Country Mouse again

Ariège, England, France, Laroque d'Olmes, London

I keep on referring to myself as Country Mouse. That’s because I am, and have been for the last thirteen years or so. But it’s not always been like that. Here’s my back-story, written during our last weeks in France, back in 2013.

We were Christmas shopping in Toulouse yesterday.  A day in this, the fourth largest city in France, is always a treat.  And yet….By about half past three, we’re footsore, weary and confused like Aesop’s poor dear Country Mouse who decided the simple, yet safe country life was preferable to the riches and dangers of life in the city.  We want to go home.

A couple of more recent Pearly Kings
A couple of more recent Pearly Kings

I was nearly always a city girl.  Raised in London, after pre-school years in rural Yorkshire, I had a childhood enriched by Sunday afternoons at the Natural History Museum or frenetically pushing buttons at the Science Museum.  We’d go to watch the Changing of the Guard at Horseguards Parade, nose round hidden corners of the city, still scarred in those days by the aftermath of wartime bombing.  We’d go on our weekly shop to Sainsbury’s:  not a supermarket then but an old-fashioned grocery store, with young assistants bagging up sugar in thick blue – er – sugar paper, or expertly using wooden butter pats to carve up large yellow blocks of butter.  If we were lucky, there would be a Pearly King and Queen outside collecting for some charity.

It was Manchester for my university years.  I loved those proud dark red Victorian buildings celebrating the city’s 19th century status as Cottonopolis, as well as the more understated areas once populated by the workers and managers of those cotton mills, but developed during my time there as Student Central.  I loved the buzz of city life, the buzz of 60’s student life.

The not-so-crowded Valley Gardens, Harrogate

Then it was Portsmouth.  Then Wakefield, and Sheffield, and Leeds.  City life meant living with up to 750,00 neighbours.  And I thrived on it.  I never felt too far from wide open spaces, yet a short bus ride brought me theatres, cinemas, exhibitions, shops, choices of schools for my children.  When we moved in 1997 to Harrogate, with a mere 75, 000 inhabitants, it felt small.

In 2007, we came to the Ariège, to Laroque, population just over 2,000.  The largest town in the whole area is Pamiers, with a mere 19,000 inhabitants.  How could we still think of Harrogate as really rather tiny?    So we needed to change the way we saw things.  We’re accustomed now to at least recognising most of the people whom we see round and about.  We enjoy the fact that we count many people in the community as friends, and that we all turn up to the same events.  We relish the space, the more relaxed pace of life, the sense of belonging that we have here.

These are the kind of traffic conditions we got used to

Now, as we plan our return to England, the idea of the clogged roads of the Harrogate rush hour is unattractive, the busy streets unappealing. Ripon, where we more recently lived is much more like it: 14,000 people.  But we ask ourselves – is even a town this size too big and scary for Country Mice?  Should we continue as we’ve started?   Perhaps we should look at Galphay, Gargrave, Greenhow or Grewelthorpe, average populations about 400?  Or Masham, about 1,250? All of these are near our centre of gravity, Ripon.

So much to think about.  But wherever we end up,  we’ll still want the odd sortie to The Big City.  Toulouse hasn’t seen the back of us yet.

And reader, we did end up in a village near Ripon. North Stainley. Population 700

Photos 4, 5, 6 0f the Toulouse series; the Pearly Kings and Harrogate’s Valley Gardens courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

64 thoughts on “Country Mouse again

  1. Oh, I love your backstory, Margaret! And how thrilling was to “nose round hidden corners of the city, still scarred in those days by the aftermath of wartime bombing””…..have you ever read Rose Macaulay’s ‘The World my Wilderness’?

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  2. What an interesting life you have led. I loved the illustrations too. I remember the lovely smells of the old fashioned grocery store, cheese, coffee and the biscuits in great big tines.

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  3. It was fun reading a little bit about your back story. I live in a town of about 15,000 people. Portland is less than an hour away, but we rarely go there. Small town living is wonderful 😀

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  4. I really enjoyed reading your backstory Margaret. I live in the outer suburbs of NZ’s largest city (was the rural fringe when we moved here), and hardly ever go into town. Our roads are far too congested, public transport is laughable and the city itself is hardly worth the effort. I’m totally ready for a move to a smaller community.

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  5. What a fascinating back story. We have many places in common, sadly not France. I always fancied moving to France, but the OH is not keen on living abroad. I never expected us to be country mice either as we quite like being in a small town and I suspect we will again before long. Rural transport is dreadful.

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    1. I know, it’s a pain isn’t it? We never supposed we would be here, away from town amenities for so long. But we love it so, I think we’ll find a way of making it work till we’re carried out in a box. We’ll see…

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      1. If I can’t drive for any reason then we’re stuck. And we are so far from any of our children if we need support. But I know that we’ll never have this view again.

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      2. But if you no longer run a car, then things that currently seem extravagant, like taking a taxi to town become feasible.. But yes, hard decisions.

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      3. Anywhere specific? We’re thinking maybe we need to move back east so we are closer to some of the kids in case we need support in the future. Frome and around there is being looked at.

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      4. That’s be great. Bloggers’ Central. But I’m still angling for you to come further north Becky. Jude, I think, is a lost cause (so disloyal).

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  6. You write such interesting posts! But I need to know what took you adventuring to France in the first place, though I have a rough idea why you came back. I expect if I rootle about a bit the answer is here somewhere. I can’t believe I didn’t read your About page till today. 🙂 🙂

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    1. Oh, it certainly was, Cotton Central. A train journey through post-industrial Lancashire will take you past dozens and dozens of vast mills, many now in poor condition, struggling to find 21st century uses.

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    1. Less than you might think. Climate is in turmoil everywhere as you know and generally speaking, the climate is milder in winter, both colder and hotter in summer and wetter than we were used to when I was younger. Similarly, ‘our’ part of France has seen the climate change in that kind of way too. All quite worrying for the agriculture which is so important in both places.

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  7. You’ve had the best of both worlds, Margaret. I suppose Ripon has everything you need if you need town services?
    I keep looking elsewhere for a small town, but here where I am has a lot going for it and my husband hasn’t retired yet so ….

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    1. It’ll probably happen for you when the time is right. Covid may have changed the nature of some towns and cities for ever, so waiting to see how the next couple of years pan out could be a smart move.

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  8. I enjoyed reading your backstory. It’s great to have lived different places and tried different ways of life and languages. Personally, I still see the big city as my ideal. Currently London, but I also lived in New York City for a while. During the recent lock downs, I have occasionally found myself wishing for the countryside. London is not much fun, when you spend most of the time in your apartment. 😦

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    1. Indeed. When you’re used to all the opportunities a big city usually offers, being deprived of them is a great loss. That’s when being in the countryside scores. Our lives are so much less changed. I love my city times when I have them … but glad when I get peace and quiet again too.

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      1. Yes, the Covid situation has really made me think differently about cities and how close to other people you are most of the time. I love hiking and beautiful nature, but on balance I still prefer the culture and coffee shops 😉

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  9. I enjoyed that very much. I’m nosy, though, I want to know what took you to the different cities pre-France and what you did there. Like Sue, I expect I’ll find out if I do more of a tour of your blog!

    I have always lived in the suburbs of towns or cities, aside from the summer that I worked at the Natural History Museum when I lodged on Queen’s Gate, and have travelled the length but not quite breadth of the UK following job opportunities in my tiny profession. Sheffield was my favourite city to work in, and I lived on its highest road, up in Crookes.

    I’d like to live in Glasgow, one day.

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    1. Ah! I like Crookes. And I loved Sheffield, where we lived in Hunter’s Bar. Our round-Britain tour was for the usual reason – following job offers. My husband had always wanted to live in France, but realistically, retirement provided the first opportunity. We used the preparation time to get our French up to speed, so we could avoid being ‘ex-pats’. I miss the Pyrenees, and our proximity to our daughter in Barcelona. On the other hand, we’re nearer the other two and their families. Much good that has done us this year! I’d happily join you in Glasgow. Or maybe Dumfries and Galloway.

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      1. Crookes felt like it’s own little world to me, up above the city, and I loved Broomhill as well. I didn’t know modern day Hunter’s Bar as well. I tended to stop at the Botanical Gardens! Working at the archives on Shoreham Street, though, I knew its tollgate history.

        Yes to Dumfries and Galloway. We’ve only explored a tiny portion, but I love Wigtown and the forest with its red deer and wild goats. I can’t wait to go back and see more of it.

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  10. People often make assumptions about others – for example, as you love the natural world, you couldn’t also enjoy city life. Both a walk in the wilds of Yorkshire or a walk around Manchester can be food for the soul in their different ways.

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