‘AT 63 I’M DITCHING CORNWALL FOR LONDON TO PURSUE A BETTER QUALITY OF LIFE’

When the sun shines, Elizabeth Berman enjoys the view of the River Camel estuary from the deck of her infinity pool, or swims in the bracing Celtic Sea. 

When the wind howls in the chimney, she curls up by the open fire, re-reading Daphne du Maurier’s classic Cornish novel, Jamaica Inn, with a G&T. 

It sounds idyllic, but this isn’t her retirement – it’s what she is leaving behind to retire to the bustle of London.

Having lived year-round at her family home, Treverra Farm, near Rock in north Cornwall for 14 years, why would she leave all this behind, to head back to London to retire at the age of 63? 

Berman is one of the latest recruits to the “boomerang brigade” of people returning to cities in their later years, instead of whiling away their final decades in rural or coastal locations, the traditional choice for retirees.

“There is a dawning realisation that you’ve got the life cycles the wrong way round,” she says.

The number of people retiring to cities is rising. Recent research by conveyancing solicitors Bird & Co, using data from the 2021 census, found that inner London was the second most popular place to retire to in England and Wales after Medway in Kent, with a 15pc increase in the over-65s population in the decade between 2011 and 2021.

The same research found that Cornwall was the third least popular place for retirees, after the Isle of Wight and Rutland, seeing a 9pc decline in over-65s between 2011 and 2021.

Robin Thomas, of Recoco Property Search, says: “It’s all well and good moving down to Cornwall in your thirties or forties, but then two things happen. Those little children of five, six, seven, eight or nine turn into teenagers who don’t want to be there any more, and 60-year-olds have elderly parents.”

Life changes have made a massive impact, Berman says: “Logistically, there are things that don’t really work. Rock is a lovely place, but I don’t play golf, [my husband] Charlie doesn’t own any red trousers, I don’t have a dog. 

“I’m probably quite an urban person – I went to university in Manchester – and both my children are now in London. I’m not going to be here when I’m 90.” 

Perceptions of isolation change as people age, too.

“Where we are is very beautiful, but it’s at the end of a farm track,” says Berman. “There is very little public transport. Healthcare is scattered. My son got an infection in his foot recently and the ‘local’ hospital in Truro was an hour and 15 minutes round trip by car.”

For Berman, part of the attraction of moving back to London is quality of life. In moving out of Cornwall, she will leave behind the responsibility of looking after a large house, and reconnect with old pleasures, such as popping out to browse for antiques in Marylebone and Fulham. 

And while she will miss “the peace and space” of north Cornwall, she is ready to welcome “the things you can’t do in the country, like Deliveroo or taxi apps and Uber”.

She wants to be near her mother, who lives in Sandwich, Kent, a six-hour drive from Rock. Charlie, 66, who runs a fintech start-up, wouldn’t want to retire permanently to Cornwall. There are also her children – George, 31, who works in film production, and Fred, 28, a video editor, who both live in London. 

“It’s just being nearby to have dinner or be around if needed when they are tired, broke or have just had a bad day,” she says.

Nearly all Elizabeth’s friends are in London too, so being close to them is another key driver behind this retirement relocation: “I’m also looking forward to the variety and quality of food shops and restaurants as well as art galleries, the ballet, which I love – I am a Friend of the Royal Ballet, theatre and museums.” 

And, she admits, “the hairdresser, very shallow, I know, but I’ve never stopped travelling to London to get my hair done”.

However, she’s slightly trepidatious about how much daily life in London has changed since she left: “I notice the traffic is now terrible, much worse since all the cycle lanes and new limits. When I’m there, I always notice the noise and that you are more frenetic. More doing, less being and always consuming, but I’m quite a restless person so I can live with that.”

Still, Berman says, “there’s never a day when I’m not surprised at how lovely it is. If it hadn’t been so lovely here, we would have gone earlier”.

The couple bought Treverra Farm and its 13-acre estate 24 years ago for around £1.25m. After eight years, they turned the original farmhouse into a three/four-bedroom holiday cottage and built their own new five-bedroom house in traditional style. 

There is also a one-bedroom garden studio, converted from a stone barn. It is now on the market with Knight Frank for £7.5m. 

For a decade, while their sons were at school, the family enjoyed their Cornish retreat as a holiday home, keeping their main family residence in London. Then as the boys grew older, Berman took the decision to live here permanently, with Charlie spending the working week in their “broom cupboard-sized” apartment off Sloane Square.

The couple haven’t yet decided in which part of the capital they will buy their new home, nor have they set a budget.

“I am thinking of renting to try out different areas of London,” Berman says. “Whatever we do next should be our last home, so we want to make sure we get it right.” 

Must-haves for this crucial step are good public transport, decent local food shops, green space nearby, “ideally a nice pub”, and enough full-time residents in the area to provide a strong and safe sense of community.

“Crime is getting worse [in London] too,” she adds. “You can’t leave anything in a car near our flat without having the window smashed.”

With a background in travel and PR, including running a chalet business in Switzerland, Berman set up a holiday lettings firm, C K Rock, to manage two holiday properties at Treverra, and an additional house, Shalmar Hollow, on behalf of a neighbour. Retiring to London will mean disbanding the business. 

“I plan to spend more time going on holidays than organising them,” she says. Proximity to London airports and the opportunity of hopping on the Eurostar to Paris from Kings Cross are major plus points of the move, she adds.

However, big gatherings around the dining table, birthdays, two engagements of family friends and “a lot of fun over the years” will make Treverra Farm hard to leave. 

“One of the biggest memories for me was when we first bought the house,” she recalls. “We were living in Chelsea at the time. The day after we arrived, George was seven, and he said to me, ‘Mummy, is it alright if I go out of the front door on my own?’ 

“It was such an urban child thing to say. We had this garden, so obviously he could, but it really struck me that the children being able to come here and have this freedom of space was so important.”

She loves the end of summer, when the tourists depart and it’s possible to hear the sound of the waves on the beach once more.

“But a lot of people do get seduced. You come on a great holiday, and imagine yourself living here permanently, drifting along sandy shores in a designer jumper.” 

The reality is life moving on, and bad weather: “This winter has been really, really tough, the rain was like a screen saver outside my window.”

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