FOR Sale signs are going up fast in towns and cities, or so the property pages suggest. I’m not convinced that dread of another lockdown is the spur making people head for the hills – unless, of course, they’ve been cooped up with children and need green space in which to set them free, like farm animals that have spent the winter in a stall. With a decision so major, it seems more likely that those who have always yearned for a rural home have decided to stop procrastinating and take the leap.

I can hardly call myself an expert, having taken the same path less than three years ago. Some folk in Hoolet were born here, and have chosen to remain. By rights they should be writing this. Most, however, are incomers, either from elsewhere in Scotland, or such exotic locations as Northumberland, the Midlands and Devon. When it was thrumming, the weaving industry created a natural bridge between the Borders and Yorkshire, people moving for work between the two, and some of them settling for the rest of their days. I’ve also met farmers who relocated from south of Watford, finding this area a home from home.

Where we live is not the sort of landscape you see in the heart of British Columbia or the fastnesses of Galloway and Argyll. My original idea was to wake up and open the door of a sturdy cottage that looked out on nothing but bracken and woodland. In this pipe-dream the nearest habitation was so distant the only sign was woodsmoke, or the glint of a private wind turbine. That sort of remoteness, I now realise, would have been insane for people like us, who thus far had only got dirt under our fingernails whenever the biro leaked. As I have since come to realise, there’s rural, and there’s the wilds. There’s A Year in Provence or Under the Tuscan Sun, and then there’s Into the Heart of Borneo.

To survive in the depths of isolation, and in a climate like ours, you need not just a bison’s physique, but a whole raft of skills: the ability to use a chainsaw for one, and rudimentary plumbing know-how, for when the septic tank or shower pump pack up.

As a fan of Escape to the Country until we found our own bolthole, the pitfalls of making this life-changing transition were obvious even to me. Almost all the properties on offer were selling an idea as well as a house. Whether in the Cotswolds or Perthshire, estate agents encouraged prospective buyers to imagine themselves as lords of their own manors. The practicalities of being miles from shops, close to an overflowing river, or with policies so vast you’d need an army of Titchmarshes to maintain them, were rarely mentioned.

People aren’t stupid, though, which is perhaps why so few ever seem to buy anything they view. And why, after much wandering in the wilderness, we found a home in the heart of a village, where the rear view is of uninterrupted country, but from the front reassures us we are not alone.

For those searching for a rustic retreat, there’s more to consider than whether there’s a pub or grocer’s within walking distance. The main challenge is weather. In town, you barely notice the elements until they turn extreme. In Hoolet, even in summer you keep jumpers on. I recently read the recollections of a Londoner whose childhood holidays were spent in the family hunting lodge not far from us. It was, she recalled, permanently Arctic. On arrival, in early July, her father headed for his study, and her mother spent the next six weeks chopping logs and stoking the Aga.

Before we replaced all the windows and doors, and a lot more besides, coming downstairs in the morning was like stepping into an unheated swimming pool, the chill rising to greet you with every step. Since Hoolet has no gas supply, many of us have oil tanks, whose level – reassuringly high, holding up well, or showing a sharp fall – affects our mood for the rest of the day. It might be the least eco-friendly form of fuel, but it has the advantage of instilling a degree of thermo-thrift that surely even Greta Thunberg would commend. The boiler goes unfired until we’ve had a brisk walk or extra layers of socks, pullovers and eiderdowns have been deployed. And, like the best things in life, when the radiators switch off you’re always left wanting more.

Sometimes that is not a matter of parsimony. A few years before we arrived, snow brought down the pylons, and the village went without electricity for the best part of a week. Emergency provisions were bussed in by the authorities, and thereafter the cables were laid underground. Now, whenever it snows, I eye the telegraph poles, with their vertiginous coating, one, two or three inches high, and wonder if they’ll bear up.

One common preconception is that country folk go around like scruffs. I saw a woman in her seventies shopping last week, so elegant in high heels and swirling skirt she might have stepped out of Le Bon Marché. People hereabouts are stylish, making the most of local knitwear firms’ abundance of cashmere. When hairdressers finally opened last month, a tour bus could have been chartered to take Hooleteers who are regulars in Edinburgh’s finest salons. Those few who look as though they’ve just emerged from the pig sty are either farmers, or mulching their gardens.

Inevitably, we are in a permanent state of siege from uninvited visitors that wander, crawl, or fly indoors. One idyllic-looking cottage we viewed was surrounded by cattle fields. By the time we got back to the car it had acquired a shimmering coat of sequins that turned out to be flies. Where we now live this isn’t a problem, but we have our share of beetles, moths, earwigs, slaters, snails, centipedes and spiders. There was a time when I didn’t even like uttering the word spider, let alone confronting the real thing, but it’s astonishing what you can get used to. Previously I yelled for Alan. Now – although not without shuddering – I trap them in a glass and carry them outside, pointing them in the opposite direction. Even so, I know they’ll be back.