T here can be few people who haven't at some time or another, dreamt of living on their own smallholding. The vision couldn't be lovelier; sunny summer mornings spent walking through your own garden, roses round the door, children playing happily, while your lambs 'baa' contentedly; your potato crop fills the vegetable patch; the polytunnel has all manner of goodies in it grown by you, and your hens, ducks and geese peck and waddle happily around.

For some the dream becomes reality. They up-sticks, change their lives, sometimes moving hundreds of miles from all they know, and buy their own smallholding. It's not for everyone but for those who want to make the dream come true it pays to consider what you want.

What do you want?

Ask yourself whether you want to be totally self-sufficient or will you carry on working.

What is manageable for you? Many people prefer to simply keep a few animals grow their own vegetables rather than make it a full-time occupation.

Everyone is different and there is no right or wrong in the world of smallholding, only a lot of variables. Some of the most important considerations hinge on location. Not everyone wants to live in splendid isolation and there are still parts of the UK that are very isolated indeed. The Scottish Isles are perhaps extreme examples, but even on the mainland, some areas make getting to basic health care or local shops a real trek. Are you prepared to travel many miles to the doctor, dentist, schools, vet and high street shops?

As with any other potential home, research neighbours and surrounding land. What is the local authority planning for the fields adjoining yours? Is an industrial estate about to spring up?

What can at first seem a rural idyll can soon turn into a nightmare if you haven't checked it thoroughly. Regional council's local plans, including preferred development zones, are a good place to start. It's vital you check broadband and mobile network coverage, particularly if you work or run a business from home, or are considering doing this. It's an ongoing issue for rural areas so would you be prepared to hang out of a bedroom window to get a mobile signal?

Access to a smallholding is hugely important.

Is it suitable for HGVs including large trailers and tractors? Shared access can be problematic if your neighbours don't like the idea of large vehicles or livestock being driven up and down the drive.

Always visit any potential property at different times of the day and different days of the week before making an offer. What can seem like a quiet country lane at midday during the week can turn into a rush hour rat-run with non stop traffic and fumes.

Visiting at different times will also help to establish any unusual use of neighbouring land or property.

Planning you dream What will you keep, raise and grow on your smallholding? Think carefully about this and ensure that the property has enough outbuildings and land for your current and future needs. Will you want to expand livestock numbers somewhere down the line? If so, is there land nearby you could rent or buy?

Utilities bills are one of the biggest financial considerations, and for smallholders, water plays a big part. What utilities does the property have? Does it have mains water and sewage or has it got a private water supply and drainage?

Sunny hill or sheltered valley?

Site and situation are key factors particularly if you are planning to grow vegetables or put up a polytunnel or new buildings. Obviously this will be influenced by the area you are looking at; moorlands will offer more extreme conditions than a sheltered valley.

Do bear in mind that while you may be a successful gardener who can grow bougainvillea in a sheltered walled garden in the mild climate of south-east England, growing crops on a smallholding in North Wales will be an entirely different proposition.

So, be ready to adapt your crops to suit the climate and growing conditions of the property you purchase.

Be prepared to widen your search area if you can't find what you want locally. Simply looking in the next county can make all the difference, particularly to price. Of course, if money is no object then you will be able to snap up the ideal plot, but for most people finances will dictate the property type and location.

What to look for When purchasing land it's important to have the fields checked and measured for acreage, and compare land values to ensure you are paying the going rate.

Remember that how it looks on a summer's day, when the fields are at their best, could be a very different proposition after heavy rain. If land becomes waterlogged this may restrict your use of the fields or be a further outlay for drainage work to be installed.

Old farmhouses are generally cold and will cost more to heat than a new well-insulated house. Be realistic about how much it will cost to renovate a property and commission a full survey before buying.

Can I be self sufficient?

Self-sufficiency is a nice idea, but is it possible? With enough land you can grow all your own vegetables, salad crops and fruit, and raise your own meat animals.

Determining how much is enough depends on your own circumstances but, generally speaking, an acre of land should provide enough crops for a family of four. Add to that the amount of land needed for keeping livestock and you would need to purchase ten acres or more.

Keeping a dairy goat for milk and a few hens to lay your eggs would ensure you'd eat quite nicely, but is that the same as self-sufficiency?

What happens when it comes to paying your way? How will you pay utility, feed, fuel and maintenance bills? Most smallholders have at least a part-time job to supplement their income so you need to consider your own skills and what you could offer to others in your area.

If you will need a full-time job to pay for your dream smallholding, a long commute to and from a remote location may not be the ideal life, with more time spent in the car than at home. A partner to run the smallholding while you are at work may be the perfect solution.

What about the future? The reality is that while you may be fit, healthy and active now, looking after a large property with land gets harder with age. But, once you have settled will you want to move? The moral is, don't bite off more than you can chew.

Location, location There are smallholdings all over the country and people often move long distances to their new smallholding. From Birmingham to Yorkshire, Cornwall to Bute and Exeter to Wales is not uncommon, and strangely enough, most people head in a northerly direction in search of a smallholding. A few do head back home again when things don't work out, but for the majority a smallholding is for life.

A couple who recently made the move north is Rachel and David where they are currently renovating their 120-year-old farmhouse.

"When we were looking for somewhere to live we definitely wanted to find somewhere with at least three bedrooms with a bit of land that was near enough to where David was working," recalls Rachel. "I was also looking for somewhere where there would be access to good riding (Rachel has two horses, Martina and Freddie).

"When we were looking we just kept scrolling down all the estate agents'

information on their websites until we found out whether there was any land available with the property. I would definitely say we have sacrificed living in a nice, ready-made house for one that needs a lot of work done but has land, plenty of space and places to ride."

Rachel says they both knew what they wanted from a smallholding: "To be able to have hens and the possibility of a greenhouse or vegetable patch was definitely in my mind when we were looking for a home," she explains. "David wants goats and some rare breed sheep too. Despite the drawbacks it was definitely the setting, the view and the tranquillity that pulled our heartstrings and made choice to buy this farmhouse, its few acres and outbuildings quite an easy one.

"In the future, we are keen to be more self-sufficient when it comes to things like hay and looking after the fields. David is longing for a tractor. We would definitely like a bit more land for grazing and hay, and of course, have many plans for what we could do to the house if we had the money."

Finances When smallholders are asked for their advice on purchasing a property, money is a recurring theme. It seems that a financial contingency fund is advisable and that budgeting for all costs is a must.

What does become apparent when speaking to smallholders, growers and livestock fanciers about their views on purchasing a smallholding or a house with land, is that they are a jolly optimistic bunch.

They love life, are prepared to try their hand at most things and are not easily put off. They relish a challenge and tackle adverse weather conditions, leaky pipes and lost chickens with equal enthusiasm.