How to find the per­fect vil­lage

Lo­cat­ing a ru­ral haven can be harder than you think. Caro­line McGhie re­veals our pick of 25 idyl­lic spots in Eng­land.

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

This is best time of year to en­joy the English vil­lage. It is the sea­son of fetes, church con­certs, agri­cul­tural fairs and coun­try house opera. Pubs spill out onto vil­lage greens, cricket pavil­ions are alive with the sound of ball on bat, and gar­dens de­liver an em­bar­rass­ment of riches. Some vil­lages even have scare­crow days, peo­pling the streets with sur­pris­ingly re­al­is­tic straw man­nequins. All the ec­cen­tric­ity of pas­toral English life is there.

The per­fect English vil­lage is the house-hunter’s Holy Grail. In her re­cent tele­vi­sion se­ries on Hid­den Vil­lages Pene­lope Keith vis­ited set­tle­ments dubbed by Chan­nel 4 as “the most de­sir­able places to live in Bri­tain”. With the be­nign in­quis­i­tive­ness of a mod­ern Miss Marple, she too­tled through the coun­try­side in her cardi­gan, savour­ing mu­sic and fer­til­ity fes­ti­vals, learn­ing about thatch in Dorset and flint in Nor­folk.

Many of her vil­lages weren’t hid­den at all but were in fact rather well­known. What she found within them was a strong heart­beat. While they faced dra­matic change, caused by coastal ero­sion or in­com­ers, they prized their sense of history. The ca­pac­ity to pull to­gether was as pow­er­ful as ever. But new ru­ral homehunter­s these days want so­phis­ti­ca­tion with their ru­ral idyll. They want a Miche­lin-starred res­tau­rant or a gas­tro pub, a bril­liant pri­mary school and a good deli.

The re­ces­sion saw a flight to the towns by peo­ple who wanted to save petrol on school runs and to stay within reach of cof­fee shops and cup­cakes. Re­cent fig­ures from Sav­ills show how this has left the coun­try­side look­ing com­par­a­tively good value to new buy­ers. Ru­ral lo­ca­tions na­tion­wide are still 13.8pc be­low the 2007 peak, and vil­lages 6.5pc lower but re­cov­er­ing. Prices went up by 2.3pc last year.

“Since the credit crunch,” says So­phie Chick, Sav­ills re­search an­a­lyst, “peo­ple have cho­sen ur­ban over ru­ral in or­der to be closer to a work place, and the re­sult has been that af­flu­ent cities and towns have out­per­formed their neigh­bour­ing vil­lages and ru­ral lo­ca­tions. This means vil­lages now rep­re­sent bet­ter value and so it is a good time to buy.”

Prop­erty search agents get to know the vil­lages on their patch bet­ter than any­one. Adam Bux­ton at Mid­dle­ton Ad­vi­sors (www.mid­dle­t­on­ad­vi­sors. com) loves Chadling­ton in Ox­ford­shire. “It epit­o­mises ev­ery­thing a vil­lage should be,” he says. The ace in Chadling­ton’s pack, apart from the pri­mary school, cricket team and an­nual beer fes­ti­val, is the vil­lage shop, called Chadling­ton Qual­ity Foods, which is a gen­eral store, del­i­catessen and off-li­cence. It sells home-cooked foods and is also a bak­ery.

The vil­lagers got to­gether in 2001 to keep it open. If you want lo­cal as­para­gus, peas and broad beans, then this is where to find them. If it’s Hook Nor­ton beers, French cheeses or straw­ber­ries from Cornwall you’re af­ter, then they have those too. It is be­lieved to be Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron’s favourite shop, which is say­ing some­thing be­cause Dayles­ford Or­gan­ics looms nearby, more Not­ting Hill than old-fash­ioned Cotswolds. Chadling­ton still feels like a farm­ing com­mu­nity, although the last cow was milked here in 1999.

“It also has ‘Cafe de la Post’ in the old post of­fice, which serves break­fasts and lunches along­side pa­pers and lottery tick­ets,” says Adam. “Fri­day evenings it turns into a res­tau­rant and on Satur­day evenings into a pizza house. There is also the Tite Inn down the road serv­ing real ales and draught ciders.” If you do wish to es­cape then Charl­bury sta­tion is just two miles away where trains will whizz you to Lon­don Padding­ton in 65 to 90 min­utes.

This is the co­nun­drum. Although we want vil­lages with great com­mu­nity spirit, we also want to be con­nected to Lon­don. The com­muter with a big bud­get is now the big beast all over the South East, and many vil­lages empty out in the day­time. So strong is the com­muter pound that Sav­ills now sep­a­rates the com­muter zone from the wider south of Eng­land, and pre­dicts that house prices in com­muter­land will rise by 6 per cent next year and 20 per cent by 2020.

In Es­sex you stum­ble across vil­lages full of half-tim­bered and colour­washed cot­tages, smartened by own­ers who daily get the train to Liver­pool Street or Fenchurch Street. Some of the loveli­est are Finch­ing­field, Coln En­gaine and Good Easter.

How should we mea­sure per­fec­tion? Vil­lages which have stayed in the care of old es­tates tend to keep their char­ac­ter bet­ter. Broad­hem­bury in Devon is a favourite of Richard Ad­ding­ton of Sav­ills be­cause of the in­flu­ence of the Drewe es­tate. “Changes are slow and well co­or­di­nated,” he says. Cob-and-thatch cot­tages stand just as they did in the 16th cen­tury.

‘Vil­lages rep­re­sent bet­ter value – it is a good time to buy’

The im­pos­ing big coun­try house can add ca­chet and at­tract sum­mer con­certs. And, ac­cord­ing to Knight Frank, Miche­lin-starred restau­rants raises prices con­sid­er­ably. The pull of He­ston Blu­men­thal’s Fat Duck at Bray, Buck­ing­hamshire, is felt by buy­ing agent Mark Law­son of The Buy­ing So­lu­tion. Clients have “par­tic­u­larly re­quested easy ac­cess to Bray be­cause of the fab­u­lous restau­rants”.

But how­ever charm­ing a vil­lage may be, it does not be­come truly de­sir­able in the eye of house­buy­ers un­less it has, or is close to, doc­tors, shops, a good school, a good pub, eye-spin­ning land­scape and pretty houses.

Cy­cle through the vil­lage of Blackmore, seven times named best kept vil­lage in Es­sex, and you will fall for the in­ti­macy, the three pubs (The Prince Al­bert, The Bull, The Leather Bot­tle), the ducks on the pond. You might lean your bike against the old Post Of­fice, be­side the scar­let tele­phone box and think that time has stood still.

Thatched cot­tages at Lustleigh vil­lage in the Wrey Val­ley on Dart­moor Na­tional

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