I thought I’d share some thoughts on looking for land.
We’ve been ‘smallholding’ for over two decades, in various ways, on various bits of land – and we still don’t own a square foot.
A growing number of people want to get onto the land and find a way to live a simpler life. I come across people who have a way to buy a bit of land, who are prepared to build an offgrid cabin, or live in a van. I’m not one of those people – I have a family. When we started out, we had baby children. Rightly or wrongly, we weren’t prepared to live in a ditch.
When we first came down to Wiltshire, fresh from a number of catastrophes, we came down to a farm job. Neil had some experience of working on a farm, but nothing major. This particular job had a number of things going for it, and these may or may not be some things to look out for!
1. They were getting desperate. If the job is doing the winter feeding and mucking out for dairy cows who come in in October, and the job’s still going in September, there’s a chance they may be less than picky when they’re hiring.
2. It was a simple, basic job. Once you knew how to drive the tractor and operate the feeder, you could do it. As time went on, you’d do it better, but you were competent really quickly. There wasn’t much training to do, and they gave someone half competent a shot at it.
3. It was seasonal. It came with a cheap house to rent, which was a big plus, but it was only a winter job. We had to take a chance that we’d find work in summer. As it turned out, Neil started a gardening business that ran for some years off the back of those unbooked summers. But the income from the farm job from April to October was: zero.
4. The bloke who was herd manager was less than charismatic. If you were hoping for a new best friend, you weren’t going to want this gig. If you could let it wash over you on the other hand …
So. That’s how we got our first shot at it. We got a three bed bungalow with a huge untouched slab of garden for a song, and a half decent income in winter.
- Look for jobs which will move you into a rural zone, and which come with property you can start to live your dream on.
- Permaculture Magazine Classifieds
Once we moved away from this first job, we rented cottages from the Crown Estate. Rented houses can be adaptable, quirky, with land, with woodburners - and you can be free to keep pets, keep chickens, grow vegetables. Your average buy to let landlord isn't going to let you do that though. Landlords like the Crown Estate, Duchy of Cornwall, and the National Trust, can be a bit more relaxed.
- The National Trust properties to let. I'm warning you there is actually a tearoom in Somerset on here. I may have to pack after I finish writing this.
We never actually got around to community living, but it's undoubtedly a way to get onto the land, and also to learn a lot. There are some unusual opportunities and although these days some of them come with a price tag that would buy you a regular house, there are still some openings for renters.
- Diggers and Dreamers is the place to look to see what's on offer communally.
Eventually, we got into a private arrangement with a local fellow Crown tenant who had some grazing he wasn't using, and we had that off him on a handshake for a number of years before we formalised it, and we now rent on an FBT off the Crown. Having a little faith and just getting on with it paid off for us - it might not have done since he was in breach of contract, subletting to us, and it could have ended horribly wrong, but it didn't.
II have no way of knowing what's on offer in your area, but land does go up for let.
- UK Land and Farms is a good place to look for land tenancies.
- Greenshifters used to be good but these days has few lets in the UK, and those it does have seem to be overpriced.
Ihope that's been of some use to people whose hearts call out to the land, but know they can't afford to buy, and don't know where to start to make a big life change while renting.
Renting has its issues - don't we know it - but if you really want to get onto the land and get started, you may be like we were - we had limited choices!
i don't regret our choice to move right away, diving into life onto the land by way of tied and rented accommodation. I'd always advise you to watch your back, and have an exit strategy* but it's been a lot of fun.
If it's where your heart is, you probably need to follow!
*ho hum. We still don't have one!