the city to the country, but it's a mini culture-shock nevertheless.

So, too, is the surprising discovery that early-closing days still exist in rural areas, and that the 24/7 shopping culture isn't universal. These days, I'm used to planning efficiently, and rarely have to drive the two miles to the garage shop that stays open till 10pm for whatever I've forgotten.

I moved, with my husband, from London to the depths of Dorset three years ago. We left a city with six million inhabitants for a village with 500. I love where I live; but there are a few things I wish I'd known before I phoned my first estate agent.

First, the sheer diversity of properties within rural areas is quite staggering to anyone who's used to urban living. In a city, most people have a fair idea of how much their new home is likely to cost. Certain streets are desirable, certain areas are up-and- coming, and all you have to do to work out a sensible price is look in the estate agents' windows. This simply doesn't work in the country. A mansion house with several acres can be quarter of a mile down the road from a development of modern bungalows.

Going and looking at everything that sounds even remotely possible isn't a bad strategy. At the very least, you get a feel for what your estate agent's jargon means. An early lesson we learned was not to take any nonsense. One agent suggested that we drive down to look at the exteriors of the properties we were interested in before booking a viewing. Which would have taken twice as much time, petrol, and effort. As I tartly pointed out, if we could assume their written details were accurate, it wouldn't be necessary to make two trips (they weren't that meticulous and we didn't buy from them).

One thing we did get right was viewing late in the year. Spring and summer are the busiest times for buying and selling, but we met our dream house in late October, on a gloomy, dismal day when the garden was looking far from its best. A spectacular wisteria, a rose garden in bloom, a drift of spring bulbs can be very seductive; but if you love a house at the dreariest time of the year, you're onto a winner. …