We hadn’t been together all that long when Philip first introduced me to the small green guide book; 28 circular walks in the Kent countryside, ranging from a gentle stroll round a field to a sharp breath-stealing march up a hill. With his usual boundless enthusiasm he overcame my reluctance to accept walking boots as a fashion item, and over the next few years we tested them out - the boots and the walks - working our way across fields and footpaths, stomping through villages and valleys. As we walked, or stopped to admire the view, we scribbled comments in the book's margins; 'bluebells in April,' 'a cheese sandwich under the trees,' 'Badger!' After a while the book became shabby and dog-eared; a cracked spine and turned-down corners the battle scars of our favourite walks.
There was one page in the book that became more worn and tattered than the rest, one walk we returned to again and again, until we really didn't need the book any more. The footpath started out in a small quiet village, then wound its way up and through a wood, across a valley and a hill, past farms and a golf course; before winding back down again, past a viaduct, along a river and back.
Before long I was calling the village 'the nice place' and weekend walks were supplemented by visits on a Friday evening. We found a small pub, where the barman always greeted us with a smile, addressing Philip as 'young man'. It was no time at all until he knew our names and started pouring out our drinks before we'd even finished asking for them. Occasional drinks turned to dinner every Friday; the perfect way to mark the beginning of the weekend. We gradually felt more and more at home sitting at 'our' table in the bar, chatting to the other regulars, marvelling at how lucky they were to live in such a lovely place. Our conversation became peppered with phrases like "wouldn't it be nice if..." and "maybe one day..."
So, when one Friday evening we pulled into the pub car park and spotted a 'To Let' board outside a house a few doors down, we knew it was meant to be. Dinner waited while we walked up and down the road, peering through the front windows as we passed, trying to make it look like we weren't being nosy, hoping there wasn't anyone inside looking out. When we finally sat down in the pub to eat, there was no other conversation possible. The very next morning we contacted the letting agent and a few days later everything was in place for us to move.
We both knew it would be temporary; long-term renting really wasn't the wisest move, but we hoped that before long we'd be able to buy a house - if not in the same street, then at least in the same village. In the meantime we just settled in and enjoyed every minute spent living in a street with the friendliest, most community spirited neighbours I've ever known; and next door to the best landlords anyone could hope for.
For months, Philip went round with a big smile on his face, telling anyone who'd listen that it was just like being on a permanent holiday. We started to put down roots - in the street, at the allotment. We helped to put up the christmas lights, took part in the duck race, manned a stall at the village fete. Philip chopped wood for our open fires, I trod the boards for our local productions. The village opened its arms and welcomed us, it was only natural that we loved it in return.
After a while, we began to realise our aspirations to buy had been too optimistic. We watched as the For Sale signs came and went; we waited while prices got higher and higher. However hard we saved, even the tiniest most run-down cottage in the village was beyond our purse strings. We talked about it long and hard; renting was fine for now, but we both knew that if we left it too much longer we'd never be able to own our own home.
It's been four years since we moved to the nicest street in the nicest place in the world. This week, we exchanged contracts on a house in another village.
Our new house is small, but lovely, with a warm friendly feel about it and a wonderfully long garden. It’s only a couple of miles along the valley, so we’ll still be able to carry on doing all the things we've grown to love; and seeing the people we've come to know and admire. I know we are very lucky to have found a place we can afford to buy; I know that it will suit us just fine.
We’re moving in two weeks’ time, so the next few days will fly past in a blur of sorting, packing and cleaning. Before we leave, I will take one last slow walk around the house, smiling to myself as I remember the day when we sat together in the bedroom and Philip asked me to marry him. I’ll think of our wedding day and the wonderful party we had in the Crown pub at the top of the road, made perfect through the hard work and good will of Phil the barman. I’ll stand in the kitchen and think of all the vegetables we’ve proudly carried home from the allotment, the fabulous dinners Philip has cooked here, the gorgeous cakes that Megan has baked. I’ll look at the room, still pictured at the top of my blog, and re-live how I felt when I sat down to write my first ever blog post, marvelling at all the words I’ve written and read at that table ever since.
And then before I know it, and certainly before I’m ready for it, we’ll be closing the door for the last time and handing back the key. The move is, without doubt, a good thing. The tears I know we shouldn’t cry are just a confirmation of the wonderful time we’ve had and the happy memories we’ll be taking with us.
Thank you Shoreham.