Somerset Escape to the Country


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Somerset

Jules Hudson heads to Somerset to help a couple with a budget of £400,000 find a perfect countryside retreat. He also visits Castle House in Taunton.


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Transcript


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Welcome to Escape To The Country. All over the UK, there are stone circles just like this one.

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For centuries, scholars have debated their origins and their purpose.

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Often they're surrounded in mystery and intrigue, but in this case, we know all about it,

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so where are we and what does it all mean? Join me in just a few moments and I'll tell you.

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'On today's show, we've been entrusted with helping two self-confessed townies

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'to finally find some rural respite.'

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-That's a bit special.

-'Though they struggle with the right vibes in one place...'

-I'm not getting the feel.

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'..we could hit the jackpot.'

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This is absolutely the real "wow"!

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Today, we're in Somerset and this stone circle is in the middle of Ham Hill,

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a local beauty spot towards the south of the county.

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Ham Hill itself is an Iron Age hill fort.

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It dates from about 800 BC,

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but since it was constructed, it's also become a source for this -

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gorgeous, honey-coloured, local hamstone.

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Nestled in the south-west of England, Somerset is bordered by a number of counties,

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including Dorset to the south-east and Devon to the south-west,

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with its northern fringes meeting the Bristol Channel coast.

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Part of the imposing Ham Hill is now a 400-acre country park.

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Its underlying geology has provided the stone used to build much of the county's distinctive architecture.

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Hinton St George is one village that exemplifies the beauty of this stone

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with its warm, ochre-toned houses.

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But one of the county's most iconic landmarks must be the 500-foot Glastonbury Tor

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which soars to the skies with the ruins of a 14th-century church standing proudly at the summit.

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This is certainly a place with something for everyone, including today's buyers,

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so let's go and meet them and find out what they're after.

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Retired postman Andy caught the eye of his partner Fiona in a shoe shop eight years ago.

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They share this three-bedroom 1960s detached house in Haywards Heath near the south coast,

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but are looking for a new stomping ground to call home.

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We're both from the outskirts of London and when we moved here, this was escaping to the country,

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but now it's catching up. It's almost like a suburb of London.

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So, the plan is to swap suburban East Sussex for the wilds of the West Country.

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We particularly want to go to Somerset or Somerset-Dorset borders

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because it's an area that we've known, we've been on holiday,

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it's quite close to friends and relatives.

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And there's another member of their party with itchy feet.

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We've got a fairly large dog, a flat-coated retriever called Toto, who we got from a puppy...

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He's a big dog, so he quite enjoys walking.

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He needs a lot of exercise.

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With four legs catered for, there are also half a dozen four-wheelers that take top priority.

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My passion, as it were, are old cars.

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Although we have a garage here,

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it's quite small, it's quite tight,

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Obviously, when we move, we'll have to try and accommodate them,

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so a bigger garage and a bigger drive and I'd be as happy as anything.

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For Andy, it's classic cars, but for Fiona, it's classy cakes.

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I spend most of my time in the kitchen. I love baking.

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I bake many cakes. I've done pop-up tea rooms with a friend of mine.

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At the moment, because I've got no pop-up tea rooms, Andy seems to be eating most of the cakes.

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My must-haves are... definitely a fairly large kitchen.

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The garden we've got at the moment is nice, but it's a little bit small,

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so I'm thinking that I would like a larger garden,

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possibly grow a few vegetables.

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Both Andy and Fiona have grown-up children from previous partners,

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but this move represents a defining moment in their relationship.

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We've been together for eight years.

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We want to go somewhere on our own terms. We want to decide where we're going to live.

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Exactly. Somewhere that we both want to live, as opposed to just meeting and continuing with life as it was.

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-And to incorporate retirement, so it's a huge, huge step for us.

-It is.

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All that's left is to find out the figure they're willing to spend on their new Somerset venture.

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The budget for this move would be 375,

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but if you found us an absolute dream house, we could probably stretch it to 400.

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'To stay connected to their families, Andy and Fiona would like good access to the A303,

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'so we'll be concentrating our house search on the pretty villages in the south of the county

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'close to the border with Dorset.

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'It's in a peaceful Somerset spot where we're meeting up to nail the finer details of their move.'

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-Hi, Andy.

-Hello, Jules.

-Well, guys, welcome to Somerset.

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You've spent quite a long time thinking about this ideal property. What's in your mind?

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In my mind, roses around the door, pretty, in a nice, little village,

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up to the village pub and general store, something like that, not too big,

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but we are essentially townies, so we don't want to be too far from the main...

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It's not a phrase we hear often, "We're essentially townies." But it's right to be honest about it.

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We all need amenities, after all.

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You've got a big, extended family. How many bedrooms do you need?

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-Three bedrooms.

-Four would be nice, but we can cope with three.

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Good. Let's have a think about money. How much does this whole endeavour need to cost you?

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-Max 400,000.

-Yeah.

-Right, then.

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Let's head off into this "land of the summer people" while there still is a bit of sunshine. Come on.

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For a top budget of £400,000, Fiona are Andy are looking for...

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I'm hoping that our line-up of textbook country properties will appeal to them,

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but I'll keep them guessing as to what each house is worth until the end of the tour,

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then there's the Mystery House which might be a little less sweet, but a lot more substantial.

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Fiona and Andy have said they wouldn't mind a bit of border-hopping,

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but we're not jumping over just yet

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because property number one is in the village of Rimpton right on the Somerset-Dorset border.

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Rimpton is just five miles from the beautiful abbey town of Sherborne.

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The streets are full of historic interest

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with architecture that spans the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries,

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much of which has been constructed from the distinctive, mellow hamstone.

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In Rimpton, we have another property with vintage pedigree

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that we've chosen as our first house.

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-Oh, wow!

-Oh, my goodness!

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-That's wonderful.

-That's fantastic.

-Yeah?

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-Chocolate boxy?

-It is.

-It has all the pretty charm that I think you're looking for.

-I think you're right.

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-In terms of garaging...

-I'm not seeing one.

-No.

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I'm afraid you're not going to. The parking is there, but we have a solution.

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About ten minutes down the road is Sparkford and in Sparkford we have located a hangar.

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Ah!

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Now, it's a huge kind of barn

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which you can garage your cars in

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and it has some separate garages as well which you can lock your bits and pieces away in.

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All of that is about £600 to £800 a year to rent.

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That's not too bad at all.

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Come on, let's have a look inside.

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'Thatched fairly recently within the last seven years,

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'this Grade II-listed property appears to have all the hallmarks of a classic and cosy English cottage,

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'but there's a lot more to this place than immediately meets the eye.'

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-Right, Fiona...

-Oh, wow, beautiful!

-It's a beautiful room, isn't it?

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-And I love the inglenook.

-Yes, it's gorgeous. But the detailing, I love.

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-The panelling there is fabulous.

-Yes.

-Really nice.

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-So, we're happy with the living room?

-We like it very much.

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'In this main reception room, there's also a staircase that leads directly into the master bedroom

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'which is one of two staircases,

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'but we'll continue our tour of the ground floor where there are two study areas,

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'one of which has double patio doors out to the back garden. Up next is the dining room.'

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So, here we are, feeding time.

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-The dining room.

-This is another nice room.

-A very good-sized room.

-Yes, another nice room.

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-We've talked about Fiona's love of chocolate box. Is this you as well, Andy?

-I like it, yes.

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I look beyond into the practicalities of it all,

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but my reaction is it looks lovely. It's got character.

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It's an overused word, but it's got it in spades.

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It has. You've done very well. I like it.

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Right, so far, so good. Let's have a look at the kitchen.

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There you go.

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-OK, yeah...

-This is a nice size.

-I like the cooker.

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It's the way you said "OK" that perhaps betrays your slight disappointment

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at the fact that it's not...

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-Not quite my big...

-Farmhouse kitchen.

-Yeah.

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I like this bit where you've got the cooker.

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It's whether you can work with this, given you've got the dining room next door and a huge utility room.

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-Not too bad.

-Not too bad.

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-Come on. There are no compromises upstairs.

-OK.

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-This is the other staircase.

-I see.

-Look at this.

-This is the upstairs?

-Yeah.

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-Yet more character...

-Oh, yes.

-..up here.

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-Look at these boards.

-These stairs are challenging.

-Wow!

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Now, you've got three bedrooms - one double there, really nice vaulted ceiling in it.

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-Oh, that's... Yes, yes.

-Lovely guest room.

-Yes.

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Come on.

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'A smaller double with exposed woodwork lies in the middle of the property

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'right opposite a large family bathroom

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'and a wooden staircase in the hallway goes up to an attic room.

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'That leaves the rooms we have earmarked for Andy and Fiona.'

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-This is like a master suite. There's a dressing room in there.

-Oh, my goodness! I like that.

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There's an en-suite there for you.

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And then this is your bit.

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-Wow!

-Oh, yes.

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This, we like, yes.

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And I love the idea that you can roll out of bed and...

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Roll down the stairs, exactly, yeah. Well, let's try it.

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-Let's go outside and...

-We'd have to put a guard across there.

-..have a look at the garden.

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'The staircase from the master bedroom winds its way downstairs back to the main sitting room

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'where we're headed for the garden.'

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There's more to this than meets the eye. A vegetable patch over there currently under plastic.

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-A shed, the well...

-Yes.

-That's...

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-And the pond.

-And the pond.

-Beautiful.

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How much do we think property one is worth?

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I think 395,000.

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Within our budget, just.

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-Andy?

-I'm mindful of the fact that there's no garage and it's attached,

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so I'm going to go a bit lower and say 370.

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-I'm hopeful.

-You are hopeful!

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-Well, it's as well you are, Andy, because this could be yours for 375.

-Ah!

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-First blood to me.

-Really?

-Yeah.

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The first in our selection is a charming, listed period cottage that's brimming with character.

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This was the perfect place to start. It has set the scene as to what you like, that cosy cottage feel.

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But I'll drag you away because you've got two more to look at, including our Mystery House.

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-So, are you ready?

-Lead on.

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Despite Somerset's tranquil landscape,

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it was the backdrop for the 1685 Bloody Assizes

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in which over 100 locals were sentenced to death by the notorious Judge Jeffreys

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who resided here at Taunton Castle.

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Within the curtilage of the building is the Museum of Somerset

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and the once derelict Castle House,

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one of the town's few surviving 15th-century properties that has never been open to the public,

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but now in the hands of a charity-run project,

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work is under way to restore Castle House to its former glory.

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-Russell!

-Hello, Jules.

-Nice to see you.

-And you.

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'Russell Lillford from the Somerset Buildings Preservation Trust

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'is overseeing the restoration of this unique building.'

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I know it's associated with Judge Jeffreys, a man who has gone down in infamy in the history books.

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What were the Assizes all about?

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Well, we go back in history 300 years to the Battle of Sedgemoor,

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the last battle fought on English soil between the Duke of Monmouth and the King's forces.

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After the battle which the Duke lost, the prisoners were brought to Taunton and tried by Judge Jeffreys.

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It's a beautiful room, but the idea that a man like that,

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who, after committing people to be hung, drawn and quartered, would relax in here is a bit spooky.

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People like "spooky"! It's got atmosphere.

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'Before the Trust came to the rescue, this part of the castle was in such a poor state of repair

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'that it was placed on the English Heritage At Risk Register.'

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-What's this feature down here?

-This is absolutely fascinating.

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It was an architectural feature the Normans used

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to keep evil spirits out of churches, so it was in the church doorway.

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'Restoration of this room is near completion,

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'but there is still a lot more work to do at the hands of skilled craftsmen like Dean Horsley.'

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-This is the real thing.

-Lath and plastering as it was done.

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-Can I have a go?

-Please do.

-I'd love to try it.

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-A lot of it is patience. Have a go, see how you get on.

-I don't think I'm going to do very well.

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You've got so much to do, I'm not sure I'm helping.

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'There are no quick fixes for a project like this and sticking to the ethos of "repair not replace",

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'traditional methods are being used throughout,

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'but it's hoped that the full restoration will soon be finished

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'with plans afoot to incorporate the ground floor rooms into the museum.'

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This is a lovely view of the exterior.

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It certainly is.

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-What about those rooms upstairs?

-They will generate enough income to maintain the building.

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They'll be let to the Vivat Trust who let historic houses to the public.

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-So, you can actually stay in Judge Jeffreys' bedroom?

-Absolutely.

-That really is spooky!

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'Castle House has had quite a role to play in the story of Taunton's history,

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'but it's great to know that that legacy is in safe hands

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and will be preserved for future generations.'

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'For our next destination, we're travelling east

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'and popping over the Somerset border to Fontmell Magna in North Dorset.

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'With documented evidence of a settlement here over 1,000 years ago,

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'the historic Fontmell Magna is a highly desirable village within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

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'After our success with the thatched property this morning, we're serving up another one.'

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Our second property of the day - there you go.

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-Very nice, another thatch.

-It's another thatch and it's also another semidetached.

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-Yeah.

-But this one does have a garage.

-Ah!

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It's also a step forward in terms of the kitchen on offer,

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as you will see when we get inside. You'll love it.

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-Let's get out of this wispy snow, shall we? Come on.

-Let's go.

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'Built in the 1800s with attractive banded brick and flint, as well as timber cladding,

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'this is another surprising cottage.

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'Beyond the classic frontage at the back of the property

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'is a contemporary oak-framed extension, given over entirely to the kitchen.'

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There, that's what I was promising you.

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Wow, yes!

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-Now, this is much more like it.

-Yes.

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-That's a bit special, isn't it?

-Lovely, isn't it? Green oak. It's only about five years old.

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I do like, and I like the outlook as well.

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Yeah. The island is moveable, so you could have a great, big kitchen table in there if you wanted to.

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-It's quite exceptional.

-Very nice.

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Yeah. This is what I was saying. This bit is the wow factor.

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This is the part of the property that really sells it.

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What it really needs is this touch to be carried through to the rest of it.

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'The modern kitchen extension has been added to the back of the property via the main hallway

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'and it's inside the older part of the cottage where the layout gets more unorthodox

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'with a bedroom and family bathroom down on the ground floor,

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'then to the far side of the hallway are two main reception rooms.'

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Now, this is the dining room, as it's currently set up.

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-Cosy?

-It is.

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And we've got this dual aspect going on right through the property,

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these lovely cottagey windows.

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It's certainly got the right components.

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It continues through here into the living room.

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There...

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-That's cosy.

-Yes.

-I mean, it's similar to property number one.

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We've got the beams, lovely big inglenook.

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I like it. It's just I'm not quite getting the feel.

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-So, we had a "wow"...

-A "wow" in the kitchen.

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-And now we're...

-I think that's probably it, the "wow" in the kitchen.

-From "wow" to "ow".

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'Apart from being lost for words at the start,

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'we've now lost a crucial letter and our buyers' enthusiasm.

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Oh, this is a sweet little room.

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-This is what we're thinking about for you.

-This is the master.

-Yes.

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-This could work.

-It's the biggest, the squarest of the bedrooms on offer here.

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-There's some built-in storage over there and through that little door in the corner is a loo as well.

-OK.

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It's growing on me, I think, yeah.

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Are you being generous?

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LAUGHTER

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'This house is a tough one as it does take time to figure out both the geography and the mix of styles,

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'but now to figure out the price.'

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I thought we'd finish off here in the kitchen because you can see the garden from here

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and it's so cold outside, it's a nicer place to do it from.

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OK, let's move on to the final stage of the process which is, of course, what...?

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-How much.

-How much. Exactly.

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I'm going to go for 410,000.

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410,000, yeah. Fiona?

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I'm going to go for 415.

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This could be yours for 395.

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-Ah, right.

-Oh! So, just under budget?

-Pleasantly surprised.

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Our second property offers an intriguing mix

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of 19th century history with 21st century design and features...

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Well, that is it, I'm afraid. Our two houses for today are done.

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-Right.

-It's still snowing.

-It is.

-Shall we go and have some supper?

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That sounds like a wonderful idea!

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'Our last stop takes us over towards the southwestern portion of Somerset

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'where we're destined for the small hamlet of Sticklepath within the shadow of the Blackdown Hills.

0:20:290:20:34

'We continue our journey towards the edge of the Blackdown Hills on the outskirts of Combe St Nicholas.

0:20:340:20:40

'But our Mystery House isn't smack-bang in the middle of the village as our buyers wanted.

0:20:400:20:45

'Instead, we're going into the quiet countryside hamlet of Sticklepath, a good 15 minutes' walk away.'

0:20:450:20:51

This is our mystery property. What do you reckon?

0:20:510:20:55

-It looks nice from the outside.

-It looks huge.

-Yeah. It looks as though it's got beautiful views as well.

0:20:550:21:01

It's got amazing views and the further up the garden you get, the better they become.

0:21:010:21:06

-All in all, it's about an acre.

-Oh!

0:21:060:21:09

LAUGHTER That's a lot.

0:21:090:21:11

Bigger than the last garden, yeah.

0:21:110:21:13

It's by far the biggest space we've been able to find you.

0:21:130:21:16

-Can we go and have a look?

-Certainly.

-I need to see this one.

0:21:160:21:20

'Set in an elevated position,

0:21:200:21:23

'this sprawling mystery property gives our buyers an alternative style

0:21:230:21:28

'to the traditional chocolate box they requested,

0:21:280:21:31

'but that's not to say this one is without character,

0:21:310:21:34

'so let's see what Andy and Fiona make of this design, starting at the back and straight into the kitchen.'

0:21:340:21:39

-Here we are.

-Right.

-Come on in, Fiona.

0:21:390:21:44

-This is nice.

-It is.

0:21:440:21:46

As you can see, it's all very much done.

0:21:460:21:49

-You know, very easy...

-You could move straight in.

-Ready to move into, absolutely, yeah.

-Lovely.

0:21:490:21:54

Good. A bit more space then? Come this way.

0:21:540:21:58

Now, this, I think, is a real winner.

0:22:000:22:03

-Oh, look!

-This is huge.

-This is lovely.

-Oh, my God, look!

0:22:030:22:08

-That's what you call an inglenook, isn't it?

-Come on over.

-Wow!

0:22:080:22:12

-It's... This is absolutely the real "wow", actually.

-Yeah, yeah.

0:22:120:22:18

-I think our Mystery House is pressing a few buttons.

-I think it's pressing all the buttons.

0:22:180:22:24

Let's see if we can press a few more. Come this way.

0:22:240:22:27

'On the ground floor, there's also a large utility room, as well as a contemporary shower room,

0:22:270:22:33

'but we'll head to the first floor where there's the perfect place to soak up the rural surroundings.'

0:22:330:22:39

Right, up here, we've got you this conservatory...

0:22:390:22:43

-Look!

-Those views are to die for, aren't they?

-Aren't they just?

0:22:430:22:47

Fantastic. I can just see us sitting here, cup of coffee. Lovely.

0:22:470:22:51

-As long as those pictures are emerging, that informs me...

-I'll never get any work done on the car.

0:22:510:22:57

-I'll be here drinking endless cups of coffee.

-It informs me a house is working for people. That's great.

0:22:570:23:04

'If we can tear them both away from the views, the bedrooms are all on this level too.

0:23:040:23:09

'A bright, fully tiled family bathroom serves four bedrooms.

0:23:090:23:14

'There are two doubles, one of which is being used as a study,

0:23:140:23:18

'then a smaller single bedroom, and that just leaves the master.'

0:23:180:23:22

And then finally, this one.

0:23:230:23:25

-Oh, this is nice. This is great.

-Very nice.

-Again it's a...

0:23:250:23:29

-Yeah, this is lovely.

-Built-in wardrobes, that's lovely.

0:23:290:23:32

It's got far more of a cottagey feel here.

0:23:320:23:33

It's really cosy, and waking up with that view out there,

0:23:330:23:38

I think really sweet, actually.

0:23:380:23:40

-I'm a bit concerned about the price.

-Well, you should be, yeah!

0:23:400:23:44

-Let's go outside and take in that garden and talk about the money, shall we?

-Thanks.

-Come on then.

0:23:440:23:49

'Outside, the acre of grounds is mostly laid to lawn across various levels

0:23:520:23:57

'with a deck terrace and a heated swimming pool.

0:23:570:24:01

'What's more, there's a large garage with off-street parking

0:24:010:24:05

'and the whole plot is enveloped by lush Somerset countryside.'

0:24:050:24:09

It's gorgeous, isn't it? So, how much then is our Mystery House on the market for?

0:24:090:24:15

I'm going to go for 425,000.

0:24:150:24:18

I think, looking at it and what we're getting, probably even more.

0:24:180:24:22

I'm going to go for 430,000.

0:24:220:24:25

430...

0:24:250:24:27

It was on the market at £475,000.

0:24:270:24:34

-But?

-It's not any more.

0:24:360:24:38

This is now on the market

0:24:380:24:41

for £399,950.

0:24:410:24:45

-Under budget?

-By 50 quid!

0:24:450:24:47

My God!

0:24:470:24:49

Where do we sign? Where do we sign?

0:24:490:24:52

I think this is a real steal, actually, for what you want.

0:24:520:24:56

The detached Mystery House is the biggest property in our selection, but still within budget.

0:24:560:25:02

Considering we started this morning in the snow, I love this sunshine.

0:25:160:25:20

-This is a bit more like it.

-With this and the house, what could be better?

-It's a perfect combination.

0:25:200:25:26

-I'll have to whisk you away because there's another viewing here in half an hour.

-We'd better be quick.

0:25:260:25:31

If you want this, you'd better start thinking.

0:25:310:25:34

We've explored quite a lot haven't we?

0:25:400:25:43

We needed to find you a lovely home and somewhere for your car collection.

0:25:430:25:48

-How have we done?

-I think the first house, I loved the house, roses round the door, thatch.

0:25:480:25:55

I think for you it was a bit more difficult.

0:25:550:25:58

I always had issues with the fact there was no garage

0:25:580:26:02

and the parking outside was very tight.

0:26:020:26:05

It wasn't just Somerset that was of interest. You were quite happy to go into Dorset

0:26:050:26:10

and there we went for our second property with that amazing kitchen.

0:26:100:26:15

It was beautiful, yes.

0:26:150:26:16

Unfortunately, the kitchen just overshadowed everything else in the house.

0:26:160:26:21

As we started out this morning on the snow-covered Blackdown Hills,

0:26:210:26:25

I was apprehensive as to what you would make of our Mystery House,

0:26:250:26:29

but it was all smiles, wasn't it? The sun came out.

0:26:290:26:32

Yeah, it just blew us away. We couldn't believe that that was the one house

0:26:320:26:37

and that it was within our budget.

0:26:370:26:39

What is it about our Mystery House that you have fallen in love with?

0:26:390:26:44

Absolutely everything about it. The house is good for us. It works well for us, I think.

0:26:440:26:50

The garden was gorgeous and those views, just unbelievable.

0:26:500:26:55

And to have a double garage as well, that really did put the tin hat on it.

0:26:550:27:00

-What happens next?

-I definitely want to go and see it again and I think it's a real contender.

0:27:000:27:06

-Thank you so much for finding it.

-I'll keep everything crossed for you.

-Thank you.

-Thanks.

0:27:060:27:12

Throughout this programme, you may well have caught a glimpse of this wonderful building behind me.

0:27:160:27:22

It is, in fact, Dillington House.

0:27:220:27:24

Back in the 1780s, it was home to Lord North.

0:27:240:27:26

He was then Prime Minister, clearly a man used to making a difficult decision or two,

0:27:260:27:31

and that's what we've been doing this week during our house-hunt.

0:27:310:27:35

He was a man who loved Somerset and this was his escape to the country.

0:27:350:27:39

With any luck, we've managed to find Fiona and Andy their very own too.

0:27:390:27:44

If only you could have that for £400,000!

0:27:440:27:48

Fiona and Andy were completely won over by our Mystery House

0:27:480:27:52

and are desperately waiting for that elusive buyer for their own home,

0:27:520:27:56

so they can finally make their move to Somerset.

0:27:560:27:59

If you would like to escape to the country in England, Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland

0:27:590:28:03

and need our help, you can apply online at:

0:28:030:28:05

Jules Hudson heads to Somerset to help a couple with a budget of £400,000 find a perfect countryside retreat. Away from the property hunt, Jules visits Castle House in Taunton to get hands-on with some unusual medieval restoration work.