My first time in the Wychwoods

It all started with a cat hunt…

My first encounter with the Wychwoods was entirely accidental. At the time I was living in Oxford, sandwiched between two dual carriageways in Botley. We were on the search for a new pet and had no idea where to start. We had friends up for the weekend and decided on impulse to go for a drive “out into the Cotswolds”, following a tip off about available kittens. As we drove up the hill out of Fulbrook I remember thinking, “this truly is the middle of nowhere!” As we turned the next corner, we were faced with the view over the Wychwoods and it took my breath away – the whole valley spread out before me, beams of sunshine crossing the sky, inviting me in. To this day, I never take that amazing view for granted. We spent the afternoon driving past pretty stone cottages and through Cotswold villages, a bit lost but not really caring. As we drove back home through Chipping Norton, (having completely failed to find any kittens) I can remember dreaming about being able to live in such an idyllic setting, and the Wychwoods left a small imprint on my mind.

My next encounter was through a friend and work colleague, Zoe, who some of you may remember lived in the tiny “old old” surgery in The Sands. I loved her quirky little cottage and again I started dreaming about a possible life out in the countryside. She used to talk all the time about her community and how amazing the Wychwood Players were, of which she was an active part. I had grown up in a similar village in Cambridgeshire, and despite living in Birmingham, Coventry, Strasbourg and London, country living was always my goal. However, working crazy hours as a newly qualified teacher left me little time to seriously contemplate moving house and the dream seemed very far away. The Wychwoods disappeared into the back of my mind.

Several years, a marriage, a cat (finally) and a pregnancy test later, my priorities changed somewhat! I enjoyed living in Oxford, but having grown up in a small village, I knew that I wanted to bring my children up in a similar community. And so the search began. We looked around Wantage – too expensive; Chadlington – no luck there; Leafield – got gazumped; finally, Milton-under-Wychwood. We walked along the High Street, taking in the pub, the park, the interesting houses, the bustling village notice board, the friendly people passing by and saying “hello”. Hmm, I thought, this seems ideal. But sadly the house sellers we were due to meet had a change of plans and cancelled the viewing, so back to Oxford we drove, not having even crossed the threshold. But the Wychwoods were now in my head!

A few months on and we had viewed so many properties. None seemed right. Then we noticed that the same house in Milton was still on the market, and had even dropped in price. Whether you believe in fate or not, we just had to go back and have another look. Once more we drove from Oxford, taking in the stunning landscape and the beautiful villages. Now heavily pregnant, I was still doubting that my dream of a rural life could ever happen. But this time we made it through the front door, and it was love at first sight. Period features, quirky layout, battered old beams – it would be a labour of love but we were up for the challenge. And best of all, we were right in the heart of the village. By the end of the day our offer had been accepted and the rest is history.

In the 16 years since, it has been noticeable to me how newcomers to the village always comment on how friendly Wychwood folk are. This was true for us too. Within just a short while, we felt so welcomed by everyone we met. We made friends, found baby groups, got recommendations for our house projects and met all of our neighbours, usually over a bottle of wine or two! We feel that Pilgrim Cottage truly is our home for life, and we have no plans to go anywhere (we still have another 20 years at least of renovations to do yet!). But that first time, that very first night we spent in our new home in this wonderful village will never be forgotten. It was warm, we had the windows open, it was so quiet and, as my baby kicked away inside me, we were happy.

Postscript: it is worth noting that moving to the Wychwoods was one of the best things we ever did. During the recent Covid crisis I have been constantly amazed and impressed by the kindness and care shown by our community. I have lived in many different places and I can genuinely say that the Wychwoods are a truly special place to live. We are so lucky. It is also really interesting how we all came to be living here – born and bred, via London, following family, etc. I wonder how many other stories brought us here?

Cath Smith

June-July 2021