Cowpat county courts the royals
Herefordshire is the ‘new Cotswolds’. So where are the best places to buy, asks Adam Edwards
Tetbury in “royal” Gloucestershire is a short helicopter hop from Ross-onWye in rural Herefordshire. And while the two small towns divided by, and equidistant from, the River Severn might at first seem as disparate as Champagne and Snakebite, thanks to the M5 and the M50, one can enjoy a post-prandial glass of bubbly at, say, Highgrove in Tetbury and be at one’s more westerly estate at Harewood Park, Ross, in plenty of time for a Scrumpy and Special Brew chaser.
This is why those of a wry disposition now precede the county name of Herefordshire with the moniker “royal” while those with a more ruthless DNA are buying up its real estate in anticipation of a prince’s arrival.
The restoration of the Duchy of Cornwall’s 900-acre Harewood Park estate by the Prince of Wales is almost complete. A quick squint around the grounds makes it a racing certainty that it is being readied for Prince William. Trees have been planted at the main entrance to shield it from prying eyes. The reconditioned outhouses, which are within fawning distance of the palatial, six-bedroom, timbered farmhouse, are designed for a platoon of security officers, while unwanted public access to the main residence with its orangery and private chapel is easily barred.
In fact, in many ways, the place is a sandstone chip off the Highgrove block. Both houses are set back from a busy road; both have privacy and stunning views, and both are only a few miles from a country town boasting a 17thcentury pillared Market House, dominant church spire and population of fewer than 10,000.
And yet it is the difference between the two places that is attracting those who are in search of a rural idyll rather than a rustic outpost of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
“Herefordshire is stunning,” says local organic apple and walnut farmer Adrian Blackshaw, who moved from Gloucestershire to a 50-acre farm with several outbuildings four years ago. “I am staggered by its beauty, which is fostered, nurtured and maintained by farmers. Our move was a lifestyle choice. We wanted space to move and community values. We got fed up with the increasing influence of London money and values in Gloucestershire.”
Writer Quentin Letts, born and bred in the home of Old Spot and Double Gloucester, made a similar choice. “Gloucestershire has been wrecked by the Liz Hurley crowd,” he says. “It has been over-gentrified. It feels more like Fulham than rural England.”
South Herefordshire, on the other hand, which was more expensive than Gloucestershire 40 years ago, has yet to be overrun by the spotless 4x4, gravel drive and CCTV security system.
“There are still cowpats on the roads,” said Letts. “In Herefordshire you get stuck behind tractors. Here, you drive old cars because the spuds fall off the potato lorries like Barnes Wallis’s bouncing bombs and dent your paintwork and smash your headlights.”
It is this aggressively rustic charm that is drawing an influx of fans into the second most rural county in Britain, one that has less than a 10th of the population of its celebrity neighbour.
“We are becoming the new Cotswolds,” says Ross-on-Wye estate agent Jason Hicks. The celebrity count however is still limited to Bruce Robinson, author of Withnail and I, Jim Davidson, Denise Van Outen and, according to local reports, Peter Mandelson.
“I suspect the royal connection is going to have a significant effect in the future. The area where the Duchy of Cornwall owns much of its land is extraordinarily attractive, most of it is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Unfortunately, the days of finding a derelict cottage in the middle of nowhere or an unconverted barn there are already over.”
And yet, if a property can be found, it has one huge advantage over its equal in Gloucestershire – price. A substantial, four-bedroom, detached, period house in the land of the cider apple and SAS will cost half as much as a similar property in Hurley-shire.
Buying in Herefordshire is no longer an easy option, says Anthony Clay, a partner with estate agent Knight Frank, who is based in Hereford. “They never build and they never sell here,” he says. “Neither the many large landed estates nor the prosperous farmers are keen on selling up. But if you can find a property, it is at least affordable – never be deceived by the asking price – or at any rate affordable to those who are downsizing from somewhere like London.
“And while I realise that everybody deep down wants a nice rectory in 10 acres in the Cotswolds, it is unaffordable nowadays. Herefordshire is never going to be the Cotswolds because of the difficulties in communications. The train service is very bad, it is a three- hour drive to London and, unless you are in the medical profession, the salaries lag far behind the rest of southern England.
“On the other hand, for those same reasons it is still wonderfully remote and unspoiled. Many would argue that the county is better than Gloucestershire. If it is not, then it is certainly the next best thing.”
That, obviously, is the view, too, of the Prince of Wales. The royal court that has gradually moved west from London with the Windsors in Berkshire and the Waleses in Gloucestershire now looks set to continue down the motorway into Herefordshire.
And with it, as it always has done, will follow money, social standing and the rising price of property.
Restoration of the monarchy: work on Harewood Park (above), which Prince Charles (below) is said to have set aside for Prince William, is close to completion