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
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; butlersherborn.co.uk) 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; knightsquarter.co.uk) 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; bellway.co.uk).
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