Where should I move next in England or Scotland?
February 14, 2022 2:57 AM   Subscribe

I've got a bit time to be an employed nomad on this fair island. I'd like to spend some time getting to know some smaller towns.

I've managed to land a three year UK skilled worker visa. Having the opportunity to live in a different country is, in so many ways, a life-long dream come true that I've made happen after a dark few years. I'm honestly still stunned that I was able to make this happen. The thing is, because of the changes in business practices churned up by the pandemic, I've got what feels like another once in a lifetime opportunity at the same time: to be unbound from living in a gigantic metropolitan city--something I've had to do (and generally enjoyed doing) for the last twenty years. I would like to take this opportunity to spend this year poking my head in the door in some smaller places. I may be a city mouse these days, but I grew up on a farm and lived for a quarter century in the absolute middle of nowhere in the American south. Since then I've moved homes more times than I can count, sometimes thousands of miles at a time. I've longed for a return to small town living, however temporary, in recent years especially. Space and land and a garden that isn't on a windowsill, trails and stars that are at my front door rather than hours away.

Where should I go?

My plan for the forseeable future is to spend weekends and holidays taking the train to new places and seeing what I can see. Once I find a place that feels homey, I'll take my few things there and settle in. I'll continue spending time poking aorund so, if the shine wears off, I can move on to the next town. If I find Just Right, I'd be happy to stay in one place the entire time while I continue my weekend exploring. I'm not looking for much, and I understand that I likely can't find a place that ticks all the boxes, but the boxes I hope to tick are, in decreasing order of priority: outdoorsy lifestyle stuff in the immediate vicinity, a train station in the immediately walkable area or at least nearby, an emphasis on local produce/gardening/horticulture, openness to outsiders, and if at all possible something that resembles a local or regional flair in the form of gay folks and vegans and hippies and other rare birds. The Guardian's Let's Move To series (which I seem to recall finding through a comment in someone else's Ask) has been fun, but it lacks the personal touch of word of mouth.

I love trails, hiking, camping, and cooking (indoors and out). I can tend a garden all day every day and not get bored of it, no matter the weather. I volunteer at two community gardens in London and I wish I had time to volunteer at more. I enjoy being social as much as I enjoy being solitary. I carry the weight of being inappropriately gregarious when among strangers, as is the way of my fellow Southerners. I like a surprise, and surprising circumstances.

So far: I've spent time backpacking and camping in Dartmoor and the Lakes and loved both. The West Highland Way is on my summer to do list. Dartmoor is a dream but the only town I spent any time in is Princetown and I won't blame HMP Dartmoor for the overall feel of the place but I don't think I'd be good company for the locals. Ambleside was a nice surprise and, even though I know it must be mobbed in summer I'd still consider it. South Harting, and the South Downs in general, was lovely but it felt a bit more like an extension of London that I expected. Ditto Brighton and Worthing. I really enjoy Bristol, and Bath, but I don't know much about the surrounds and I'd like to change that. Gloucester-Tewkesbury-Cheltenham are decent places but I don't feel a draw to them despite enjoying the Malverns. Matlock and Crich were good introductions to the Peaks but I don't think I'd set down shop in either (but I'd be happy to keep checking out towns in the area). I've got Hebden Bridge and Glossop in my sights to visit.

In terms of limitations: Great Britain, solid internet. I probably can't make any islands work (other than the Great one), but I'm open to it!

Thanks in advance for your kindness. I am open to and interested in any and all ideas you have.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I was going to mention Hebden Bridge, I see that's already on your list. Also Stroud, which I think is a similarly alternative town, and puts you close to the Cotswolds.

Must admit I've never been to either, but they're on my mental list of unusually hippyish towns!
posted by penguin pie at 3:08 AM on February 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I was about to recommend Hebden Bridge, it has everything you are looking for. It's truly beautiful, so much nature around and it's the "LGBTQ+ capital of Yorkshire", but maybe you already know that!

While you're in the area I'd recommend checking out Haworth, Skipton and Ilkley. There are also some beautiful, welcoming villages between Ilkley and Pateley Bridge, including Burnsall, Appletreewick and Grassington. I strongly recommend the cheese scones at The Old School Team Room in Hebden--try and get the table next to the guinea pig enclosure.
posted by guessthis at 3:10 AM on February 14, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Totnes is the prime hippy town of Devon, with good access to Dartmoor (and definitely closer to what you're looking for than Princetown).
posted by terretu at 4:14 AM on February 14, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My sister lives in Stroud, my daughter used to. The woo is strong there, for sure: crystals, farmer's market, 90 mins from London by train, wild swimming, Star Anise Café / Gallery is where the sourdough is.
Also think Bangor, a university town in NW Wales for access to Irish Sea and Snowdonia National Park. Trains to Chester, Manchester, London . . .
posted by BobTheScientist at 4:37 AM on February 14, 2022 [2 favorites]

I was going to suggest Devon, Totnes looks nice. Chichester could work too?
posted by ellieBOA at 4:49 AM on February 14, 2022

In terms of the South West and the surroundings of Bristol and Bath, Frome has lots of community gardening & horticulture type people* and a laid back, inclusive atmosphere. There's decent food culture there. It has a station, although it's not served by many direct London trains, but does have direct trains to Bath and Bristol. Countryside is good and fairly easy to get lost in, if not wild peaks.

Also, if you're looking for mountains, Abergavenny might meet your needs. I know there's a decent food scene, but I don't know it that well.
posted by ambrosen at 4:54 AM on February 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'm in a surprisingly similar situation and have been thinking about Perthshire, specifically Dunkeld, Perth, or Pitlochry. It's stunningly beautiful, has a low cost of living (maybe not touristy Pitlochry), is two hours from Edinburgh by train, has very charming small-town vibes, and is the "Gateway to the Highlands" for a reason—lots of excellent hiking in the area. And Dunkeld is one of the most intact early 18th-century towns still standing.

That said, I haven't lived there yet (I have visited several times), so I'm interested to see what other people ITT recommend, especially in Scotland!
posted by tmacdonald at 4:54 AM on February 14, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a Londoner who has travelled pretty widely throughout the UK and hands down the most beautiful part of this country that I have seen is the Calder Valler area, around Hebden Bridge. Anywhere around the Yorkshire Dales or North Yorks moors and you will have the most spectacular outdoor spaces within easy travelling distance.
posted by mani at 5:10 AM on February 14, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We went through this same exercise at one point. We did consider Totnes and Frome but ultimately settled on Stroud. The town itself is full of very lefty people (Extinction Rebellion was born there) but surrounded by the more conservative Cotswolds. Bath is an easy drive, the surrounding area is full of walking paths but we also used it as a gateway to Wales and all the beauty and walking there. If you do need to go to London, its a 90-minute train ride to Paddington.
posted by vacapinta at 5:11 AM on February 14, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I lived in Hebden Bridge for a number of years, although it was 20 years ago. Very good transport links - you can easily do a day trip to Leeds or Manchester. West Yorkshire in general has excellent public transport, at least compared to much of the country. A very good music venue there too. Probably the nicest place I've lived, for a variety of reasons.
posted by pipeski at 5:37 AM on February 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm going to put my 2p in for my own location: Falmouth, Cornwall. Small enough for character, one side on the harbour, another on the ocean. Two universities so a bit more diverse and with a bit going on culturally, surrounded by gorgeous countryside, good for swimming, snorkelling, fishing, sailing and paddleboarding. Mild temperate weather, barely get frost, balanced by not too much in the way of hot days. Decent high street with good coffee shops, and building on sound set of pubs with an increasing number of good restaurants. Its been the best place to live in Britain in the Times within the last five years, plus in the top 5 in Britain and in the SW also. And a castle.
posted by biffa at 5:52 AM on February 14, 2022 [6 favorites]

(Just to check - have you got plans for sorting out accommodation? Short-term or even furnished tenancies tend to be harder to find in smaller places; you may be looking at a succession of AirBnBs or old-school holiday lets.)

How much time have you spent in Kent? I know, it's got a bit of that London-on-sea thing going on, but after spending the last two years literally not leaving the town I live in, I can promise you it's got a very, very different feel from the capital when you live here. Slower pace, less traffic, much more awareness of the seasons; I feel as if I've been in a time warp.

I'm most familiar with the towns along the coastal rail route, and I'll single out Faversham, Whitstable (out of season!), Deal / Walmer, Sandwich and Folkestone (which is a bit bigger than the others on the list, but has a very arty feel) as worth a look. Maybe Rochester too. Some of those Wikivoyage links are just stubs, sorry, but they've all got representative photos, at least. This is Dickens country: you've got your bleak marshes with the doleful calls of waders, your ruined castles, your mediaeval shopping streets, your masted Thames barges and so on. Lots of art, lots of history, lots of general quirkiness. Nature on the doorstep, with paths along the coast, the rivers and the Downs. Good food culture, with lots of emphasis on local produce and on quality ingredients used well. And a surprisingly decent train network, with plenty of interchange points; this means that you can usually get from one place in Kent to another place in Kent *on a different line* without having to go into London and back out.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 8:51 AM on February 14, 2022 [5 favorites]

I would recommend anywhere in Gwynedd, in North Wales. I lived in Bangor (20,000 people, small university town) which had its charms, but anywhere on Anglesey, or in Snowdonia (particularly Llanberis) is extremely beautiful. I definitely have some small fantasies of going to live there again.
posted by vernondalhart at 11:21 AM on February 14, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Wherever you go, get on the council's queue for an allotment on which to garden and grow vegetables. And look out the Quaker meeting, they're rarely programmed religion but instead meditation and political activism.

Glossop is pleasant, and usually gets snow plus it has a train into Manchester or Sheffield, both part of the left-leaning North. Liverpool is a small, friendly city with even less patience with Tories.

I have friends who liked living in Bridge of Allan / Stirling. Also go visit Ely, Ipswich and Norwich for flat countryside or Oswestry, Tewkesbury, Bridgenorth and Ironbridge for Midlands bucolica.
posted by k3ninho at 11:48 AM on February 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Funny, I'm from Halifax, and was expecting my recommendation to try West Yorkshire to be pretty much the only one! Anyway, Hebden is beautiful, though expensive, compared to the surrounding towns, but Calderdale in general has beautiful nature, fascinating history, and fairly quick access to a lot of interesting larger cities like Manchester & Leeds when you need those things.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 1:08 AM on February 15, 2022

Matlock and Crich are one form of introduction to the Peak district, but it has other angles – they're both in the 'white Peak' where the geology is primarily limestone, while the 'dark
Peak' further North and East has a slightly different feel – heath and moorland with long low outcrops of a red tan coloured gritstone. The Hope Valley is a charming spot, halfway between Sheffield and Manchester, connected by rail to both cities. Hathersage is a good jumping-off point, you'll be surrounded by hikers and climbers and cyclists, there are plenty of excellent footpaths that'll take you up onto the moors and back down to connect you to any of the other village stops along the trans-Pennine railway.

Glossop, which you mention, is not far away (although not on the Hope Valley line) – it's on the Manchester (West) side of 'the Snake pass', the name given to the A57 road which winds its way through that part of the Peak district, past the Derwent reservoirs and up on to the Pennine hills (specifically: the Kinder plateau).

Both Sheffield and Manchester are cultural hubs and lgbtq friendly. Sheffield has adopted the moniker 'The Outdoor City', and has a tremendous amount of public park / woodland / trees in it for a UK city of its size. There's a lot to be said for spending time in-between these two cities, and making the most of the rail links to them both.
posted by Joeruckus at 2:23 PM on February 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

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