Right after I graduated from college in America, I moved back to England to work as a lowly typist in a publishing company based in Oxford. I was making only 56 pounds a week for a 40-hour week.
My compensation came to a little more than a pound an hour, but at least it was slightly more than I made during my previous summer, operating a saw in a pool table factory, and it was in my chosen field of publishing.
My lowly typist salary was nowhere near enough to buy a cottage, although cottages in the Peak District at that time were extraordinarily inexpensive. You could buy one for 10,000 pounds.
Later, which means after graduate school, again in America, and 15 years working in book publishing in New York, I had money. But then three kids came along, and the money dwindled, but still, I had enough for a cottage if I sold up and moved my family across the Pond.
So I had to decide which kind of cottage I should look for. A “character cottage,” which would be the most expensive; something built more recently; or what is called a “new-build”? A detached cottage (again, the most expensive), a semi-detached, or a terraced cottage (least expensive)? 1, 2, 3, or 4 bedrooms? In immaculate condition, in acceptable condition, or a total fixer-upper?
Hoping for the best, on Rightmove.co.uk I tracked all the 3-4 bedroom, detached, character cottages with enough land for a good vegetable and flower garden within 5 miles of my parents’ village.
And here’s the rub: they were no longer going for L10,000, or even L50,000, or even L200,000, but for a minimum of L450,000. (“L” here stands in for “pound sign” because my computer doesn’t have the pound sign.)
There was the lovely 4-BR character cottage with an expansive view over the valley for L450,000. I went back three times, but had to face the sad truth: out of my price range.
There was the captivating old pub, now a house, with 4 or more bedrooms and enormous character, but pushing L400,000.
My mother nixed it as having too many stairs for her to easily navigate, but cost was the real issue.
I looked briefly at a 2-bedroom Edwardian row house which I could afford, but knew it was unrealistic; my family wouldn’t fit.
There was a lovely character row house that was around L350,000, but it was down a steep track and would be difficult to reach in the winter.
And there was my favorite: a character cottage with tons of land. It had a farm outbuilding, which I could use as a writing studio, a huge lawn to front and side, and probably at least 1/4 an acre for my gardening. It also had planning permission for a house to be built in the lower area by the road. It needed work but hey, I’ve done quite a few house renovations, and when it was finished, everyone in my family would fit. So I made a low-ball offer. Emphasis on low-ball. Quick rejection. The house remained on the market for a year with no activity, so I revived my offer, and again, a no.
I looked seriously at another cottage that was next to a pub, and when I told one of my cousins about it, she said that it had belonged to our mutual great-grandparents, and that as a child she had the task of collecting the rent!
I didn’t pursue this cottage, due to the very real possibility of loud, drunken revelers during the weekends.
Throughout these twelve years of looking, I had the on-ground help of my Dad’s sister, who lived nearby and knew the inside story on many of the properties. “It was owned by an old man who died, and his daughters want to sell,” she told me about one. “There’s possible radioactive waste in the nearby quarry; best to stay away.” “There’s no height; I banged my head as I went up the stairs.”
I checked out many of the properties during my summer visits, and my aunt checked out anything I was really keen on when I was in America–a good tag-team.
But reality was starting to hit me: with two kids now in college, I could kiss goodbye a character cottage with 3-4 bedrooms, and any chance for a decent garden.
In fact, this was all I could realistically afford:
Reality–and despair–hit me. I wouldn’t be getting my long-dreamed-about cottage in the Peak District.