On Escaping to the Country

Lately I’ve been getting into the BBC series Escape to the Country. Have you seen it? The host introduces a couple who are living in or near a city but now want to move to the British countryside. The family has a county or area in mind, and describes the kind of place they’re looking for and their budget.

The host shows the buyers three properties. The first two are attempts to find them homes that are as close as possible to the ideal they describe. The third is the Mystery House, which might challenge their assumptions about what they thought they wanted. For example, the family that said they’d never want a thatched roof tours a home that has a thatched roof. Or the family that was looking for a detached house is shown what that is semi-detached. Sometimes it’s just something they wouldn’t have thought of, such as a converted church, a house that comes with a business opportunity, or a property that is over the border into the next county. In the end, the couple decides whether to explore one or more of the houses further, or even make an offer.

I’m not sure what it is about this show that captivates me. Maybe it’s just a new outlet for my travel lust, especially since the current pandemic forced us to cancel the trip we’d hoped to take to England and Scotland over the summer.

But I think it might be more than that. My son started college this fall, a couple hours away from home. He’s not completely moved out; he was back for much of September when campus partially shut down for a few weeks when coronavirus cases spiked. And he’ll be home for much of the winter, taking classes online between Thanksgiving and winter breaks. So my nest isn’t exactly empty, but it’s on its way. For 13 years, I’ve been heavily involved in volunteer work with the schools, in various capacities — in the last few years, as an officer in the school orchestra parents’ group and director of a regional PTA arts contest for more than 220 schools. Now that I’ve left those positions, I don’t have as many responsibilities tying me to any one location. Professionally, I’m a freelance book author, which I can do from anywhere.

I’m not saying I plan to move anytime soon. In fact, I bought this house less than two years ago and expect to be here at least another five. But for the first time in a long time I’m in a position to wonder what’s next. And the isolation of the pandemic lockdown has meant a more abrupt pullout from my past activities than I’d expected.

So I’m watching Escape to the Country and fantasizing about a thatched-roof bungalow in Somerset, a 16th-century stone cottage in Cambridgeshire, a barn conversion in the Lake District, or a farmhouse in Wales. I’m loving the climbing roses, Medieval and Tudor architectural details, huge stone fireplaces, and exposed beams.

I’ve never ever imagined myself living in the U.K., and I’m not really serious about it now. But it’s fun to think about which house I would choose and what my life would be like there. I also love the segments of each episode that explore aspects of the local culture and history.

I always considered myself more of a city person. But I’m starting to feel that it would be nice to retire eventually to somewhere a bit quieter and slower. Somewhere where I wouldn’t always have to add in travel time for traffic, where the only constant background noises would be birdsong and wind. I’ve always wanted to be in the middle of things. I guess I still do, but maybe not quite so many things. My perfect Escape to the Country home would be an older house with a ton of character and history. It would be in a village — or close enough to walk to one. A village large enough to have some shops and cafes. I would love fewer distractions than I have here, but I don’t want to be isolated.

As much as I’ve been coveting some of these beautiful old cottages, the truth is that my heart really isn’t in Britain, maybe because my DNA isn’t either. I recently decided I need a show called Escape to the Italian Countryside, which unfortunately does not exist. And then I learned about a BBC spinoff series, Escape to the Continent. In this show, the home buyers choose a European country and region they want to relocate to, and the host shows them houses there and explains a bit about the local culture and amenities, and the country’s home-buying process. So far, I’ve seen a few set in Italy.

Have I piqued your interest? Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to see either one of these shows on any station I can get. One of my PBS stations shows Escape to the Country once a week. Once a week is just not enough! Another station shows several episodes every weekday afternoon; unfortunately, the station is in Baltimore, so the signal is poor and usually breaks up. Amazon Prime has a few episodes. Besides that, I haven’t seen Escape to the Continent on broadcast or on any streaming service I subscribe to. Where I have been watching both shows is YouTube, which isn’t ideal, but at least I can see them! I think it might be available on Acorn or BBC1.

I doubt I’d ever really move to Italy. I know my husband would be against it. And my lack of Italian language skills would be a barrier. But when I’m dreaming about it, I imagine going to Umbria or Tuscany. I love Florence, but forget the peace and quiet part there. Besides, I could never afford it. I love Assisi, and one branch of my family is from there. I could also see myself in Lucca or Cortana, maybe. But there are so many parts of the country I haven’t explored; maybe the perfect Italian village is out there, waiting for me. And I’d want a house that looks like it belongs there, not one that could be built anywhere. I’d want charm, character, and a sense of history. And room for plenty of books.

What about you? If you were escaping to the country, where would you go, and what kind of home would you be looking for?

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