Together with politicians, estate agents and tabloid journalists, weekenders in their squeakily pristine 4x4s, packed with Fortnum & Mason hampers and designer deckchairs, are loathed by many country dwellers. Weekenders are blamed for poaching first-time buyers’ cottages, driving up property prices and causing villages to fall into unhealthy weekday stupors, so you may wonder why anyone would take on these criticisms (not to mention motorways) for a few hours of bucolic bliss. Yet weekending can be a positive pursuit, as long as you’re realistic about how long it takes to get to your second home and the juggling act it entails. As a weekender with a bolthole in the Wylye Valley in Wiltshire, my first rule of thumb is to buy somewhere no more than two hours away by car, the maximum distance beyond which the drive becomes too arduous.
Lindsay Cuthill, head of Savills’ south-west region, and a recent convert to the art of weekending, goes further and recommends making the journey bearable by travelling outside peak times, such as returning after 9pm on Sunday nights to miss most of the traffic (but this isn’t so easy with young children, we discovered). Try to find a village that still has a local pub and shop for the essentials, says house-finder James Greenwood from Stacks Property Search & Acquisition.
‘In addition, find someone who can look after the place when you’re not there. Neighbours might not be willing, so you may have to look further afield.’ It’s worth asking the vendor whether they have any suggestions for suitable people when the buying process is reaching its final stages. At the risk of looking like busy-body Lynda Snell in The Archers, Mr Greenwood suggests weekenders should ‘throw themselves into village life shop locally, go to church and order a pint in the pub. Don’t stay “on the compound” with your rich townie friends, rarely venturing out’. It’s worth overcompensating for weekday absence by getting involved in village meetings, turning up when the hunt meets locally, and offering to help with the annual fête. Apart from anything else, this will speed up your entry into village society. But draw the line somewhere: it’s no use being on the board of governors for the local school if meetings are held midweek.
Although activities such as walking and riding may be pre-valent, Charlie Comber from Hayman-Joyce in the Cotswolds believes a dollop of culture is easier to find than most weekenders realise. Local agents such as him are a good source of what’s on in the vicinity beyond what’s listed in the parish magazine (although the aforementioned can contain little gems). Final advice for DFTs (‘down from towns’) from John D. Wood & Co’s Kevin Allen, Lymington, Hampshire: ‘Don’t try to turn the village into a rustic image of the city, and integrate quietly without waving a wad of notes in the pub. Remember, the village was here long before the weekender, so respect it and adapt to its customs’. You’ll know you’ve been accepted when your neighbours say they see as much of you as they do everyone else, an accolade recently bestowed on us.
Dos and don’ts for the Friday to Sunday set
* Buy two of everything, so cries of ‘where’s my toothbrush/ dressing
gown’ are kept to a minimum
* Make an effort to shop locally, regardless of whether this means spending over the odds at the village/farm shop and even if your neighbours are allowed to pick up bargains at Tesco
* Discuss with the agent which villages in the chosen area already have houses owned by weekenders it might make for easier integration
* Be too anxious to get involved right from the start better to take things gently than tread on anyone’s toes
* Hide away in your bolthole with your townie friends * Forget to leave urban instincts behind. Animals will be chomping in a field one day and whisked off to an abattoir the next