City to Country: Setting the intention
For years (precisely 10) I have wanted to move back to the Scottish Borders where I was raised. I assumed one day it would happen – either after getting married or finding some way to work there.
After an early and unexpected career burnout in the city (more on that later), I found myself daydreaming about that ‘other life’ I’d always envisaged for myself. It got me thinking: what am I waiting for? Why don’t I just move there? I have no dependents and a restricted commitment to being in the city. Why don’t I move to the country now?
The idea thrilled and terrified me.
I realized I’d been holding the notion at arms length because was living with the common assumption that a person like me – mid-30s, female, single, non-farmer, not into blood sports, not heiress to a sumptuous estate - just doesn’t move to the country. Young folk flee to the city as soon as they can, like I did, and the pursuit of a career, love-life and culture keep them there until they want to start a family or retire. The preconception is that these things cannot be found easily outside of cities.
But what is this assumption doing for our rural communities?
In Scotland, major historical events such as the Highland and Lowland clearances and industrialization of the mid 1800s, caused sudden and dramatic decreases and significant detriment to rural landscapes, livelihoods and traditions. According to the Scottish Government, there has been a recent increase in people living outside of major cities due to improved infrastructure and broadband access, but we are still talking about less than a fifth of the country's population. For a nation that is 98% rural and famed for its ‘natural’ landscape, this is quite thought provoking.
In fact, there is nothing ‘natural’ about the landscape in Scotland or across the UK. What we appreciate through our car windows, on post-cards or while walking in the hills, is the result of thousands of years of interaction between people and the environment. Just as we are not separate from nature, our countryside is neither ‘other’ nor irrelevant, and is certainly not someone else’s responsibility. But it seems as though we have come to think of it that way.
While we may prize local food and clean water, wildlife and biodiversity, national parks and peaceful retreats, we perhaps don’t often consider what is needed to maintain those assets and spaces. For people to farm, work and live well in the countryside, thriving communities and local economies are required, and how can these be supported when the focus of policy, commerce and culture moves with the population?
As someone who grew up in the Borders, I saw firsthand the decline of town centres, the closing of village shops, the increasing scarcity of jobs. Things don’t look too much better now, and in some areas they are significantly worse.
So why would I want to move back there?
I suppose I believe that young people and people such as me should have that option. I believe we should not be prevented from living in rural areas. I believe our countryside matters just as much as cities do, and we need to engage with it more, not less. I don’t want to see the countryside where I grew up become a retirement village, populated by city commuters, or ossified in the name of tourism, and I am sure there are more people like me who love and care about the space offered by our natural world enough to want to live there meaningfully.
So here goes.
At the risk of sounding like a naïve urbanite twat seeking the good-life, I’m going to find myself a place in the country.