Why I want my children to grow up in Devon

PUBLISHED: 09:49 06 August 2020 | UPDATED: 10:25 06 August 2020

Growing up at the highest point between Exmoor and Dartmoor. Photo: Kate Lord Brown

Growing up at the highest point between Exmoor and Dartmoor. Photo: Kate Lord Brown

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Novelist Kate Lord Brown has renovated a Georgian house and garden in the county where she grew up

Finding new spots to swim. Photo: Kate Lord BrownFinding new spots to swim. Photo: Kate Lord Brown

In life there are Leadbetters and there are Goods. If I tell you my nickname at school in Tiverton was Margo you will guess I’m not a natural candidate for country life.

However, just as my parents sought the ‘good life’ in Devon in the 1970s, after hightailing it to London and a lifetime living overseas, I decided to move back home four years ago to give our family the kind of carefree childhood I remembered.

Many city dwellers are considering making the same move now, and houses are selling sight unseen. During lockdown people discovered it’s not necessary to be in the office every day, that a lot more work can be done from home.

The village I grew up in was small, (beneath the ‘please drive slowly through the village’ sign, someone scrawled ‘else you’ll miss it’). Children were safe to run free. I spent my days cycling down empty lanes, swimming in rivers, surfing, riding miles of bridle paths and across the moors. I love seeing my children do the same now.

Kate riding in the '70s. Photo: Kate Lord BrownKate riding in the '70s. Photo: Kate Lord Brown

Growing up, there was no village shop so milk was delivered by Ernie who certainly wasn’t the fastest milkman in the west – his round covered half of Mid Devon, and our 15p pint often arrived in the afternoon. Fish was delivered by Flash Harry (the spitting image of Monkey Harris in Only Fools And Horses). Honey came from a villager who kept Egyptian, black and Italian bees in hives a few cottages away. I love where I grew up, but after living in cities my whole adult life I wanted the best of both worlds. We now live in a small town with a big heart only a few miles from my childhood home - there is a real sense of community, award-winning pub restaurants, proper greengrocers and butchers, an amazing fresh fish van. People say hello in the street. Dogs are welcome in every café. At this time of crisis the whole town has pulled together, and the beauty of the countryside we live in is a daily joy.

Moving to Devon? Check out these pretty villages .

The family's favourite surfing beaches are on the north coast. Photo: Kate Lord BrownThe family's favourite surfing beaches are on the north coast. Photo: Kate Lord Brown

It was all this which drew me to the Georgian house we renovated here. It was built by a family of surgeons and travellers, and the garden is full of ancient fig trees, medlars and mulberries. The garden was our last project before the pandemic, and the lawn arrived on the first day of lockdown. No problem with cancelling the gym membership. After carrying and laying four tonnes of turf we could barely walk.

Creating the garden has been a great project this year. I did not expect to become that person poring over plant catalogues but every delivery from Sarah Raven is now a source of wild excitement. We planted potatoes and peas, watched seeds growing. There was a sense of comfort in seeing nature progress even as we were all in limbo, and there’s nothing like eating food you have grown.

When I was small, a retired farm worker, Fred, helped with our garden. He and Mum had an ongoing battle – she would plant flowers, he would dig them up as weeds. His produce kept us going right through the freezing winters, with the storeroom piled with bags of potatoes and trays of apples, and Mum froze Tupperware boxes of beans, berries and peas.

I am grateful to be at the end of our project now. It feels like a luxury to be able to enjoy the peaceful evenings after work. Twilight is softer here than anywhere else – old Fred called it ‘dimpsy’.

A corner of the garden Kate has been renovating. Photo: Kate Lord BrownA corner of the garden Kate has been renovating. Photo: Kate Lord Brown

Every spare hour has been spent outdoors bringing the garden to life, and seeing the seasons change and the leaves turn to gold - a nip in the air, the smell of bonfires and woodsmoke - is a joy.

I love where we live. As someone said, coming home is not the same as never leaving. Maybe you appreciate it all the more.

Author Kate Lord Brown has loved the return to her Devon roots. Photo: Kate Lord BrownAuthor Kate Lord Brown has loved the return to her Devon roots. Photo: Kate Lord Brown

Thinking of renovating a house? These are my top tips

Be realistic. That chocolate box cottage is beautiful but do you like seeing other human beings or do you really crave somewhere remote? When you are looking for your dream house think about how you want to live, not just the roses round the door.

Everything takes twice as long as you hope. A start date easily slips when jobs overrun. I was so fed up with the peeling paint in the bathroom I did it myself. “Tiling is great,” my daughter said, “but don’t you think you should get on with writing your novel?”

Check your broadband. Coverage varies wildly in the countryside. It’s all very well getting away from it, but if you’re going to work from home you still have to connect.

On Devon's Atlantic coast in the 1970s. Kate wants her children to love growing up in Devon too. Photo: Kate Lord BrownOn Devon's Atlantic coast in the 1970s. Kate wants her children to love growing up in Devon too. Photo: Kate Lord Brown

Favourite Devon reads

Cut off from the main road by the winding three-mile-long drive, the village I grew up in was untouched by time. It was idyllic, but having grown up here, I’m more with Ted Hughes on the countryside of the South West – the wild beauty of the landscape is tinged with something stronger.

In winter the gales are “head pincering” as he said. Books I enjoyed set in Devon include Tim Pears’ trilogy The Horseman, The Wanderers and The Redeemed. Devon writer Veronica Henry’s heart-warming Beach Hut series is set in Everdene, inspired by beautiful Woolacombe.

Kate Lord Brown ‘s novel The Perfume Garden has been published in nine languages and was shortlisted for the Romantic Novel of the Year 2014. She holds an MA in Creative Writing. Her books have been top ten best sellers in the UK, Canada, and several European countries.

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