First of all I should come clean and say that we do own a car. When we moved to the village 13 years ago my husband rode a motorbike, or took the bus, and I drove the car to work and childcare. Then I gave up work and his job changed. He now drives every day to work in Bristol and I am, more or less, car free. I do have some access to my parents’ car (they also live in the village) but this is intermittent.
Living without regular access to a car in a small village with a limited bus service has proved challenging. Yet we have deliberately chosen not to buy another car for four reasons:
- We can’t afford to buy and run another car without incurring debt
- For environmental reasons
- Parking is very limited
- We don’t really need one
I also enjoy the ‘freedom’ that not having a car generates. Yes, I know that sounds odd but I like being free from having to commit to things that mean I have to get in the car to drive to them. It means that when the children were little I didn’t have to strap them in their car seats to go to 101 activities. Instead, we stayed at home, saved money and did our own things at our own pace.
To me, the benefits of being car-free are many:
- We make our own entertainment. When I look back on the time before the girls went to school I remember the small, precious things like going on walks to look at the sheep, visiting the village parks or being inventive like exploring the churchyard or playing in our Millennium wood. Now that they are older they have friends to play and my eldest goes on walks and bike rides with friends. Although my husband and I do have the car we are far too lazy to use it to go out socially and, instead, have a great social life with friends within the village (our 80s party every January has become legendary!)
- We make full use of local facilities. Our village has a small cafe that opens twice a week so I often meet friends for coffee or we may go there after school for a treat. On Wednesdays we use the mobile library (sadly soon to become a fortnightly service). When the children were small I was actively involved in the local Toddler group and Playgroup, and made some great friends there.
- We shop locally – or get deliveries. I know I have gone on a lot about our doorstep milk delivery which I cannot praise enough. We also get a fortnightly veg and fruit box delivered and, once a month, I have a supermarket delivery. When we run out of groceries, I use one of our three local shops (newsagent, Post Office, Premier Express). I also rely on the internet a lot for when I just can’t get out to buy presents, clothing etc.
- We use the bus. My children have always used the bus. Even when the two youngest were tiny and I had to struggle to get the buggy on board we have found ways to use this service. The bus travels five times a day to Bath and, despite the hefty fee (£6.40 for an 8 mile journey) it’s still cheaper than driving and parking. During the school holidays the kids go free so we often find ourselves heading into the city for the day. This service is a lifeline for people like me, and those villagers who don’t drive. UPDATE: since taking on a job in Bath at the beginning of 2017 the bus has been even more of a lifeline: it’s how I get to work every morning (arriving at my desk for 8.30am) and it’s how I get home (picking up the 5.45pm from the bus station). Without the service I would really struggle to get to my job and, as I work in central Bath, buying a car to park nowhere near my job, would be ridiculous.
- We say no. As I mentioned when the girls were little we just didn’t go to baby gym, singing sessions, baby signing, baby yoga etc. (unless I could get there by car). We have always adapted our needs to what can actually be achieved. The children have Saturday swimming classes because that’s when the car is free. Sometimes saying ‘no’ can make our life easy (and cheap) but sometimes it’s hard. My eldest would like to do after school clubs but that’s just not possible. At present she does a drama course one evening per week and we have to make complicated travel arrangements for it to work.
- We walk (and sometimes we get wet!) We are a ten minute walk from school and I am constantly amazed when I see neighbours drive to school. Yet I’m also envious on wet and cold days. But we adapt and I have long since invested in wet weather gear for drizzly school runs.
However I don’t want to give the impression that living in a village without a regular car is easy. There are times where we really struggle and I can become exasperated at how difficult it can be. Last week I had to travel six miles to another town. I had to take two buses, it took me nearly an hour and cost £8 in total (for two single tickets!). Being without a car in a rural location is no joke and only serves to highlight how important those village services – both public (subsidised bus, mobile library, schools, doctors, internet access and speed!) and private (pubs, shops, cafes, classes) – are. It’s more important than ever that we support them, and fight for them to stay.