Head west for a taste of city liv­ing with that vil­lage vibe

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

The cities of the South West are few and far be­tween, but those that ex­ist – Ex­eter, Ply­mouth and even mod­est Truro – have a lit­tle ur­ban sprawl, an in­dus­trial quar­ter and a slew of hous­ing es­tates that make them look and feel a lot like cities.

That’s not the case with Wells in Som­er­set, how­ever.

First, it’s tiny, with a pop­u­la­tion of just 11,000. Sec­ond, it’s out­ra­geously pretty: the 13th-cen­tury cathe­dral is the best known of its im­mac­u­lately kept build­ings, but the moated Bishop’s Palace is a close run­ner-up in a com­pet­i­tive field. Third, it’s easy to get from Wells into the coun­try­side. Many of the res­i­den­tial streets en­joy views of the Mendip Hills, and if you walk just a few min­utes you are in them.

The pic­turesque Mar­ket Square hosts an open-air pro­duce mar­ket twice a week, while lo­cally grown ar­ti­san food is prom­i­nent in many shops, both re­minders that Eng­land’s sec­onds­mall­est city – be­hind the City of Lon­don – is sur­rounded by farm­land, and is a mi­nor ur­ban oa­sis in what is oth­er­wise a very ru­ral area.

Lit­tle won­der, then, that peo­ple want to live here and pay a premium to do so: house prices are 10 per cent higher than nearby towns Frome and Street. Zoopla says the av­er­age house price across all of Som­er­set is £252,583, while in Wells it is £297,027. In some cen­tral ar­eas of the city, the finest houses breach the £1mil­lion bar­rier.

The lo­cal hous­ing mar­ket is fu­elled by peo­ple keen to be near top schools: Wells Cathe­dral and Wells Blue are in the city it­self, while Mill­field, All Hal­lows and Down­side are close by, so cre­ate strong de­mand for homes in sur­round­ing vil­lages.

The sin­gle most pres­ti­gious ad­dress (although per­haps not if you want to avoid tourists) is Cathe­dral Green, where a small num­ber of clas­sic Geor­gian prop­er­ties are ideal for fam­i­lies and sit next to tea shops and restau­rants. They are large, typ­i­cally with four or more bed­rooms, and have seven-fig­ure price tags.

A lit­tle more af­ford­able are the homes on the eastern and north­ern fringes of the city, where many are arts and crafts in de­sign, mixed with large new­builds and some Geor­gian prop­er­ties. “Th­ese come to the mar­ket spo­rad­i­cally as they tend to be ‘for­ever homes’ but when they do, there’s al­ways se­ri­ous in­ter­est,” ex­plains Sa­muel Pow­ell of Greenslade Tay­lor Hunt es­tate agency.

“The his­tory, ar­chi­tec­ture and cul­ture have a sim­i­lar feel to Bath and Chel­tenham but on a much smaller scale,” says David Wild of Sav­ills. “Wells still re­tains the feel of a mar­ket town, or even a large vil­lage. While it can be busy dur­ing peak tourist sea­son, it has a vi­brant com­mu­nity.”

He’s not jok­ing about the com­mu­nity: this au­tumn alone, the city is host­ing fes­ti­vals for con­tem­po­rary arts, lit­er­a­ture and food. In Novem­ber there is an an­nual night-time pro­ces­sion of floats, claimed by some to be the big­gest il­lu­mi­nated car­ni­val in the world.

In ad­di­tion to all this com­mu­nity buzz in the me­dieval streets, there is a far more 21st-cen­tury amenity that also drives at least a small part of the hous­ing mar­ket: Clark’s Vil­lage is a 90-shop out­let cen­tre a short dis­tance from Wells with tax-free shop­ping (for non-EU cit­i­zens only).

The out­let at­tracts four mil­lion vis­i­tors an­nu­ally, and agents say this has per­suaded some Chi­nese buy­ers to snap up homes in and near Wells it­self. In­ter­na­tional in­ter­est is small in this part of the UK when com­pared with Lon­don, but buy­ing agents re­port that some tro­phy homes with sub­stan­tial grounds within 10 miles of Wells have been bought by over­seas buy­ers.

“There’s a strong sec­ond home mar­ket, of­ten peo­ple from Lon­don in their 50s siz­ing up the place be­fore re­tire­ment. They of­ten let their prop­er­ties to tourists when they’re not in Wells,” says Moira Wil­liams, a buy­ing agent in the area. Wells is a good lo­ca­tion to have a hol­i­day rental be­cause not only is the city an at­trac­tion in it­self, but Ched­dar Gorge, Wookey Hole Caves, Glas­ton­bury Abbey and the new pier at We­ston-su­per-Mare are a short drive away.

There are a few down­sides, in­evitably. Wells can get con­gested with all those tourists dur­ing the sum­mer, and a traf­fic man­age­ment sys­tem dur­ing the an­nual Glas­ton­bury mu­sic fes­ti­val, held six miles south, can be a pain.

The near­est rail links to Lon­don are Cas­tle Cary and Bath, some 14 and 22 miles away re­spec­tively. On the up­side, th­ese train links are speedy into the cap­i­tal. Wells is less than an hour’s drive from the larger cities of Bath and Bris­tol, the lat­ter con­nec­tion now ben­e­fit­ing from an im­proved link road, and Bris­tol air­port is also close by.

This as­sumes peo­ple want to leave Wells, of course, and many, it seems, do not. “Peo­ple move in and that tends to be it,” says Wil­liams. “They may move to a dif­fer­ent house, but it’s rare that any­one moves away – they like it and they stay.”

A four-bed­room house, main and right, £725,000 with Kil­lens

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.