Festive floods reinforce my view that I’d rather live in a city than the countryside
- Credit: Ella Wilkinson
Forty years ago today I was waking up in a new home at the start of a brand new adventure.
On New Year’s Day 1981 my family moved from a lovely house in Norwich’s Golden Triangle and headed west 15 or so miles to Hingham.
It wasn’t just a move to country life, it was a move from a busy city road to a remote property that even by 1981 standards was like something more akin to 1881.
My grandad had seen an advert in the EDP property section in 1980 for Hingham watermill. For a man who’d once emigrated with his family to Australia and later pondered a move to Norfolk Island to follow his childhood obsession with the Mutiny on the Bounty, deciding to switch comfortable life in Norwich with a move out to the sticks was hardly something out of character.
Based on a combination of his adventurous whim and the chance of a lovely environment for me and my brother to grow up in, my grandparents and my parents sold their respective houses and together bought the mill.
The picture on this page shows what the mill looks like fairly recently. Forty years ago it was a derelict building that had plenty of issues. The mill was made of clay lump which isn’t the strongest of materials – some of the outer buildings were so weak that my brother and I used to kick parts of the wall and they’d come down.
We had to boil the tap water in the early stages as it came out of the taps a brown colour, sometimes with a silverfish or two, and there was no central heating.
But it was an idyllic world for myself and my brother to grow up in. We had bonfires most weekends, made spears from tree branches and had a close-up view of nature. We found shrews and stoats in the garden, saw kingfishers and herons on the pond, had eels in the pond and one day had a herd of cows in our front garden. Our cat Chloe used to catch water voles and rats and leave them on the back doormat.
I vividly recall at the age of six or seven taking a carrier bag full of frog spawn from the mill pond on the mini bus to school. I’m not sure that would comply with health and safety now, but I did feel immense pride at single-handedly boosting the frog population of 80s Hingham in the primary school’s new pond.
We went to Norwich maybe once a month and to Wymondham or Attleborough once a fortnight. Apart from going to school in Hingham, most of those five years were spent at the mill engrossed in the wonders of nature’s year with the TV and radio the only real links to the outside world.
After five years of country life during which the mill was partially restored to something like its former glory, both my parents and grandparents sold up and headed back to Norwich. My mum was worried that her sons, then 11 and 13, would soon want to get motorbikes and zip around the country lanes, so decided it would be far better for us to grown up in the city where there’d be more to do.
And I am so grateful they had the foresight to make that move back.
While being a kid in the country was great, I had no wish to spend any more time there. I was on the verge of being a teenager and desperate to live in the city once again – it had shops, people, things to do, stuff going on and it was all on my doorstep.
Since leaving Hingham in 1986 I’ve lived in towns or cities, usually near the train station, always 20 minutes or less from the centre and have no regrets. My brother, on the other hand, has spent at least 30 years living in the country and loves it. While he still savours the open fields behind his house, wildlife and space, I’d rather have shops and entertainment at my fingertips and close human interaction.
OK, so I can hear my neighbour’s TV on one side at night and can hear the baby next door crying in the morning on the other.
But at least I can hear life going on. I like opening my back door and seeing my neighbour 10 feet away for a chat and having the option to borrow that metaphorical bowl of sugar.
Especially with what happened in 2020, having people around me stops me feeling lonely and isolated. And that’s exactly how I felt when I saw pictures of those awful floods south of Norwich last week. My brother lives close to Long Stratton and had a small amount of water in his garage. Plenty of his near neighbours weren’t so lucky and had a couple of feet of water running through the whole of the ground floor.
Of course flooding can happen in a town or city but that feeling of isolation when the weather turns bad is a major turn off for me. When it snows heavily, my brother is simply cut off, something that would terrify me. When it rains heavily, country roads are impassable, ditches fill with water and normal life is put on hold.
That along with the constant mud and being miles from a shop or help in an emergency reinforces my view that I wouldn’t want to live in the country ever again.
I’m sure people reading this out in the sticks would hate to live in a town or city – I understand that view, especially as my brother regularly reinforces it.
Although I had a lovely childhood in the middle of nowhere I’m happy to be raising my children in a city where there is plenty going on and still plenty of green spaces.
It’s my view that people, provisions and pavements make for a hassle-free life and you can’t take those for granted in the country, especially at this time of year.