I MET a father recently who had moved his family from Edinburgh to the seaside in East Lothian. “We did it for the children,” he said, sounding wistful for his city days. Yet, while he was clearly not wholly enamoured of small-town living, he reassured himself that the benefits his youngsters were reaping from being in the fresher air, with beaches and countryside on the doorstep, outweighed any personal regrets.

I sensed, though, that as soon as office life resumes, he’ll be on the first commuter train, desperate for a taste of urban delights.

Country living is often equated with a better quality of life for those bringing up kids, and never more so than during lockdown. Suddenly a rural setting raced to the top of the list of things good parents do to ensure their children’s well-being.

Now, with the trend showing no sign of abating, it is no longer enough to ensure youngsters have their full set of inoculations, are stuffed with winter vitamins, given a barrowload of fruit and veg every day, and adhere to the two hours’ daily outdoor exercise rule.

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On top of all this – not to mention intellectual stimulation and rationed screen time – some parents decided it was also essential to remove them from crowds, germs and fumes. If they could add into the equation a walled garden of their own in which to play, so much the better.

Fair enough. As someone brought up on the edge of the country, with the sea five minutes away – two if I really made an effort – I can’t think of a better environment for growing up. It suited me in every way. A morning could pass racing snails on a path, or crouched in a wheat field, on the lookout for mice. Yet I’m not at all sure about the assumption that being close to nature, and safer to roam, is necessarily superior to city life.

At the other end of the spectrum, for those of advancing years, rural life comes with a time limit. There’s an invisible clock on every 70-year-old’s mantlepiece – even if they’re wearing a fitbit – ticking down the months until their family manages to make them see sense and relocate to a county town, or closer to their offspring. Once there, they’ll be within range of help, services and shops, in a way impossible out in the sticks.

Neither of these glib assumptions is right, or not entirely. Some children are born for the country, even if they don’t see their first jar of frogspawn until they are ten. One youngster in Hoolet is a country girl to her toes. She’s waterproof and frost-resistant, spending every possible hour outdoors. Not yet at school, she already understands far more than I do about flowers, say, or chickens. And she’s not alone.

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There are several around her age in the village, who are visibly and gloriously thriving. Indeed, I had just begun writing this when a child passed our window, high on a pony. It looked like an illustration from a storybook: the docile beast, the bright-cheeked child, the slightly weary mother holding the reins as they returned to the stables.

But living here wouldn’t suit everyone. For every youngster who’s fascinated by owl scats, or longs to own a horse, there’s another who prefers to stay indoors, glued to their screen or book, or playing music, pretending they’re somewhere more exciting. And even for those who love riding, canoeing, or cross-country running, there comes a time when the wilds can’t offer everything they need. Getting the balance right at that point, as a parent, without turning into a full-time chauffeur, is not easy. It’s no wonder country folk learn to drive young.

As for the elderly, the countryside strikes me as a pretty good place when you might need to call unexpectedly for a neighbour’s help. Obviously this doesn’t apply if your cottage is on the slopes of a mountain, where only the eagles will pick up your message. But for those in even the smallest settlement, aid is usually at hand.

On those occasional mornings when we sleep late and the shutters remain shut, I half expect a knock on the door, to make sure we’re okay. People aren’t nosey, but most households have a rhythm to their day, and when it’s markedly out of kilter, it is noticed. In big towns and cities, that is rarely the case.

Nor do I understand the assumption that, once you’re no longer robust, you are better off within walking distance of the shops. Online deliveries take care of groceries and heavier goods, and by the time you can no longer drive – assuming you ever could – and cannot get on and off a bus, it is surely as much effort to walk half mile to the baker’s as five. To put it another way: when you no longer have the wherewithal to stock a fridge from delivery vans, you’re unlikely to be able to take advantage of what any town can offer unless there’s someone at your side to assist.

More importantly, for those who have lived much of their lives in the countryside, the idea of relocating is like a retreat. Obviously there are times when assisted living or sheltered housing is required, which is another matter entirely. But for the reasonably able-bodied, the pleasures of the country beyond the window helps keep their spirits up. As the vigour and youthfulness of many Hooleteers confirms, country air and rural pursuits are a positive adjunct to a long and healthy existence.

The village also has the hidden benefit of being within easy reach of the Borders General Hospital. You could get there on foot, unless there were snow drifts (or you were feeling unwell). Roald Dahl created the unforgettable BFG, but down this way people prefer the BGH. It is one of the reasons so many folk retire to the area, and why the Eildons and nearby hills are the stamping ground of medics. If you fall and break your arm, you won’t wait long for a doctor to pass by.

And, because Hoolet is in the BGH’s orbit, it is reassuring to know that, should the need ever arise, we could scramble a full team to staff an operating theatre. With such expertise on the doorstep, why would you ever need to leave?

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