In our family we do not have the Book of Kells, but we do have a Book of Kelso. It’s a notebook dedicated to the study of the Scottish border town on the banks of the River Tweed. Why? The answer can be traced back to the moment we realised that our children could save a six-figure sum on university tuition fees if we lived in Scotland.
Moving north of the border amounts to quite a radical remedy to the problem posed by the spiralling cost of higher education, particularly since we are increasingly unconvinced that a degree is the key to a rosy future for millennials.
But the idea of relocating 370 miles north has taken root as ineradicably as a thistle in a pony paddock. This is not about returning to the Glens of our kin. My wife and I have Celtic blood, but it’s Irish not Scottish. It is, however, certainly a romantic notion, fuelled by an excess of Sir Walter Scott in my teens and, more recently, the musings of Tory MP Rory Stewart.
Stewart’s terrific book The Marches is a long love letter to “the Middleland”. Some of his stories about the Reivers – the lawless border bandits who turned rustling into an industry – I could recognise from visits to a farming friend on the banks of the Solway. But I was almost ashamed by my want of appreciation of Hadrian’s Wall. Not its significance as the boundary of the Roman Empire; instead, what it meant as a feat of engineering. It took more workers to construct than the Pyramids. Who knew?
Of course, the odds favour inertia. Could I really spend four nights a week in London, and do a weekly commute back to Berwick by train? What about the cold, the long winter nights, the midges? Would my children be bullied at school as Anglo-colonialists, made to swear allegiance to Nicola Sturgeon in Scots Gaelic?
Yet my misgivings haven’t quite vanquished my inner Dr Pangloss. Property websites conjure up images of ancient, thick-walled farmhouses, with enough acreage for the good life. Many seem to have six or seven bedrooms. Too many for many modern families, ideal for us.
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