Self-Sufficiency in Style


Where should we look for our house and land in England?

Of the four countries, and a few islands, that make up Britain and Ireland, England is by far the biggest in population.

The English are so crammed together in the southern and eastern part of the island of Britain, that it is surprising that any countryside is left.

...but there is. Green, fertile and with a relatively dry and sunny climate that supports a wide variety of plants and animals. Most represents ideal small-holding country were it not for the inhabitants.

To understand the English countryside, you need to understand the English.

Above all others, they have always been a people that attempts to turn their backs on the cities and towns. Their poetry and their dreams are of flower filled meadows, trees and water.

They love their countryside with an intensity that is almost idolatry. They will endure almost anything to secure their piece.

The Englishman often includes a love of the sea and the chance of a small boat.

The English woman's idea of heaven on earth seems to be an acre in a village, with a couple of horses and a few, usually smelly, dogs.

Picture postcard villages do still exist in all parts of England.

No roosters

So, it naturally follows that houses with land for horses or close to the sea and within commuting distance of work command a high premium.

Almost all such homes will long ago have been extended to a size and type unsuitable for smallholding. 

The local residents will be highly protective of the visual amenity of their land and some of the activities of the enterprising smallholder are likely to cause friction.

Pigs and polytunnels will be unwelcome. Cockerels will be regarded as noise pollution. 

Eccentricity, approved of in theory, is opposed in reality. It is an idealised rural  vision with trimmed lawns and no dog-dirt. A conformist countryside.

So the combination of dense population, a long coastline and an intolerance of "untidiness"  make smallholding country rare indeed.

The English are so prepared to commute long distances to work in order to enjoy a sanitised rural lifestyle that anywhere within an hour's travelling of a major city is unlikely to yield many possibilities.

The original cottages and farmsteads will have been either been "poshed up" and out of agriculture or have become the heart of an agri-business.

or pigs.

A crowded country.

The problem is easy to illustrate on a map. The circles define "commuting distance" from England's big cities. Add some smaller circles around the many smaller cities and towns, and you can see that almost all of England is potential dormitory country for people working in the urban centres.

What is left is potential small-holder country and anyone searching for a place would do well to concentrate in those areas.

It is easy to see that these attractive remnants of rural England also include sea and tourist attractions. These will swallow up potential properties as holiday homes and tourist accommodation.

In the east, the Suffolk and North Norfolk coasts have recently become very fashionable and expensive. In the west, the Devon Riviera and much of Cornwall has long been lost. In the north, the Lake District and Dales can be discounted.

A few tiny pieces of England are left, but they are gems- the last remnants of a way of life that offered so much.

Rightly or wrongly, the least fashionable county in England is Essex. Flat and heavily industrialised, it bars the way north east out of the capital.

Apart from the holiday resort of Great Yarmouth, the inland waterways of the Norfolk Broads and Cambridge there seems little to attract the traveller in this direction.

But the flat arable landscape soon becomes attractive to the eye. The architecture of church and farmhouse a glory, with quiet lanes connecting tiny attractive towns.

It is amazing that such a hidden countryside could exist just a couple of hours drive from London, but it does and it offers a smallish number of smallholdings in very pleasant countryside.

The River Waveney marks the boundary between the counties of Suffolk and Norfolk.

A fairly typical Suffolk farmhouse - with many rooms it is too big for smallholding. 

The farmhouses in this part of the country are large and ancient. Many have been detached from their land, but still retain a few acres. Look for the smaller properties.

It is not the cheapest smallholding option, but it is one of the very best for anyone hailing from the south-east of England.

Follow the river from Diss through the charming little towns of Harleston, Bungay and Beccles. Deviate North to Loddon and south to Halesworth.

You will work hard to find a place and pay a lot, but it is still a good option. Look out for converted barns, they make lovely houses.

Norwich will be your nearest big city - and a very nice one too.


Bungay Market Place

Glorious Devon.

At the very opposite end of the country in North Devon, the opportunities are more plentiful and a little less expensive, although still dear enough.

The distance from London makes all the difference. North Devon does seem a long way from the capital.

The landscape is much more hilly than that in the East, prettier too. That is not always a good thing. the older homesteaders may well find the hilly fields a trial and the sunken lanes can be a traffic hazard.

The little inland towns are very pleasant across an area stretching from the border with Cornwall, across Exmoor and into Somerset.

This is livestock country, recently devastated by foot and mouth disease.

Broken lives will take time to mend, so would-be house hunters should show a little discretion when making enquiries. The problems, however, will mean more small farms coming onto the market.

The climate is wetter and warmer than most of England with mild early springs although the higher points will often get snow in winter.

Cattle country - although most land is good enough for a wide range of activities.

Just north of the wilderness of Dartmoor is the most productive area with many small farms and smallholdings.

Make Okehampton your base, extending west to Launceton , north to Holsworthy and east to Hatherleigh.

The seaside towns of Barnstaple and Bideford should be included.

Some farms and small holdings will have their land separated from the house in this part of the world. That can be very awkward at times. Look for properties with all the land around the house.

Houses, often bungalows, are smaller than average - which is all to the good.

Cumbria and the North East do also offer some opportunities and most industrial areas do have small numbers of places nestling between the houses, factories and motorways.

Now, the writer is quite sure that he will receive many emails and even irate 'phone calls telling him of ideal properties in the north of England and even in the London area.

But alas, Devon and East Anglia are the only two areas with properties in numbers in rural locations away from tourism.

Most would-be smallholders are looking for scenery too as well as a chance of a new peaceful rural life. Some will drop their sights and may accept an urban location. Others will stay in their home region from choice, but that is material for a future article.

You can return to Moving Away or take a look at Ireland or Wales.

Ireland is a popular choice for smallholders seeking to move away from home.

"reviewing England"

from the study at

 the unfashionably named Hangman's Cottage, just to the south of Misery Corner.