Friday, 30 October 2015

Pastures new

I've been curious about Louth for some time, and found myself strangely drawn towards it ever since I found it whilst I was idly looking through the road atlas looking for new places to explore.

This was some months ago. I started with Wikipedia, where else, then moved on further to find out as much as I possibly could about this town.

Here's a few snippets from Wikipedia that caught my eye:

"Louth has a total resident population of 15,930.[2]"
"The Greenwich Meridian passes through the town and is marked on Eastgate with a plaque on the north side of the street, just east of the junction with Northgate."
"Louth is noted for the wide selection of independent retailers, with around 70% of businesses independently owned.[28] In 2012, it was named 'Britain's Favourite market town' by the BBC's Countryfile.[29]"

"Louth is also known for its specialist grocers,[31] and local butchers, Meridian Meats, have won numerous awards.[33] It is also home toThe Cheese Shop, which has gained nationwide recognition, including in The Daily Telegraph,[34] The Guardian,[35] and on The Hairy Bikers' Food Tour of Britain.[36]"

So where is Louth? Well it's about twelve miles from the East coast, situated roughly half way between Grimsby and Lincoln on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds. The more I read about it the more it interested me, but there's no substitute for visiting a place. So on three of the five days we were in Lincolnshire this week, we explored the town.

My first impression driving in were good. I've never seen the autumn trees in more colour - they were an absolutely glorious mix of yellows, reds and oranges on the tree lined route we drove in on.

As for the town itself? Well despite having a population around half that of Bicester, they've an amazing range of shops in the town centre - every unit occupied with a mix of national chains e.g. Millets, Clarks, Boots, Superdrug, Wilko etc etc and local businesses including five butchers, green grocers, several bakeries, cafes, and proper pubs. The chains that weren't present were welcome by their absence - there was not an accursed Costa Coffee or Starbucks in sight. Give me locally run coffee shops any day. The town has worked very hard to keep it's town centre special and it shows. There were also markets in town - three days a week apparently. I had a taste of a pork pie off one of the markets - I'm not joking, it was one of the most gorgeous pies I've ever tasted. Just when I thought things couldn't get any better, I found a cheese shop!

The cakes in the bakery windows were too tempting not to indulge in - but the prices! I would say around half of what you pay in the Bicester bakeries. Great big cream cakes for around 80p and cupcakes and stuff for the kids for about 50p. And absolutely delicious.

As for eating out, there's a good range of restaurants, including a proper steakhouse called "The Ranch". We had a fantastic meal there, made all the better by kids being allowed to eat free between 5pm and 6pm. In addition to the steaks they've got all the ribs, wings etc that you get in such places, and like many of the businesses in Louth, it's independently owned.

We went to visit St. James' Church, the tallest Anglican parish church in the UK. There was a lot going on in there - half term activities for the local kids, a shop, a cafe and local guides. You can also climb the 195 steps to the top of the tower. It's a very tight and very narrow spiral staircase to get up there and very hard work but I made it, and when I got to the top, I took this picture to prove it.

Pass me the oxygen mask, Ollie...

If you add that to my trek up Steep Hill in Lincoln, I've got to have done myself some good on this holiday, even with the indulgence at the steak house and bakery!

Whilst in Louth, I spoke to everyone I possibly could about the town. That wasn't difficult - every person I spoke to was incredibly friendly and welcoming. This included people from Amersham and Birmingham who had relocated there in recent years and hadn't regretted it.

I think you've all guessed where this is leading. It's not a decision we're taking lightly, but we've been thinking about relocating for some time. Initially this was due largely to financial reasons, but the truth is, it's no longer a case of needing to go, we want to go. And that does mean all of us.

The fact is, I've had 25 years in Bicester, most of them good ones, but of late, I've become jaded. I need fresh challenges in my life, always have done, and the adventure of going to live somewhere else is one that appeals. I've never been better placed to do it - the money I earn in royalties from my book sales gives me the freedom to live anywhere, I'm no longer tied to a job. So why not?

There are many things people in Bicester are not happy about, as judged by the endless disgruntled posts on Facebook on various pages dedicated to the cause. I needn't go into details, I agree with most of it. I've never been afraid to jump ship if I'm not happy with something in my life - hence my 10 year transition from working at Nielsen to becoming an author. And the truth is, I don't want to sit around here moaning about the state of the town centre, the evils of BV and all the rest of it. I want to vote with my feet and go. And in the lovely town of Louth, I've finally found somewhere I think I can go to.

Virtually every box I want it to tick, it's ticked. In addtion to all I wrote above;

Great schools with good OFSTED ratings who are good with SENCO kids - tick. I even managed to talk to a teacher while we were there who went to the school that Ollie and Jamie would go to. And we went to have a look at it too.

Low crime rates - tick.

Very affordable housing (half Oxfordshire prices and rents).

Near the seaside, so you can visit any time you want - tick.

And much more...

So, what now? We've talked and we are quite excited about the possibility of moving to this new part of the world. But I want to keep my feet on the ground. It's early days and I don't want to rush into anything just yet, so what we've decided to do is this.

Firstly, take a second trip up to Louth over the next couple of months, but without the children this time. Then we can get out into the local pubs and spend more time meeting people. There's lots of nice looking pubs in the town - none of your Wetherspoons chain shite, but we didn't get a chance to explore them with the children in tow.

Then, give ourselves a cooling off period to think about it. We feel excited about all this now but perhaps we should give ourselves three months to be absolutely certain it's what we want to do. We can spend that time finding out more about the schools, and Claire can try and find work with the NHS in the area. Then we'll look at moving in the spring.

When and if we do decide to take the plunge, then we'll go and rent a place for a year - sort of a 12 month trial. If after that year we want to stay, we'll then look at buying in the area. If not, we can always come back.

I feel this way, we're covering all the bases. We're giving ourselves a year to experience life in a new town and a new community. Life is to be lived and I feel rather as if I am stagnating sitting around in Bicester and Oxfordshire in general. There's just nothing new here to excite and stimulate me. I need a new challenge, a new place, and I believe this is going to be it. I've found the right place, and the time feels right.

So, yes, it's official - if all goes to plan, I'm leaving Bicester. I won't be leaving my friendships behind, though. I hope when we get settled we'll be able to receive visitors - and if any of you ever holiday in the area - we'll be a mere stone's throw from Mablethorpe and Skegness, you'll come and see us in lovely Louth.

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