THE morning post dropped through the letterbox, bringing an estate agent’s flier. Thinking Of Selling? it enquired, showing photos of properties in nearby towns and villages – Selkirk, Kelso, Jedburgh, St Boswells, Yarrowford, Melrose, and many more – it had successfully put on the market.

It came hot on the heels of a newspaper headline a few days earlier: “Escape to country thwarted by owners refusing to sell”.

The article reported that: “Record numbers have set their sights on remote areas of Scotland but are struggling to find the house of their dreams as country dwellers stay put.” Compared to 2019, almost one-third fewer rural properties went on sale last year.

Those of us in the country are not feeling under threat, precisely, but we begin to appreciate how a fur trapper feels, encircled by hungry wolves and down to his last bullet as the camp fire dies.

“Stubborn bumpkins” said a friend, learning that we had no plans to up sticks and hand our keys to an Edinburgher or Glaswegian desperate for pastures new.

Nothing could be further from our thoughts. It has taken three years to reach a point where we are no longer focused more on roof repairs, rendering and redecorating than on world events.

These days, in fact, we occasionally sit in silence. Once the pandemic, The Donald and the fallout from Brexit have been dealt with there’s a yawning conversational void, previously filled with pressing household matters.

I see Hoolet Cottage as the Border reivers saw their castles and keeps. Their priority was getting their residence to a state where it could withstand enemy onslaught. In our case the elements are the foe, but the principle is the same: making a safe and secure retreat, somewhere literally or metaphorically to pull up the drawbridge, drop the portcullis or deepen the moat, as required. After the sweat of recent years, and now that the cottage is ship shape, we hope to be here for the rest of our days, assuming all goes well. That way we also leave the problem of how to rehouse the books to those who come after.

With every month, it would appear, the appeal of country living grows. In the summer, a family pulled up on the village green in a van, and went around putting a note through letterboxes saying they’d be keen to rent.

Some years ago I did something similar. Seeing a weekend cottage in the Lammermuir hills that was rarely occupied I presumptuously – some might even say sinisterly – put a card under the door saying that if they ever intended to sell, I might be interested. Some weeks later the owners got in touch but although they showed us around the house, they were not sure they wanted to part with it. It was a couple of years before it went on sale, but by then we had found Hoolet Cottage.

As the pandemic drags on, thousands of urban dwellers are craving the outdoors, or at least a bigger garden. Now that working from home is here to stay in some shape or other, moving to the countryside no longer means a lengthy daily commute.

Such is the desire for escaping to fresher air and more space, it has been suggested that London’s population is likely to shrink for the first time in decades as city-centre workers head for outlying counties.

Unfortunately, for would-be buyers enchanted by the promise of village church bells, kitchens with Agas and views of the hills, those of us who already live here have turned into barnacles, clinging on. Funny that. Rural inhabitants, says one estate agent, often made the move out of the metropolis when they were younger. As a result, they “tend to be people who are settled. All those country chores – cutting the grass – feel OK when there is nothing much to do”.

Nothing much to do? Tell that to the Hoolet resilience team, who clear snowy paths, shop for neighbours, and pick up litter within a three-mile radius. Living beyond a town or city is almost a full-time occupation, even for those of us who delegate the lawn-mowing to an expert.

Quite apart from the need to plan ahead for provisions, fuel, medicine and bad weather, one of the reasons people choose to live here is for the dizzying number of activities on the doorstep: walking, cycling, horse riding, canoeing, bird watching, photography.

Anyone who thinks that settling in the boondocks spells goodbye to an active and stimulating life is deluded. Whatever their age, bumpkins in my experience are busy from sun-up to night-time.

Nor are their occupations entirely bucolic. The last train from Waverley used often to be filled with those who’d been at the Edinburgh Festival, or a lecture, concert or play.

The air of frustration emanating from house-hunters desperate to relocate is almost palpable. Yet while the market might be moving in slow motion, where would country folk be moving to if they did put their homes up for sale? Not to the city, that’s for sure. Some would doubtless be downsizing, or going into residential care, others moving from an isolated spot to a village, or waiting for the most desirable address in their neighbourhood to be listed. When that happens, they move at lightning speed.

Not surprisingly, nobody around here is in any rush to move right now unless they absolutely have to. Yet when things return to normal and For Sale signs appear once more, stiff competition from city buyers will push up prices, leaving locals, whether in Fife, Sutherland or the Borders, on the back foot.

It is an extraordinary reversal of previous centuries. In the past, as industrialisation advanced and there was less demand for agricultural labour, people had little choice but to head townwards for work. Now, swathes of remote or outlying districts could gradually fill up again, spreading the lights and life across the countryside.

Those unable to find their dream home, and unwilling to wait until

slow-moving rustics choose to depart, could do worse than buy a plot of land or a tumbledown ruin, and build or renovate their own country house. That way, from the day they move in, they’re sure to have a home that is bespoke, eco-friendly but above all weather-tight.

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