I’ve decided to write this piece in the middle of a wobble – perhaps my biggest yet – in the hope that it might feel cathartic. It’s been fourteen and a half weeks since my family (myself, husband, toddler and baby) said goodbye to our beloved London home and moved almost 300 miles away to Whitley Bay, a stones throw from where I grew up, and my feelings about it frequently swing from “best decision we ever made” to “have we made a terrible mistake?”.
I left London in the same way I arrived: crying. I was 18 when I moved to the Capital, having only been once before for my university interview. Arriving at my uni halls in Hackney (way before it became bouji) at 11pm at night, I burst into tears and begged my parents to drive me home. It was a hard no from my dad, so I reluctantly began the slow – and sometimes painful – process of making London my home. In the almost seventeen years that followed, I enjoyed a love-hate relationship with the city, but it provided the backdrop to some of my most formative experiences; university, a career as a fashion editor, buying my first flat, getting married, buying a house, going through IVF, having my first and then second child. Leaving was something I simultaneously dreamed about and couldn’t ever imagine doing.
One thing that had always stopped us biting the bullet was work. My magazine job and my husband’s career in construction bound us to the Capital, but then I went freelance and he had a serendipitous meeting that led to an opportunity up North. It felt like we were being handed a chance to do something we’d talked about forever. Before we really had time to think about it, he’d had an interview, accepted an offer and we put our house on the market in November 2021. Within a month, we’d sold our place, found one in the North East and would be moving at the end of January. In a classic case of expectation vs reality, it didn’t feel at all how I thought it would. One day I was wildly excited, the next I wanted to call the whole thing off. We did a lot of soul-searching, talking and going back and forth in the lead up to the decision, agreeing that we had to accept that we’d never feel 100% that moving was the right thing. We had our lists of pros and cons, but ultimately, the only thing stopping us was fear. During a phone call to my best friend (who’d recently moved from London to Kent) on a particularly wobbly day, she said “How would you feel if you didn’t do it?” and I knew we had to just go for it.
Saying goodbye to London itself wasn’t really the hard part. As anyone who has ever lived there will likely attest, for all its vibrancy, culture and magical energy, it can be a pain in the arse – the Tube, the traffic jams, the sheer volume of people. We lived in a quiet suburb in Zone 3 and could rarely be bothered to schlep our two kids into town, especially post-pandemic, so sometimes it felt like we might as well live anywhere. Saying goodbye to the people, however, was infinitely harder. As well as my husband’s family, ride-or-die friends I’d made at university and brilliant work colleagues, in the three years since having my first child, I’d also formed an amazing network of local friends who became like family. Our babies grew up together, we met for morning coffees and wine-fuelled Friday afternoon play dates, helped each other out with childcare and enjoyed supper clubs, Sunday lunches and so much more. I completely underestimated how hard leaving all that behind would be, and the goodbyes were so painful I doubted my decision every single day in the lead up to our moving day.
Teary farewells aside, the move itself was pretty seamless. My no.1 tip would be to pay the removal company to pack everything for you if budget allows – we wanted to spend our last few weeks in London with the people we loved rather than packing boxes. While our new home may have been 300 miles away, it was completely familiar, which absolutely helped with the transition. We already had our favourite coffee shops and restaurants, we knew our way around, our friends and family lived around the corner. My husband had started his new role back in London and I worked for myself, meaning there were no “first day nerves” to add to the mix, but I was consumed with worry about how my almost-3-year-old son would cope with the change.
I’d sorted childcare for him way before we moved, arranged playdates and downloaded the Peanut app to meet mums in the area, and while he settled into nursery straight away and eagerly formed new friendships, it quickly became clear that my husband and I had totally underestimated how much the friends he’d left behind had meant to him. Every time he asked about one of his old pals, his childminder or his nanny and grandad back in London, we felt a piercing stab of guilt – and still do. Every time he threw a tantrum, wouldn’t go to bed, withdrew into himself, we tortured ourselves by questioning whether it was typical 3-year-old behaviour or whether it was a reaction to the big change in his life. One thing we’ve struggled with is knowing whether to talk about his London friends, about our old house. We don’t want to upset him, but we don’t want to act like a huge part of his life never happened either, so we just take his lead, and if he does seem sad when we talk about it, we tell him that it’s ok to miss people, that mum and dad miss their friends too. In the almost four months since we moved, I’ve been in awe of his resilience and adaptability, and, while it’s been tough at times, whenever I see him laughing with his great-grandma, playing with my sisters or conning his grandma or grandad into buying him an ice cream, every worry melts away.
So, what about me? For a good few weeks, I felt like I was on an extended holiday, like I’d be returning to my “real life” soon. I was on a complete high the first week we moved, relishing the ease with which I could see family and friends, excited about the renovations we would do in our new house and making the most of living so close to the beach. I kept waiting for the “what have I done?” moment to come, but it didn’t. Then, around three weeks in, when my husband had gone back to work and the novelty and adrenaline had worn off, I came back down to earth with a bump and started to question everything. In some ways, leaving London felt a bit like a break-up. Whenever I read about the city, saw it on TV, watched my London friends Instagram stories or even thought about it, I’d feel an almost visceral ache in my heart that knocked me for six. The pull is stronger on some days than others, but even now it’s still very much there, and I definitely view London through rose-tinted glasses, forgetting about all the reasons we wanted to leave in the first place.
As I said, I’m extremely lucky in that I relocated back to a familiar place with a ready-made family support network, but that’s not always enough to stop the wobbles and worries. My husband and I ask each other weekly “Are you ok?” (subtext: do you think we’ve made a huge mistake?). Sometimes the answer is no, and we’re learning to accept that that’s ok – he’d lived in London his entire life, I’d lived there for nearly 18 years, it would be strange if we didn’t miss it, if we didn’t question our decision. That being said, we both remarked recently how quickly – and relatively easily – Whitley Bay has become home.
The pros of living here are plentiful and only serve to validate our decision, but one thing I have noticed is that life does feel a bit smaller. That’s not a slight on where I’m from, it’s just a fact. We’ve gone from living among a population of 8.982 million to one of 818,000, which takes some adjusting to and I miss London’s exciting energy, it’s air of possibility, it’s multiculturalism – where we live now is a lot less diverse than London, which was definitely a concern, so it will be on us as parents to educate our children about diversity. I also really miss the weather – while I’m still wearing a light jacket to fight off the coastal wind chill, Instagram tells me everyone in London is basking in 20-degree heat, wearing sun dresses and sipping rose.
On the flipside, the North East I live in now is a completely different place to the one I left as a teenager, with a vibrant food, drink and arts scene. Then there’s the skies so clear you always need sunglasses and can count every star, freezing cold tap water, and the ability to park almost anywhere without needing to remortgage.
Back in January, before we moved, I shared my worries on Instagram stories and was inundated with comforting messages from others who’d made the decision to relocate. Almost everyone said the same thing: you’ll ask yourself “what the hell have I done?”, you’ll pine for everything you’ve left behind but ultimately, you’ll never look back. I definitely find myself looking back wistfully from time to time, but it’s relatively early days, and I’ve discovered a few ways to get through the wobbly moments. Firstly, I try to lean into them. Everyone I spoke to about relocating said they had them too, which brought some solace. Another sound piece of advice was to take each day at a time – look too far ahead and you’ll undoubtedly get overwhelmed. Whenever I’m pining for London and our old life, which like I said, still happens regularly, I make sure I talk about it, whether that’s with my husband or with friends who’ve also relocated – there’s nothing like shared experience to validate your feelings.
On the subject of friends, a lot of my oldest pals here don’t have children, so I had to put myself out there to find people who’d be around for 4pm park trips and let toddlers run riot in their house. An old school friend with two kids the same age as mine welcomed me into her network with open arms, which I’m eternally grateful for, I met a friend-for-life via Peanut and I signed the kids up for plenty of baby and toddler classes and basically chatted to anyone and everyone – a skill I’d honed back in London, where a lot of my friendships were forged from talking to strangers in coffee shops or playgrounds.
If you’ve got kids, prepare yourself that it might take them a little while to adjust. While I didn’t really have to worry about my baby daughter, I spent a lot of time talking to my toddler about the move, about why we were doing it, about everything he had to look forward to and how his friends and family would come and visit and vice versa. A friend bought me a children’s book about moving house, which really helped him to understand the concept, and we made sure to get his bedroom sorted first so he was in comfortable and familiar surroundings. And, while it’s easier said than done, try not to let the mum guilt get to you – to them, home is where you and the rest of their family are.
If you don’t know your new area very well, get out and explore. Find your new favourite coffee shop, the best place for a roast, your go-to route for a head-clearing walk. My son knew our old neighbourhood like the back of his hand, so straight away we showed him the way to walk to his grandad’s (who handily lives around the corner), the nearest playground and the beach.
During my last week in London, I kept saying “It’s not goodbye, it’s see you soon.” While I haven’t been back yet – I think I’m scared that I’ll get there and wish I’d never left – we’ve had friends and family up to visit, and I’ve got a trip planned next week to meet my friend’s new baby. I’ve found that having things to look forward to really helps and it’s lovely being able to show off our new city or play tourist in our old one. And don’t forget, old friends are only a FaceTime away.
Finally, remind yourself of your why. Whenever I’m questioning our decision, I go for a walk along the beach, meet my best friend for dinner or call into my grandma’s for a catch-up – all the things I spent years wishing I could do. I remind myself that my husband has swapped an hour-long commute for a ten minute one, meaning he’s around to have breakfast with me and the kids and home for dinner, bath and bedtime, and that our mortgage is half what it was a few months ago. It’s easy to lose sight of the reasons behind a big decision when you’re feeling overwhelmed with negative feelings, so write down your list of reasons for relocating and return to it every time a wobble strikes.
When my friend came to visit from London last weekend she asked me, “Are you happy here?”, and truthfully, the answer is yes. Is it the best decision we ever made? I think so… ask me again in a few months. Some days I wonder if we did the right thing leaving London, but most of the time I wonder why it took me so long to come back.