A DREAM COME TRUE by Ronny Flynn

Moving to Shoreham by Sea– but will it be forever?

As a student in London travelling to and from my parents’ home by coach, I would pass a group of thatched cottages not far from where they lived. I loved the thought of living in one, but it was just a dream. On one journey I sat next to a man who offered me a piece of Lindt chocolate (this was ‘posh ’chocolate to me, so I thought he must be well-off, though I should have realized that anyone well off would not travel by coach). As we passed the cottages I mentioned how much I would love to live in a thatched cottage. He told me they were nothing but trouble, with leaking rooves and draughts and needing a lot of maintenance. Those words stayed with me throughout life and I parked the dream, together with the view that somewhere like that would be unaffordable in any case.

For a couple of years we had been mulling over where we might move to next.  First we explored pooling resources with our daughter and partner to buy a shared house in London, but we would need much more than we had to get somewhere big enough and Brian and I didn’t want to return to live in London as we had done as students. We would visit somewhere and assess it for our needs – we thought of Bath (possible), of Edinburgh (too cold and too far from France); we narrowed it down to being near the sea, and being as warm and as dry as possible, which pointed to the South Coast of England. Then Kiran and Ed said they would like to eventually move to Brighton, and this helped a great deal. We decided to look in Shoreham-by-Sea, where Brian was born and raised. Perfect. Except that it had become very expensive. The internet is wonderful, and we searched for a long time just checking if there was anything affordable. Shoreham-by-Sea is a town with ancient roots. It has a river and an area of sea front called Shoreham Beach, and is surrounded by the South Downs National Park. It is small enough to have a community feel, but big enough to be anonymous if needed. It has a mixture of old and new property, and a bypass that has somewhat blighted the town if you live near it, but reduced the strain on the town centre.

In early 2017 we looked at one house that was near the bypass and quiet inside, but the garden was noisy and we valued sitting outside. We did not want to live on an estate, or in a terrace, so the location in Shoreham was important. Although we were clear we wished to move there, we couldn’t swap such a lovely home in Milton Keynes for something mediocre. Prices are higher though, and character properties were not often available as far as we could see. On the above visit we drove around and identified areas of town we liked the look of. Brian’s mother had lived in a street not far from an ancient church and a pub where we ate many meals together. We thought this an ideal spot and put our names down on estate agents’ lists. It’s either a mark of a strong market or the sloppiness of estate agents, that we only occasionally heard from them. We kept searching but could not find anything we liked, or those that we did like were too expensive. We might need to try other parts of the South Coast.

In August 2017 we spent a week on a home exchange in St Leonards-on-Sea and Hastings in East Sussex. The weather was lovely and we had a productive week exploring the area for locations we liked, and checking out house prices. We could have bought a great deal more for our money than in the Brighton area, and St Leonards was developing a lovely centre, with cafes and an arts complex, and there was a conservation area in the town. However, we couldn’t find anywhere that really grabbed us compared with the setting of Shoreham.

Floor Plan of Hunter’s Moon Thatched Cottage

Then Brian found that Hunter’s Moon cottage was for sale, and we knew we had to take a look. It was located in the area we love – near the pub we knew, near the South Downs national park, and close to the river. The house itself was in a conservation area, the oldest part of town and was a 16th Century thatched cottage, originally a single dwelling but now converted into two homes. The thatch had been recently replaced (I remembered what the man on the coach had said all those years ago) and the photos looked beautiful. We made an appointment to view it on a sunny afternoon. At that stage, we were looking to see if there was anything available in a location we liked, at a price we could afford. We had not made decisions on selling either Milton Keynes or France.

We stayed there for an hour. I  later found out that estate agents usually allow 15 minutes for a viewing, or 30 minutes if you push them, but we were not hassled. I spent a long time just sitting and soaking the atmosphere, feeling the quiet and the history. We loved it but we were aware of patches of mould outside (that man on the coach again!) and worried about the lack of light in winter months. We also had our house to sell, and it wasn’t at all ready. We mulled everything over during September and October whilst travelling in Sicily and France, and visited again at the end of October.

The owners were away which allowed us to spend another hour in the house, take photos and look in more detail than before. We still loved it.  This time we had looked seriously with intent to buy, and made a lower-than- advertised offer, which was not accepted. A combination of the owners being on holiday and an inefficient estate agent meant some 6 weeks elapsed before we had a revised offer accepted, and by that time we had contacted the vendors directly to get the full story. They were happy to sell to us, and to wait until we had sold our house in Milton Keynes. We were elated and bought books on period homes and joined a Listed Property Owners Club which gives advice and support (and hoped this would not jinx the purchase).

Our house is taking a long time to sell and the owners recently contacted us and said they were putting  Hunters Moon back on the market. We knew we couldn’t ask them to wait indefinitely, so we began exploring other areas of the South Coast again. Then the plot of land we are selling in Milton Keynes was sold, and the deal was on again. We are overjoyed at the thought of living in the house we love. We feel ready to tackle spiders, thatch, old walls and floors again. The garden is truly cottagey and well established. As it is a listed building, nothing can be altered outside without permission, which happily limits our scope. We can work within constraints, rather than with blank slates as we have done twice before. This will be the first garden we have not had to create, but just maintain and build upon.

At the time of writing, we have just had the surveyor’s report. Nothing is structurally worrying which is amazing given the house is 500 years old;  but the property needs much more renovation work than we had anticipated. Everything needs updating – wiring, boiler and heating system, insulation, and the house is damp and will be cold. Exactly as the man on the coach told me almost 50 years ago! Full of trouble!

However, when we sell the house in Milton Keynes we will have money to spend on the renovations, and our plans for living in a project-free home will just have to wait. We hope to move at the beginning of September. If it’s later that’s fine as it gives us more time for selling in Milton Keynes. We can also take our time and move, getting the most urgent renovations done without having to live there as we will be paying for two homes. For example, in the roof, there are signs of an ancient fire and woodworm damage to the rafters which will mean replacing several, but they will have to be in oak to keep to conservation regulations. While we do this, we may as well insulate the loft space which could involve rebuilding the ceilings upstairs. While we do this, we may as well replace the old electric, heating and lighting systems. To stop the damp, we need to dig a drain around the house so the water has somewhere to go; and if we lengthen the chimney and insert a flue, we can put in a wood burning stove to help heat the house. And so it goes on and on…..I would be daunted at the work, but luckily I have a Brian who has enthusiasm, energy, skill and excellent health. Provided he stays that way I can manage.

So, no long journeys away for a while, and busy times ahead as we move into our next home. But our forever home? We’ll have to wait and see.