It’s been six months since we moved to Folkestone and the time has flown. We enjoyed a glorious late summer of sea-splashing, fountain-jumping and more ice lollies than any child should scoff before the weather turned to cloud and drizzle. In the summer, living in a seaside town is a wonderful adventure and we were constantly out of doors exploring; we really only came home to sleep and there were never enough hours in the day for all of the exciting things that we wanted to do.
But the winter season hasn’t been gloomy at all; all of our favourite coffee shops have been decorated brightly for Christmas and are a welcoming retreat from inclement weather, the parks are admittedly less inviting but the beach is wonderful in all weathers and we all enjoy a mad dash across Sunny Sands before diving into a warm sanctuary for hot chocolate and a cappuccino. At the weekends we make a point of going out every day, and even if we don’t stay out for long, there is always somewhere to go and something to do. We have recently discovered an art cafe, and we can easily spend two or three hours in there painting and sticking before coming home covered in glitter! In fact, art has become a real area of interest for us as a family – perhaps because we see so much of it on our daily adventures. The children benefit so much from the immersive art that they encounter in Folkestone. They were silent with awe when we first discovered Gormley’s Another Time XVIII, they chatter animatedly about who, precisely, lives in Woods’ Holiday Homes, they believe that the mermaid sculpture on Sunny Sands comes to life. It has fueled their imagination and people are generally kind enough to humour them! When we walk to Docker Bakery on the Harbour Arm of a Saturday Morning, the children always take a handful of seashells with which to pay for the cinnamon whirls (and then, surreptitiously, I touch my card to the reader as they walk out with arms full of baked goods!).
I wonder sometimes what our lives might have looked like had we chosen to stay in South East London. The house that we lived in before was too small for a family of seven and though we made it work for a little while, we would have to have moved last year regardless. We couldn’t afford to buy in London, so we would probably still be renting – likely in the same sort of area as we lived in before, close to my mum in Chislehurst. It’s a beautiful area with plenty of green space for the children to run wild, but it never quite felt like ‘home’ to us. We didn’t have many friends in Chislehurst and, although we didn’t feel lonely, it was only because we had each other.
Even though we are quite new to Folkestone, our network of people is somehow bigger. We do more activities, because they are not so expensive, and we have made friends at all of them. Somebody is always smiling at us and everyone seems to know the children’s names. I didn’t know how much they in particular needed that sense of community until we had it; they glow when they talk about all of the friends that they have made. Kirsty, who does most of the school runs, has parent friends to chat to at the school gates, and I have a mum-friend who comes horse riding with me at the weekend and we laugh the whole way home in the car.
Since moving to Folkestone, our lifestyle has changed. We are more active; I am losing weight without trying because we are always walking somewhere, and the children are much fitter and have so much stamina for exploring. We feel more connected to our environment and we’re making an effort to spend less money on disposable/plastic ‘fun’ – there is a wonderful secondhand toy shop in town where the children can buy preloved toys for pocket money prices, and we have joined a WhatsApp group for swapping items we have around the home that are no longer needed. The sense of community here definitely touches all aspects of our lives!
In terms of academics, the primary schools in Folkestone are excellent and we were fortunate to be able to enroll the boys in our first choice. When they started school in September it had been almost a year since we withdrew them from nursery, and their teachers took these little unformed things and made children who read words, who can do mathematics. They absolutely love going to school and they worship their teachers; we are so happy with our choice to educate them here. Embla and Olympia started nursery in September and have been equally nurtured; they are very different characters but have somehow both thrived in the same setting and are learning so much. They are only one academic year younger than their brothers and will start school this coming autumn – hopefully at the same establishment as the boys and, we are crossing our fingers, with the same teachers. I’m less certain about what will happen when they leave primary school – the grammar schools are clearly excellent but the secondary schools seem decidedly less so – but that’s such a long way off that we are choosing not to worry about it for now.
One of my biggest concerns when moving down to the coast was whether it would be feasible to commute back to London five days a week. I’ve been doing it for six months now on the High-Speed rail and I have never been late for work. The extortionate cost (I pay £714/month) is definitely something to consider, but as the cost of our mortgage is low it does somehow balance.
People often ask us whether, in retrospect, we feel that we made the right decision in moving out of London and we whole-heartedly concur that our only regret is that we didn’t do it sooner.
If my words don’t convince you, then below is a photoseries documenting a typical afternoon in Folkestone. I had been horse-riding that morning, and after lunch the children begged to go out for cake – so we did, and I didn’t get them home again until bedtime! What a place to grow up.