Life Outside London – We Ended Up In…Ashtead, Surrey

There comes a point in many a London family’s life when they pose the inevitable question: “Should we move out of the capital?” Many have laid down roots and choose to stay put, but others take the plunge, spreading the #nomumleftbehind mantra up and down the country. In this new blog series, we’ll be profiling a wide range of different areas in case you’re at a similar crossroads in your lives. From Cornwall villages to rural Wales, from the Kent coast to the Surrey suburbs, there are endless options to consider if you’re on the lookout for pastures new.

Ashtead, Surrey


Where have you moved to?

Ashtead in Surrey – a large village nestled just inside the M25 between Epsom and Leatherhead.

Where did you move from?

We lived in Lee Green, south east London, for the best part of a decade.

Why did you leave London?

We absolutely loved our Zone 3 home but when we got pregnant with our first child we looked at schools in our area for the first time and realised we were in a very risky position for getting into literally any state school within walking distance. As very risk-averse people – both of whom grew up on the edge of the countryside – we decided to start researching options beyond the capital, and nearer family.

How did you choose your new location?

First of all we looked on a map – we wanted to be closer to relatives in Wimbledon and Bristol but still commutable to London, so Surrey made sense straight away. We then researched house prices and spent many weekends while pregnant actually visiting different areas we thought we might be able to afford. We didn’t have a car at the time so there was a lot of aimless walks along residential streets, but eventually we discovered Ashtead and it just felt nice and right.

St Giles Church, Ashtead - Photo © Thomas Grant (cc-by-sa/2.0)
St Giles Church, Ashtead – Photo © Thomas Grant (cc-by-sa/2.0)

How long before moving did you start looking?

We found Ashtead in 2014 but didn’t move here for three years! Between finding our eventual house and moving in took about four months.

At what point did you think about schools and childcare?

After we visited Ashtead for the first time and knew we liked it I researched schools straight away. I was massively relieved when I learned there were three or four lovely primary / infant schools in the area, and a couple of them were in the north of the village towards the train station, which was our preferred location. Having looked at recent school intake boundaries I was reassured that, if we bought sensibly, we would pretty much be guaranteed to get into one of the nearby schools (in Surrey your nearest school is taken into consideration as part of the allocation process) – something that could never have been guaranteed where we used to live. In terms of childcare we started researching as soon as our offer had been accepted.

What did you do about work?

We can commute to our existing jobs in London – our new house is a five-minute walk to the train station; my husband’s new commute is actually quicker than it was before! My journey is a bit more complex as I work right over the other side of London in North Greenwich, and it takes about 1 hour 20 minutes door-to-desk.

What’s the best thing about where you live now?

The space. The space in our new house, our garden, green space on our doorstep and the space in my head where a big knot of worry about schools used to reside. Ashtead as a place has everything you could need – three pubs, a library, numerous community centres and sports clubs with loads of kids’ activities and a nice little high street with all the essentials. We also live just a two-minute walk from a lovely rank of (mainly) independent shops, including a fab bakery and butchers. Finally, being so much closer to Bristol means my parents can visit much more easily – it’s easily shaved 90 minutes off their journey and they can now get more involved with their grandson.

View From Ashtead Hill, Surrey - Photo © Peter Trimming (cc-by-sa:2.0)
View From Ashtead Hill, Surrey – Photo © Peter Trimming (cc-by-sa:2.0)

What’s the most surprising thing about where you live now?

In the run-up to the move it felt like we were leaving London behind. But now I realise that we definitely haven’t – it’s just that the heart of the action is a little bit further up the railway line. We even still get BBC London news on the telly! I’m still genuinely taken aback when strangers say hello as you walk past, but it really makes a difference.

What are your top three tips for moving with children?

  1. If you need childcare at the other end, research that as early as possible. Many nurseries here have long waiting lists, and childminders often aren’t able to work with non-exact timelines, so it’s worth having some visits lined up long before you actually move.
  2. If you can afford it, pay for professional packers. That way you can live in your house as normal right up until moving day. Our son – who was just over two when we moved – definitely sensed that change was afoot, so maintaining as much normality as possible prevented his anxiety from escalating further.
  3. If there’s a way you can ship off the kids during the actual move, do it. We decided to take up my parents’ generous offer to look after our toddler on moving day and for a couple of days either side. That way he never witnessed the worst of the upheaval, we could focus on getting things unpacked at the other end (prioritising his room to maintain some degree of familiarity) and he got to spend some quality time with his grandparents. Win win.


What do you miss about living in London?

Since we had our son we made some incredible friends in south east London, and we miss them hugely. The vibrancy and buzz of the capital’s communities is also absent…and I definitely miss doorstep access to a decent cup of coffee.

Have there been any downsides to the move?

The cost of living here is undoubtedly higher. Many things – including childcare, cleaners and little things like haircuts and takeaways – seem to cost about 15% more, so that’s definitely something to consider. Commuting into central London is also a big expense – because I only need to make the journey a couple of times a week it costs me almost £20 a day, which really adds up across a month and feels like I’m being penalised for working part-time. There was once talk about introducing part-time season tickets for this reason, but that seems to have fallen by the wayside. I’m already on the case with my new local MP about this…who also happens to be the current Transport Secretary in this Tory stronghold, another downside.

Ashtead, Surrey - Photo © P L Chadwick (cc-by-sa:2.0)
Ashtead, Surrey – Photo © P L Chadwick (cc-by-sa:2.0)

What one piece of advice would you give to anyone considering a similar change?

Research research research. Yes, perhaps we are control freaks, but we visited the area about ten times before making the move, at various times and days of the week, to repeatedly satisfy ourselves that it was as nice as we remembered – thankfully it always was. And even if your children are young, definitely look at secondary schools as well as primary, as the last thing you’d want to do would be to have to move again once the kids approach 11.

Where can people find out more about life in your new location?

The Guardian featured Ashtead in its Let’s Move To column a few years ago, so the prices are obviously out of date. The Ashtead Residents’ Association website is a trove of local information, and I’ve already been roped in joining their local army of newsletter deliverers! Finally, fellow word geeks might be interested in an ongoing debate over the correct way to spell “Ashtead”

Any regrets?

None at all.

Ashtead: the basics


This Life Outside London blog series has been expertly curated by Hayley Brockie-Dunlop from Mumroll. Follow her at Twitter @hayjane / @mumroll, Facebook: @mumrollUK, Instagram @hayjane and online at Huge thanks to Hayley for all her hard work.
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Rachel Millington is a mum of two. In her spare time, she works in PR, hanging out with people who are all a good 10 years younger and a lot more glamorous than her, which is terribly good for the self-esteem. She also volunteers for Mind & MumsAid, because she very definitely believes that maternal mental health matters. She can be found tweeting (/ranting about politics) @rachmillington and is also charting her absolute hatred and despair of the weaning process on instagram @mummyledweaning (whoever said it was easier second time around LIED).

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