You could be forgiven for dreaming of the sandy beaches and romantic hideaways of Cornwall as world leaders descend on the coast for the G7 summit this week.
The very same dreams inspired my own move from London to a village by the sea last year. Filled with optimism, I planned to start a new life there after a very difficult period in my life.
During the first lockdown, my world had cracked: at 39, I’d left my fiance and with him my dreams of having a family, and lost my newspaper job amid Covid cuts. Grasping at ways to rebuild my life, I decided to sell my flat and start a new life near Land’s End.
I thought I was being bold, adventurous, wildly original. But actually, I was following a trend. During the past year, Cornwall has overtaken London as the most popular search location on property site Rightmove.
Katie Glass (pictured) reveals the animosity she received after moving from London to Cornwall, having lost her job and left her fiance
Part of me was conscious even then that you can’t solve your problems by running from them. But Cornwall seemed to offer so much that I needed: a peaceful magic, a close community, a fresh beginning.
Besides, I fell in love with a house: a beautiful granite farmhouse in a lush garden with a stream running through it. It couldn’t have been more different from my tiny East London flat on a screaming Dalston street. I thought I’d found heaven — or at least the Escape To The Country version of it.
It was just 15 miles from Carbis Bay, where the G7 summit is taking place.
As soon as my offer was accepted, I packed my things into storage and headed for the South-West. I confess I was wildly Pollyanna-ish about my new seaside life. This was partly intentional; instead of getting depressed about everything I’d lost, I fantasised about swanning around in vintage Laura Ashley and baking cakes in my Rayburn (even though I can’t cook).
I pictured summers hanging out with surfers, arranging bunting for fetes, and winters snuggling by fires with the fisherman I’d date. I enthusiastically bought into every country cliché — searching for a cheap SUV and a rescue labrador.
I walked the windswept coast, perching on rocks overlooking the sea feeling like Rebecca, or as if I was in TV’s Poldark. I read romantic books about fishing families and West Country myths.
During lockdown, there were limited ways to meet people in my new home, but I tried to get stuck in, volunteering at a community farm and mentoring students at Falmouth University.
Before moving to the coast, I had no idea about the animosity some locals feel towards ‘outsiders’. I quickly learned about it: how locals complained about Londoners and ‘emmets’, the Cornish word for ants, swarming into their county.
Katie said she could sympathise with some concerns about outsiders bringing the virus to Cornwall. Pictured: Cornwall’s beautiful Carbis Bay, the location of this week's G7 summit
Still, naively, I didn’t think they meant me. I wasn’t a holidaymaker or second-home owner buying a fisherman’s cottage to fill with nautical tat. I wasn’t a banker with a shiny new Range Rover buying a million-pound pad. I had come to build a new life in a forever home.
But in my new life, it was ‘us’ and ‘them’.
Given the seriousness of Covid, I could sympathise with some concerns about outsiders bringing the virus to Cornwall. In January last year, the Duchy had only 15 critical care beds and, in the early part of the pandemic, the South-West remained among the least affected areas in the UK.
I noticed signs saying ‘locals only’ appearing in shops and on paths and understood their fears.
Yet the pandemic also became a lightning rod for long-standing animosity towards incomers. I heard plenty of stories about locals calling the police on people who’d travelled to the coast, even within the rules.
One day, when I was walking through my local village, someone loudly tutted at me: ‘You’re not trying to hide it much.’
‘What?’ I asked, confused.
‘That you’re not from here,’ she said. How did she know? Was I too enthusiastically taking photographs of the sea?
Katie received cross messages on social media complaining about Londoners over-running Cornwall (file image)
When I moved to another rental cottage, the landlady suggested I introduce myself to my neighbour, so she could let other Covid-conscious villagers know I was already living in the county.
I happily agreed and rang her, only to be summarily told she wouldn’t ‘vouch for me’ because she ‘couldn’t be sure I was an OK person’. She demanded I meet her for an interview (even though this contravened lockdown rules).
Other local anger I met had nothing to do with the pandemic. I received cross messages on social media complaining about Londoners over-running Cornwall, pricing locals out, and claiming I saw my new village home as a fantasy ‘stage set’.
‘Cornwall isn’t cream teas and pretty cottages and lovely beaches,’ someone berated me. As if nobody Cornish had ever eaten a scone on a beach.
In one village where I lived, someone called me to complain I’d broken the ‘Mousehole code’. I shouldn’t expect to fit in quickly, she informed me on the phone, ominously warning that there was a ‘dark side’ to village life.
Of course, not everyone was like this. I made new friends and had warm conversations. The longest established Cornish residents were the friendliest. The newer arrivals — perhaps worried about their own place — were the most tribal and angry.
Meanwhile, I faced endless problems buying a house. My first purchase collapsed when it became clear the seller didn’t have listed building consent for various works they’d carried out.
Katie said she felt increasingly isolated and pushed out, as even things she loved about rural life began getting her down (file image)
I had another offer accepted fairly quickly. Then waited three months while nothing happened. When I called the estate agent, she told me it would happen ‘dreckly’, a vague local word meaning ‘sometime in the future’.
Meanwhile, I was stunned to find out that someone I had excitedly told about my house had gone to ask the owner for a tour. And another neighbour had taken my articles to warn the seller off me.
I began to worry that I’d made the wrong choice. I felt increasingly isolated, that no matter how much I wanted to make Cornwall my home, I would never be accepted by locals and, worse, they might always be against me. Having gone to Cornwall thinking naively that I could become a part of the community there, instead I felt constantly pushed out, a collective hostility I’ve not experienced before.
I felt alone and depressed. I also became unwell, with a stomach problem exacerbated by stress that seemed to get worse the more upset I felt and with every new rejection and hostility I faced.
Soon, even things I’d loved about rural life began getting me down.
The silence, so peaceful at first, became lonely. I desperately missed my friends — the feeling someone had my corner, a sense of belonging. Still heartbroken from my split, I longed for hugs. I began craving my old life in the city, especially as lockdown rules eased, restaurants opened and friends sent pictures of themselves out at pubs.
Suddenly, a six-hour drive seemed too far away.
I packed up and left.
I haven’t abandoned my rural dream, but now I know the coast isn’t for me.
I still long for wide skies and the lashing sea, but I need to be near people I know. Somewhere I feel welcome.