We spend a lot of time thinking about the best place to raise our children. For the last nine years we have lived in Ely, a small market town. Technically, it’s a city because it has a cathedral, but this is in name only. In reality, it’s a provincial market town: safe, quiet and predictable – all attributes which make it a perfect place for families to settle. But we have itchy feet.
We choose to come back here because we could only afford to buy a tiny flat in London, unless we moved a long way out. Living in London wasn’t really our long-term plan, although we did really like it. Well, I say ‘our’, really I should say ‘I’, in that James probably likes city life more than I do. Anyway, we were seduced by the idea of being able to afford a whole house with a garden, in a quiet-ish area with lots of trees and green spaces. London is an hour and ten minutes away by train – which sounds really good in theory, although in reality it’s actually quite a long commute when you factor in the extra travelling you have to do when you get to King’s Cross.
Anyway, we settled here, got jobs in the area and the years have slipped by. Everyone always says that Ely is a perfect place to raise children, and in many ways they’re right. Everything is within walking distance, which is great when you’ve got a baby in pram. There are lots and lots of cafes and tea rooms – again, great when you’ve got a baby. The shops offer a basic selection of things – everything you need, although if you want something fancy you need to go into Cambridge, half an hour away. Needless to say, there are too many charity shops.
Time for a change?
Now the children are getting a little older, I am starting to want something a little different – safe is beginning to look a little, well, boring. Living in a small town is beginning to lose its appeal and is feeling increasingly like a compromise – not as exciting as city, but not as pretty as the countryside.
The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge
Is city life more exciting?
Every time I visit Cambridge and other cities, I’m struck by how vibrant and exciting everything seems. It’s busy, yes, but the variety is really exciting. I can pop into an art gallery or museum with the children, actually go to a large shop which will stock what we need, or go for an interesting walk in the many green spaces. Sadly, we couldn’t afford more than a shoebox in Cambridge – which, after London, is one of the most expensive places to live in the country.
Ely is very convenient, but beyond the basics, it’s definitely lacking in excitement. Unless you want a cup of coffee, a browse in a charity shop and a trip to Waitrose – in which case it’s perfect! The sports and leisure facilities are somewhat lacking, and there isn’t a proper cinema. If we increasingly have to leave Ely to do things like see a film, or find an interesting club or activity, then is it really worth living here?
The dream of the rural idyll
This brings me on to my other reason for dissatisfaction – the pull of the countryside. If you live in a small town you have none of the benefits of a larger city, but you still have a lot of the downsides – street lights, traffic, noise and a lack of prettiness. This partly stems from our area of the country, which is rural but in quite an industrial way (lots of tractors thundering by). If you want things to get a bit prettier, you need to move to a well-chosen village or something even more off the beaten track. I would love my children to live in a more rural area, with a view and a bigger garden.
The main problem with moving to the country would be the chance that I’d actually hate it. I’m not a big fan of driving, and I’d really miss being able to walk everywhere. And would the children thank me when they’re teenagers if we moved to a place where they had to rely on us for transport? Ely has a fantastic railway station, from which you can get just about anywhere in the country. I can see this would be amazing for a teenager. I grew up in a small town with a shaky bus service. I’d have loved a railway station on my doorstep.
So, as you can see there are so many options – my head is buzzing with them. Far too many for just one blog post! Over the coming weeks I’d like to start a regular post about this – I hope it will help me decide what I want and it might help some you too!
What do you think – are you happy with where you live, or do you have itchy feet like me?