“I don’t do the countryside,” I claimed a couple of years back on my first date with my boyfriend, when he told me that his dream was to wind up living somewhere with a 360 degree view of green stuff.
I was being truthful: I’m not into trees, or mountains, or “peace and quiet” (inevitably a euphemism for “boring as drying paint”); until relatively recently I couldn’t remember ever having actually seen a cow.
Fast forward to last month and I woke up one Saturday morning after weeks of late nights, early mornings, 14-hour work days and a to-do list that just seemed to get longer and longer and started to see the appeal of a cottage in the middle of nowhere, with no wifi, no phone signal, no responsibilities, and no google calendar alerts.
In record time, terrified I’d change my mind, I booked my astounded boyfriend and I a two-night stay at a country pub called the Crab and Boar in Chieveley, a 15-minute drive through hardcore countryside away from the nearest town. I dug out a pair of walking-ish boots from deep down under my bed and prepared myself to give it my best shot but probably not last longer than a day and a half. And then a really weird thing happened: I loved it.
The only real break most of us get from the city is going on holiday, but that involves weeks if not months of planning, taking time off work, organising trains and planes and stressful liquid-decanting debacles at airport security. The actual holiday itself turns into an anti-climactic whirlwind of action-packed itineraries, trying to take in as much as possible of new surroundings, visiting museums, architectural landmarks and trialling local cuisine.
My three days in the countryside were completely different. I spent hours lying in a private hot tub thinking about nothing, I drank red wine by the fire, played cards, ate amazing food by candlelight and even went on one of those country walks people rave about and actually enjoyed the lack of pollution and hoards of people crowding narrow pavements.
On the train back to London I found myself already feeling nostalgic for an odd sense peace that had come over me. Usually fairly highly strung, often stressed out and constantly jumpy, I had spent three days feeling blissfully calm. This may well have been due to the lack of alarm clocks, delayed tubes and constant social media refreshing, but there is evidence that shows that living in a city is demonstrably detrimental to our stress levels: a recent study found that living in urban areas raises the risk of anxiety disorders and mood disorders by 21% and 39% respectively.
I’m not about to up sticks to rent a cottage in a rural village and start up a bakery, and actually life expectancy for people living in metropolitan areas remains higher than their at-one-with-nature counterparts, but I can’t deny that despite all my misgivings, taking a couple of days off did wonders for my mental health.
I got back to London revitalised, excited to get started on the projects I’d dreamt up whilst chilling out on Chippendale sofas swaddled in tartan blankets. I felt like I’d renewed my vows with the city, yet claimed some independence from it in the knowledge that actually, leaving really isn’t that bad.
Over a glass of wine on my final evening I had a chat with Katie, who took over the pub with her husband Matt after years of running restaurants in London and Bristol. I asked her whether she missed the city life, and what it was like to live in such a rural setting. “I absolutely love it,” she said, without a trace of the bittersweet regret I probably expected. “London’s great, but this is another level. We work really hard but it’s worth every minute. We’re basically living the dream.” I never thought I’d say this, but I had to admit that gazing out into a horizon of seemingly infinite autumnal leafiness I could sort of see her point.
This post was originally published in the Huffington Post