Live in a win­ter won­der­land

DEB­O­RAH STONE vis­its towns and cities that boast ex­cel­lent Christ­mas stalls as well as a very tempt­ing se­lec­tion of homes for sale

Sunday Express - - COMMENT -

CHRIST­MAS is com­ing and our cities in par­tic­u­lar have lost no time in fa­cil­i­tat­ing our urge to shop. Many have had Christ­mas mar­kets since mid-Novem­ber and some will open right up to the new year with Ed­in­burgh’s East Princes Street Gar­dens mar­ket of­fer­ing fun for all un­til Jan­uary 5.

But the Christ­mas cheer on dis­play in smaller towns is also a barom­e­ter of year-round com­mu­nity cheer and a use­ful aid for any­body think­ing of mov­ing to the area.

Take Cirences­ter, for ex­am­ple, where the Sparkles Ad­vent Fes­ti­val and Mar­ket was opened yes­ter­day with an Arts & Craft Mar­ket to­day. These will be fol­lowed by var­i­ous other Christ­mas mar­kets be­tween De­cem­ber 10 and 22.

Named by fash­ion mag­a­zine Vogue as one of the 12 best UK Christ­mas mar­kets, the taste­fully lit Christ­mas tree, tra­di­tional carol singers and farm­ers’ mar­kets will give you a taste for life in the Cotswolds, where you can still buy pretty pe­riod prop­er­ties for less than £500,000.

Learoyds Cot­tage in Southrop, Glouces­ter­shire, 12 miles from Cirences­ter, is de­scribed as the quin­tes­sen­tial Cotswold cot­tage. Built from the lo­cal stone in the 19th cen­tury, it has an in­glenook fire­place with a wood-burn­ing stove and win­dow seat in the open-plan liv­ing room and kitchen, with walls and ceil­ing painted white in­clud­ing ex­posed beams.

For sale at £450,000 (01993 822325; but­ler­sher­ the cot­tage’s two dou­ble bed­rooms have vaulted ceil­ings with more white-painted beams and the gar­dens are beau­ti­fully de­signed with low box hedg­ing around in­tri­cate plant­ings and grav­elled paths.

It’s ev­ery­thing you would ex­pect of the Cotswolds, where town meets coun­try in a par­tic­u­larly pic­turesque way.

IT’S A SIM­I­LAR story down in Hamp­shire, where Winch­ester Christ­mas mar­ket has one of the most en­chant­ing lo­ca­tions of any in the coun­try. Its 100 dec­o­rated wooden chalets line the cathe­dral’s his­toric grounds and are par­tic­u­larly pretty as dusk falls and light from the Cathe­dral Close’s old lamps is mag­ni­fied by hun­dreds of fairy lights.

Winch­ester is also fa­mous for be­ing home to King Arthur’s Round Ta­ble which hangs in the 13th-cen­tury Great Hall that was once part of Winch­ester Cas­tle. Other his­toric build­ings in­clude the bar­racks based on a de­sign by Sir Christo­pher Wren which are now mil­i­tary mu­se­ums.

This county town re­tains many hand­some build­ings and this is echoed in a new-build devel­op­ment called Knights Quar­ter in the heart of the city. A mix­ture of one, two and three-bed­room apart­ments, pent­houses and town­houses are now avail­able.

One-bed­room apart­ments start from £300,000 (01962 834045; knight­squar­ and have open-plan lay­outs, en­suite show­ers and sep­a­rate bath­rooms plus an ex­clu­sive on-site gym.

Ox­ford Christ­mas mar­ket, in Broad Street, is also sur­rounded by his­tory but there is plenty of com­mu­nity in­put with week­end per­for­mances by choirs and bands. The city is one of Bri­tain’s most suc­cess­ful and as a re­sult is one of the most ex­pen­sive to live in. This ex­plains why Ox­ford­shire has many new com­mu­ni­ties be­ing built at the mo­ment.

Chin­nor, in south Ox­ford­shire, is among them with Oak Hill Park of­fer­ing stylish three, four and five-bed­room fam­ily homes with garages or off-street park­ing.

Close to good pri­mary and sec­ondary schools as well as lovely coun­try­side in­clud­ing the Chiltern Hills, the houses are for sale from £455,000 to £805,000 (0118 933 8032; bell­

Christ­mas may not be the eas­i­est time to move to a new home but if you’re just ex­plor­ing your op­tions it’s the per­fect time to check out towns and cities to see whether they’re on the nice list.

CHRIST­MAS CHEER: One hun­dred mar­ket stalls line the cathe­dral grounds in Winch­ester

FES­TIVE FIND: Learoyds Cot­tage in Southrop, Glouces­ter­shire; Knights Quar­ter in Winch­ester, Hamp­shire, and Oak Hill Park in Chin­nor, Ox­ford­shire, of­fer great homes all year round but come into their own over Christ­mas

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