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Dream of the country will stay just that

FOUND via the internet, the house looked just what we were looking for.

It was in the Ettrick Valley, one of the most gorgeous spots on the planet. There were venerable trees, a not too steep hill and a gurgling stream.

Along the road was a pub which did not look as if its patrons could have had parts in Deliverance. It was detached and not too big. Some work was needed but it wasn't major.

The first thing that struck us when we approached was the caravan park. No mention had been made of that in the estate agent's particulars.

The next was the wrought-iron gate which was hanging off its hinges like a drunk clinging to his dignity. The windows didn't look in any better shape. Some panes were cracked and the frames looked like blackened bananas.

The owner showed us round. There was a smell of damp. Pictures on the wall had evidence of foxing. One bedroom was so full of junk we could go in no deeper than the door. The kitchen, we were told, was where everyone congregated. For warmth, we presumed. The best you could say about the plumbing was that you couldn't miss it; all of the pipes had been lovingly exposed, part of a grand plan to restore the house to its Victorian origins. We made encouraging noises and retreated.

It was the latest in a large number of houses we viewed in the hope of realising our dream to move to the country. Where that dream came from I have no idea. We like the country; who doesn't? And we felt it would be good to live there.

How nice it would be to wake up to a choir of blackbirds and the cooing of doves. In our mind's eye, we saw an acre of meadow and woodsmoke curling up the chimney.

Another house, another part of the Borders, this one in the environs of Hawick. It had a little museum attached. Would we be happy, asked the owner, to keep it going? We demurred. There were hundreds of birds in the garden, flocking in, we were told, from all across Europe, feasting on the half hundred weight of seed the owners bought monthly. Was that something we'd like to keep doing? Of course, we said. We're terrible hypocrites.

Next on our itinerary was a former school in Berwickshire. There were two huge rooms, a big garden and no neighbours within sight.

There was no mention planning permission had been given to build a housing scheme a few yards away.

Still, the rooms looked like they could cope with our books. Then suddenly it struck us; where were the bedrooms? There weren't any.

Perhaps the owners simply fell asleep watching Newsnight and woke up next morning with cricks in their necks.

As the miles clocked up we slowly began to realise there was more to living in the country than we'd bargained for.

Some days you could smell it, the noxious muck farmers spread to fertilise their fields. It made your throat sore and your eyes nip. We were shown septic tanks and made noises meant to convey that we were impressed. With what, I know not.

Some places were so remote they'd never heard of The Herald. Village shops seemed to sell nothing but toilet rolls and Brillo pads.

But people were eager for us to come and live among them. Were we interested in amateur dramatics? we were once asked. Can Bruce Forsyth tap dance?

The idyll was fading as surely as snow melts on a sun-kissed dyke.

Transport was a problem; I don't drive and there are limits to the demands one can put on one's chauffeur. Invariably, broadband was patchy and you often had to climb to Munro-height to receive a mobile signal.

Then there was raw nature to deal with. We consulted friends who live in the countryside. One told us of an invasion of an army of mice, another of the morning he pulled back his sheets and discovered silvery trails left by slugs.

Yet another recalled the day she loaned someone a horse to keep his grass down. One morning he found it in his kitchen eating his porridge, hence its name: Goldilocks. On reflection, there's much to said for living in a flat surrounded by a different kind of animal life.

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