The grass is always greener, or so they say. Of course, since we paved our garden over, this is literally true, but while the resulting surface is nicely slabbed and virtually maintenance-free, it doesn't feel quite the same between your toes, and when it comes to the popular post-barbecue falling over ritual it is - frankly - painful.
Were we to move to the country, however, this would not be the case. Instead, vistas of open fields, friendly pubs, village cricket and the annual school fete would stretch before us like so many pots of home made preserves.
But how do you find a decent place to live? Assuming you're not yet desperate enough to trust an estate agent, you'll have to find out for yourself.
"Location, location, location" is the mantra of infuriating property know-it-alls, but they've got a point; and for most of us, where we work will be a deciding factor. A cottage in the hills above Bethesda in Gwynedd may be just the job, but a two-hour train journey to Liverpool every weekday will not be.
For the purposes of this article then, we'll be looking at somewhere in Sussex; close enough to be able commute to Brighton by car, or to Brighton or London by train. A short bike ride to the station is also acceptable.
Having just rubbished estate agents, I shall now take my hat off to them because www.homepages.co.uk is a superb place to begin your search. For starters, it has details of 30,000-plus properties on its register along with exterior photographs and some interior ones. Fair enough, so it should, but click on the photo of a property and you get taken to the details page which has links to all sorts of under-the-covers stuff: local schools and school results (supplied by the Department for Education), local house prices and tax rates, and a list of surveyors, solicitors, builders and removals firms.
There's also a link to a local map at www.streetmap.co.uk, but these are a bit useless. The fun really starts when you click through to www.upmystreet.com where you can check how your prospective property performs compared with either the national average or another post code - perhaps where you're living now - in terms of schools, crime clear up rates, house prices and so on. In addition, you can click the 'Find My Nearest' link where you'll find pubs, restaurants, take-aways and so on, in the immediate area. (The distance from your home-to-be is measured in yards - how sweet.)
Acts of God, etc
There's a big scary link here too - through to www.homecheck.co.uk which assesses the property in terms of risks from flood, subsidence and land slip. It will also tell you whether it's near a landfill or waste site, what the air quality's like, what the risks of pollution are and whether there's a coal mine nearby, although you'd think you'd be able to spot that. It's brilliant, and it all branches off from that one site.Of course, if you want to find out about a village, ask the people who live there. We liked the look of a pre-war detached house in Piddinghoe, and set off to see if there was a village website.
The much-hyped www.britishinformation.com has nothing for Piddinghoe, while steady old www.lycos.co.uk kicks up 32 sites, one of which is East Sussex Towns and Villages (www.cpoint.co.uk/tw/areas/a16x.html), a fantastically complete list of exactly what it says, from Agmerhurst to Woods Corner.
Sadly, although every village in the list is a live link, many of them don't actually go anywhere. Instead, revisiting the Lycos search results led us to www.metrobus.co.uk where there's a map showing the 123 bus route from Lewes to Peacehaven, via Piddinghoe. Our not-very-good map showed a large body of water at Piddinghoe, and at www.mistral.co.uk/silverdale/localmap.htm we discover that it's a "site for major water sports in the area: sailing, canoeing, windsurfing and pleasure boating may all be found here".
Elsewhere, the Villages of Lewes district site (www.lewes.gov.uk/lewvil.htm) notes that "A busy port in centuries past, Piddinghoe was also at the centre of the Sussex smuggling scene. The village has the only remaining bottle-shaped brick kiln in the country. Its church is one of three in the Ouse valley to have a round Norman tower." Indeed, Piddinghoe turns out to be quite the historical hotspot, with the Reverend Leonard Jenyns, who wandered this way in 1824, noting that, unusually, it was home to large clumps of carduus tenuiflorus (www.rogerco.freeserve.co.uk/tour1.htm).
Enough Piddinghoe, already. Where can you go to get the inside gen on different places? The best place to start is www.ukvillages.co.uk. Simply search for the name of your village and you'll be taken to an encyclopaedic 'information centre' from where you can find everything from nearby pubs featured in the good pub guide, to child care facilities, accommodation, local government services, and local train stations and train times. There's even an aerial photograph for many locations. If there's a local folk club, you can find that out too and decide not to move there.
Knowhere is also worth a pop at www.knowhere.co.uk/contents.html. It's a chatty, lively guide to various towns and villages around the country, and it's written by punters. Sample review: "The food's good in The Dilraj too, but the staff are miserable and the service terrible." No beating around the bush here, then.
You could do worse than go to Yahoo (www.yahoo.co.uk) and type in 'best kept village'. It returns 402 pages, including Bishop's Waltham in Hampshire (www.hants.gov.uk/localpages/south_west/bishops_waltham/) and Adderbury in Oxfordshire (www2.prestel.co.uk/krmitchell/news_add.htm) although that green background is a bit eye-watering. Best of all, though, is Llyswen (www.wiz.to/llyswen/llyswen.htm) where you can take a photographic tour around this gorgeous village in the Wye valley.
If prettiness isn't enough, try searching by what you'd like to do if you lived there. Once you know the postcode, get the practicalities sorted out first with a visit to the Visa site at www.visa.com/pd/atm/main.html to find the nearest cash point, and thence to Scoot (www.scoot.co.uk) to find your local supermarkets as well as lots of other stuff.
After that, a trip to www.golfgreenfees.com will quickly reveal whether there's a golf course in the area, while www.where-to-fish.com does the same for our angling friends. Those who prefer the feel of horseflesh between their legs should go to the Association of British Riding Schools (www.abrs.org) where facilities are listed by location, while lovers of leather on willow will find a comprehensive list of local cricket clubs at www.excite.co.uk/sport/directory/40463/706291/926877/.
Socially responsible members of the community can try the Women's Institute site (www.womens-institute.org.uk/) to find out if they have a presence in your chosen village. Incidentally, the site was officially launched by the Prime Minister on 7 June. As if he's ever likely to forget it.
And if you're feeling paranoid or overly cautious - or you've simply watched too many bad horror films - reassure yourself that nothing untoward is going on Wicca-wise in the area by visiting www.outofthecauldron.co.uk/, a repository for witchy information including a recipe book which offers chicken with cat's teeth (don't ask).
A fete worse than death
Finally, if all this has simply put you off, then stay where you are and sample completely bogus village life thanks to www.thearchers.co.uk where you can wander around a virtual Ambridge using an interactive map. Most importantly, you can discover the full horrific truth behind one of the highlights of the village fete, the 'spile troshing' tournament - an ancient Borsetshire sport formerly played to celebrate the end of haymaking. Well worth the licence fee.
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