Taking the plunge

Don’t dream about it, do something about it. Country Life talks to some enterprising people who gave up safe, town based jobs to pursue something completely different in the countryside.

Photographs by Jake Eastham

In 1777, Samuel Johnson famously said to his biographer, James Boswell: ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’ We think, however, that when a man is tired of London, his life may just be beginning. Once, when someone left the City, people would whisper piously: ‘Burn out, you know’; now, they’re more likely to say enviously: ‘Lucky devil, how sensible.’ A second career, in the countryside, as medic-turned-horticulturalist Matthew Sainsbury tells us, doesn’t have to equal midlife crisis.

Our eight interviewees point out that living the rural dream—swapping a hedge fund for a hedgerow—isn’t an easier option, simply a different one. The remuneration will probably be lower, animal disease and dodgy broadband will be worries, weather will suddenly be more than an inconvenience and it’s a fact of life that the more striking the countryside, the fewer the job opportunities.

However, whose heart wouldn’t quicken on looking out over a beautiful estuary, a magical garden, a herd of cows or their own farm shop and being able to say ‘This is my office’?

Newspaper marketing man to fishermanguy grieve
Five years ago, Guy Grieve, 42, set up the Ethical Shellfish Company, which sells hand-dived king scallops and creelcaught lobsters, crabs and langoustines to the UK’s smartest restaurants.

Recommended videos for you

He gave up his job at The Scotsman in Edinburgh to live in a cabin in Alaska for a year, then sailed his wife, Juliet, and their sons, Oscar and Luke (now 15 and 12), from Venezuela to Mull.

Why I left the city We were living in the Scottish Borders and I was commuting to Edinburgh. I wasn’t happy at work and needed to find myself a rite of passage.

The catalyst I remember talking to a colleague in the staff canteen about my plans to take a year off to go Alaska, when he said: ‘Are you seriously going to do this? You could die.’ I had a moment of clarity and replied: ‘I’d rather die than carry on living this life.’

How it worked When we returned from our sailing adventure in 2008, we didn’t have two coins to rub together. We were on Mull, where Juliet was born and raised, wondering what to do next, when she suggested I look into the local scallop-diving industry. I had a licence to dive, so I found two guys, Liam Griffin and Mike Tye, to teach me everything they knew.

I still recall dropping off the boat for the first time and seeing the underwater world open up in front of me. Since we established the company, we’ve made a profit every year and now employ a team of 18—business is good and I love what I do. We’re a living example of how we can harvest food without rubbishing our environment.

Any regrets? Only that I allowed myself to be persuaded out of pursuing a career in the military [Guy served with the Gordon Highlanders in Germany]—I would have liked to be a Marine. However, what’s meant for you won’t pass you by.

Best advice Don’t rush things— Nature can’t be governed by a clock— slowly engage with the countryside, be humble and remember you can have great meetings with the outdoors in your allotment.

Guy has written two books about his adventures: ‘Call of the Wild— My Escape to Alaska’ (Hodder & Stoughton) and ‘Sea Legs—One Family’s Adventure on the Ocean’ (Bloomsbury). Ethical Shellfish Company, Aros Mains, Isle of Mull, Argyll (0845 116 2248; http://ethicalshellfishcompany.co.uk)

Accountant and chartered surveyor to tenant farmers  Neil and Sally Grigg
Neil and Sally Grigg met while studying Rural Estate Management at Plymouth University; Neil, now 40, worked as a chartered accountant in Petersfield and Southampton, Sally, 34, as a land agent around Winchester and in London. In 2007, they took on a 400-acre mixed farm on the National Trust’s Killerton estate in Devon.

Why we left the city We always wanted to move back to the West Country, near our families, but hadn’t planned how or when.

The catalyst Seeing an advertisement for the lease of Burrow Farm.

How it worked At first, we both worked part-time in other jobs, Sally for Natural England and me for an accountant in Taunton. Now, the business has grown—we have 250 acres of cereal crops and rear 130 head of Ruby Red Devon cattle, a slow-maturing breed that fattens well on the pasture and hay meadows here—and we have a two-year-old son, Richard. We work full-time on the farm business, which includes two butcher’s shops, a B&B and an education barn. Last year, our black pudding and gluten-free sausages won awards.

Any regrets? No regrets, just a few grey hairs! We’ve realised it’s difficult to switch off when you live in your workplace and raising finances has been a challenge. The threat of bovine TB is never far away, either— current restrictions are placing both operational and financial constraints on the business.

Best advice Rule one: do not erode capital. Rule two: do not forget rule one. No one will love your business as much as you do and you will not love it all the time. People will always want to knock what you’re doing— don’t listen to them.

Burrow Farm Traditional Devon Meats, Broadclyst, Devon (01392 461215; www.burrowfarm.com)

Hedge funder to distillerDan Szor

Dan Szor, 53, former head of European business development at FX Concepts, traded London life to found The Cotswolds Distillery in Warwickshire, making small-batch whisky and gin using traditional distilling methods and local ingredients.

Why I left the city When it stopped being fun, it was time for a change. After 26 years in an exciting market and working for a rapidly expanding company, things changed after 2008. I call it my move from ‘hedge fund to hedgerow’.

The catalyst The barley moment. I looked out of my bedroom window onto the fields of swaying crop and had an epiphany: ‘Why wasn’t anybody distilling?’

How it worked I’d visited distilleries in Scotland and owned a barrel of whisky at Bruichladdich on Islay. I got in touch with Frank Speir at Prime Purchase, who sorted out a property for us, employed distilling consultants Harry Cockburn and Dr Jim Swan and bought the necessary equipment.

Any regrets? Only that I didn’t do it sooner.

Best advice If you’ve got to the point where you’re considering it, then it’s probably time to do something about it. It isn’t always easy, but it can be done.

FH Cotswolds Distillery, Stourton, Warwickshire (01608 238533; www.cotswoldsdistillery.com)

Corporate lawyer to hotelier, restaurateur and soap-makerGeorgie Pearman

Georgie Pearman, 42, was a corporate mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer for Allen & Overy in London before she and her husband, Sam, a former chef,  moved to the Cotswolds and founded Lucky Onion, a group of six hotels and restaurants, 100 Acres Apothecary and Bobby Beer, producing a microbrewed lager.

The catalyst I was working long hours in the City, but having children made me realise that I didn’t want that lifestyle any more. I wanted to do something that I really loved.

How it worked Initially, we were doing everything ourselves, so were flat out the whole time. Nowadays, we have a brilliant team in place, which has made things a lot easier, but the stress never goes away. Sam oversees the food-and-drink side of the business, whereas I’m based at our head office in Andoversford doing everything else. I started 100 Acres because I wanted an individual scent for our brand and Sam began Bobby Beer for the same reason—he wanted a beer that was designed for us

Any regrets? No, not really. I try not to look back, as you can’t change it—I try to just enjoy everything now.

Best advice Hand in your notice and go! You won’t regret it and, if you do, you can always move back. I think people get stuck in a rut, but it’s good to get over the fear of change and do something totally different.

The Lucky Onion Group, Andoversford Industrial Estate, Gloucester Road, Andoversford, Cheltenham (01242 822922; http:// theluckyonion.com/). 100 Acres Apothecary (www.100acres.co.uk). Bobby Beer (www.bobbybeer.com)

Company director to river-boat operatorIan Wells

Ian Wells, 47, left his job as a director of the Paragon Group of companies in Solihull to run Helford River Boats in Cornwall, which includes operating the Helford Ferry across the Helford Passage.

The catalyst I was seeing too many people at work turning as grey as their suits. I had a decent future ahead, but was working silly hours, bringing too much work home and not seeing enough of my young family. We almost emigrated to Australia but, at the 11th hour, decided to give Cornwall a try.

How it worked Financially, we had to make some big changes. Initially, I did a lot of self-employed gardening and building, but when the opportunity to run the ferry came up, I didn’t hesitate. My wife, Sarah— obviously the boss—generally looks after the shop and kiosk, leaving me to look after the beach and boats. Life here is akin to being on a permanent holiday and I’ve never had an occupation where so many people, from all walks of life, say so regularly ‘you’ve got one of the best jobs in the world’. And there are few offices as beautiful as the Helford.

Any regrets? Only that Cornwall is a long way from friends and family in the Midlands.

Best advice Have a plan, but don’t put it off for too long—life’s too short!

PL Helford River Boats, The Kiosk, Helford Passage, Falmouth, Cornwall (01326 250005; www.helford-river-boats.co.uk)

Private-client stockbroker and art consultant to bistro ownersDavid Herbert

David and Philippa Herbert, both 44, swapped London for running Quayles Ltd, a delicatessen and bistro in Tetbury, Gloucestershire.

Why we left the city There comes a time when you have to ask if the money in the City is enough to keep you there and, for us, the answer was no. We needed to find something to build for ourselves and for our children.

The catalyst Needing more room for the children.

How it worked We’d been planning the move for a while—it was just a question of when—and we set the business up before we took the plunge. It was rather like timing the right moment to jump off a moving train.

Any regrets? None. But having your own business isn’t for the faint-hearted, because the buck stops with you.

Best advice Keep things simple and don’t lose track of what you’re trying to achieve, despite what life throws at you. Be brave, work hard and plan everything to the last detail, but prepare for it to be nothing like what you expected.

FH Quayles, 1, Long Street, Tetbury, Gloucestershire (01666 505151; www.quayles.co.uk)

Barrister to racing managerTessa Hetherington

Tessa Hetherington, 36, was working in London as a barrister specialising in public law and human rights. She now works for leading Flat trainer Andrew Balding at his family’s racing stables in Kingsclere, Hampshire.

Why I left the city Although the job was interesting and rewarding, I felt keenly the responsibility for my clients and that was stressful. I also wasn’t enjoying the lifestyle— working long hours, in London—and have always been happiest outside, with horses.

The catalyst There wasn’t one day that I snapped, but as I learned more about myself, I realised that I don’t like conflict and I prefer working as part of a team. After seeing a career counsellor and trying teaching law instead, I went on a week’s course at the British Racing School in Newmarket. It was fascinating and the speakers were inspiring.

How it worked Ian Balding (Andrew’s father, who trained the 1971 Derby winner, Mill Reef) was one of the speakers on the course and, through him, I met Andrew and spent a summer doing work experience at his yard. In the meantime, I had applied for the Darley Flying Start, a two-year management training programme for the industry. It only takes 12 people each year, so it was amazing to get on it and I learnt a huge amount, spending time in Ireland, Newmarket, the USA, Australia and Dubai. In the summer of 2014, Andrew offered me a job.

Any regrets? None at all. My job is so varied: I spend time with the horses, I do the website and yard magazine, communicate with owners, help Andrew put together a programme for each horse, help select horses at the sales and go racing. It’s a whole different world.

Best advice Self-awareness is important: I needed to understand why I was unhappy and what would make me happy before making the switch. I would also advise people to try before you buy: do some relevant voluntary work, as something you enjoy as a hobby won’t necessarily feel the same as a job.

** Read more country life features