As the nation takes its first tentative steps out of coronavirus lockdown and Londoners start to reappraise their lifestyles, the arrival on our screens of Greatest Escapes to the Country is timely, to say the least.
With even domestic travel restrictions still in place and the property market struggling to catch up after a two-month hiatus, the series rounding up the best bits of the past five years of Escape to the Country is an ideal fix for those city dwellers starting seriously to consider a big move away from the hustle and bustle.
The hit BBC series follows urbanites on their quest to relocate to rural homes – a group that data suggests is on the rise.
Months spent successfully working from home without access to central London’s restaurants, theatres, shops or even public transport have convinced some people that they can do without those things for good, with Knight Frank among estate agents reporting record numbers of buyers planning to relocate to the country.
‘We’re re-evaluating the way we live our lives’: presenter Nicki Chapman (BBC/Boundless)
For those at the start of their relocation fantasy, Greatest Escapes to the Country provides a convenient overview of what’s on offer, through episodes themed by location, type of home and architectural style.
Everything from Georgian architecture, to the best rural homes in Wales and life-changing properties with business potential is covered in 15 episodes, giving a real taster to Londoners dreaming of quitting the city after lockdown.
“For some people Covid will have fast-forwarded existing plans, while others who were doubtful that they could do their job from home, or that their employer would sanction it, have found that they really can work from home,” says Jules Hudson, one of the regular hosts of Escape to the Country.
His co-host, Nicki Chapman, agrees that the aftermath of the pandemic will push people to make their life-changing dreams a reality.
“We’re re-evaluating the way we live our lives and one of the biggest things about the show is the change of lifestyle – it’s not just about bricks and mortar.
“People are realising they don’t want to commute for four hours every day, or they don’t want to live in a one-bedroom flat — and that maybe now they’re prepared and able to move somewhere with a bit more green space and where they can afford a bigger home.”
Where should countryside-seeking Londoners move now?
While London leavers have traditionally been confined to the commuter belt so they can continue to travel to work, many may now be considering a more permanent switch to home working. And that brings huge swathes of countryside newly within reach.
Although Hudson and Chapman stress some people will still need to factor in their work journey, others are now likely to find themselves able to pitch up anywhere with good broadband and space for a decent-sized desk.
‘People have found that they really can work from home’: Jules Hudson (BBC/Boundless)
“We may see people stretching their net further afield because they don’t need to work in the office,” says Hudson.
“If you stretch the net into Buckinghamshire your budget’s not going to go very far at all because it’s notoriously expensive. But if you can go further north-west and even south-west, you may be able to get a bigger, better property with a lot of space around it.”
For Londoners looking to maintain links with the capital, Hudson tips Suffolk and East Anglia which, while not the cheapest for property, still offer good value for money compared to the immediate home counties, along with “a quintessential slice of rural life with architecture from flint to thatch, gorgeous landscapes, a lovely coast that’s not overrun and ever-improving road and rail links into the capital”.
He also singles out often-overlooked Northamptonshire for its excellent rail links and Cotswolds-style, honey-coloured properties in picturesque villages, providing better value for money than home counties hotspots.
Further afield, both Hudson and Chapman are huge fans of Shropshire and Herefordshire on the Welsh borders, for value for money amid outstanding natural beauty.
“Yorkshire and Scotland are also breathtakingly beautiful,” says Chapman. “It’s quite a move but if you’re a graphic designer, for example, you can work anywhere.”
Greatest Escapes to the Country airs weekdays at 6:30pm on BBC Two. Apply here to appear in the next series of Escape to the Country.