Alistair Appleton revisits the Welsh Border region and is reunited with a house-hunting couple who had a £475,000 budget and serious ambitions to start a smallholding.
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Making the move from city to countryside
is often a momentous step.
Never in a million years I would imagine I would be seeing a house
like this, never ever.
But for many years,
Escape To The Country has been
helping countless people find their new home.
What do we think of this?
Oh, my! Chocolate box!
We've travelled to the most picturesque parts of Britain...
Take a look at that killer view.
-..to showcase thousands of exquisite country properties...
How pretty is that?
..that our buyers just couldn't resist.
Seriously, get your cheque book out now!
Join us as we catch up with those who bought their dream home...
..to find out how the move changed their lives
when they escaped to the country.
Today I'm in Powys, in amongst the Berwyn Mountains,
and this is Lake Vyrnwy.
Back in the 1880s,
a reservoir was created by damming a river to supply fresh water for the
city of Liverpool.
Now, it's a nature reserve full of wonderful species of birds but I'm
not here to admire the wildlife, or the beautiful scenery,
I've come to visit a couple who bought one of the houses I showed
them on Escape To The Country,
to find out how their life in the countryside is unfolding.
Our original property search covered the mid-Welsh borders,
including Powys and the English counties
of Shropshire and Herefordshire.
It's the rural beauty,
space and value for money of the region that attracted today's couple,
to relocate here from Hampshire.
I'll be catching up with Carl and Nicky,
who I first met in 2015 and who now own a generous slice
of this beautiful border countryside, where they're enjoying the good life.
Two years ago, HR manager Nicky and her security manager fiance Carl
first contacted us for help.
Back in the summer of 2015,
they were living in the Hampshire town of Farnborough,
and plans were afoot not just to buy a house together...
We're going to get married in about four months' time.
We made the decision to move, put the house on the market,
and it sold so quickly. We were looking at wedding venues,
found the perfect venue.
Carl has been a bit kind of, "Oh, this is moving a bit too fast."
I've been, "It'll be fine, it'll be fine."
And I'm, like, "OK, OK, we're getting married now."
But taking on two such big life decisions at the same time did not
They had already set their sights on the ideal location to start their
We're looking to move close to Oswestry up in Shropshire.
Just outside the Shropshire hills, very close to the Welsh border.
We've gone up a couple of times, had a look around,
it has really cemented in our minds that that is the area we want to go
-and live in.
-Once we started looking and realised how beautiful it is up
there, it really did make our minds up, that's where we want to go.
Carl's three grown-up children weren't making the move,
but he and Nicky did have plans to share their house.
I spent a lot of my earlier years living in the country.
I want to get a horse again.
So I'll be out riding.
We've got a few chickens now, so we want to get a few more.
And Carl wants to get some pigs.
The outdoor space is really important.
Five acres is kind of a minimum.
With land to fulfil their smallholding ambitions at the top of their wishlist,
they also wanted a property
with a large kitchen diner for keen cook Carl,
three bedrooms and a study.
They had a healthy budget of £475,000 and were happy to consider
properties on either side of the border.
For our first visit, we travelled to the village of Ellerdine Heath,
in the north-east of Shropshire.
It was a modern property that majored on rural seclusion and outside space.
What do you think?
It's a bungalow.
It is a bungalow! Yes, built in the 1980s, in 1980, in fact,
and then the present owner has been here 17 years,
they have completely remodelled and added this huge outbuilding.
There's also a lot of land.
You did say you wanted land.
Well, I don't mind the bungalow.
It looks a bit small from the front.
Have you got the extra buildings there because it is small inside?
Let's have a look and see if we can win you over.
It's fair to say their initial reactions were lukewarm.
But I was hopeful once Nicky had put her bungalow bugbear to one side
that they'd both like the internal space.
If you pop yourself here, then you can see both
sides, you've got the big sitting room, with the log burner,
and then a big dining room with double doors out into the gardens.
It's nice, it's very much our style.
That's good. Because you were wrinkling your nose outside.
I know. Bungalow!
Excited to see more.
Come through and look here.
Carl, this is your domain.
What do you think of the kitchen?
It's very nice,
little bit smaller than we were looking for but it's a very nice layout,
it's got everything you need, plenty of space to work in.
Behind us, there is a double garage.
So you could eventually knock through that and make this one huge
kitchen dining room, breakfast room.
Yeah, definitely an idea.
Really good solution to get that large space for entertaining.
Across the hall were four good-sized bedrooms,
with one of them being used as a study,
along with a spacious master suite.
It's interesting because the house is much bigger inside than you think.
-It's a good size.
And lots of cupboards.
Lots of cupboards and a little en-suite shower room here.
-I'm really surprised.
-It's very nice.
-Really good size.
-Is it growing on you?
It is, very much.
Don't take the quiet as not liking,
it's the surprise, more than anything.
With Nicky and Carl warming to the idea of one-level living,
we went outside to explore the all-important land,
which included a huge front lawn and at the back a great garden with
numerous outbuildings and fields behind,
amounting to five acres in total.
It's a lot. It's good, though.
-Yeah, good land.
-I'm liking it.
-I'm liking it.
The only missing part of the puzzle is the price,
so what do you think this is on the market for?
Over budget, definitely over budget, because of the outbuildings.
I'm going to say, it's on at 485,000.
I'm going to go a little bit lower than that but say right at the
top of our budget, 475.
Well, in this instance, Nicky is uncannily correct,
it's actually on the market for £485,000.
But it has been on the market for a while,
they did reduce it to that price.
So there could be leeway to get it down to your budget.
£10,000 over budget, the first property had delivered
just about everything they'd asked for.
Wasn't what I was expecting.
I saw the outbuildings as I walked in and thought, they're great,
but the property,
bit worried because it is a bungalow,
but once we walked inside I could see
the way, the layout of the place, really good space.
Really alleviated any fears I might have had.
The land is perfect, really, it's a good-sized plot.
The garden is just a blank canvas, we can do so much here,
put in a veggie plot.
It's exciting. It's making me...
-Good, OK, well, that is house number one,
so don't be too excited/disheartened because of the price.
-We've got another one to show you.
For our second stop, we hopped over the border into Wales, to Meifod,
a pretty village of stone properties, in a rural setting.
The property I showed Nicky and Carl enjoyed a prime spot.
Take a look at that killer view.
-That is lovely.
And all of this is yours. Those fields with the horses,
two more fields that go down, all the way down to the road,
this beautiful garden.
The vegetable garden.
We've got it all going on outside.
Certainly has. It's nice that it's broken up as well.
It kind of works that way.
They clearly like the land on offer,
but what do they make of the house itself?
Feast your eyes on this.
A very different offering.
-It's very different.
-The thing about this property is the house I think will need
a bit of work. What are your first thoughts from the outside?
Coming up the drive, seeing the side of the house, thinking,
it's going to be a small cottage.
Actually, you can see...
It's extended out...
You see the full scope of it.
I'm surprised once you get round here.
The house had originally started life as
a two-up two-down late Georgian
cottage but had been extended over the years.
Right. OK, so this is the oldest part of the house,
where you are standing, behind you,
is the original full extent of the cottage.
This would have been the back wall.
Down there where we came in that would have been the staircases,
that is now a boot room, and on the other side,
there's a great big walk-in larder.
So you can see it's a bit higgledy-piggledy and it needs a bit of love.
Yes, but it's still a good size, the rooms aren't too small.
Sometimes you get with the old buildings,
the rooms sometimes feel a bit claustrophobic.
But you don't get that in here, which is good.
We then moved from the old to the new.
It's a change of pace when you come into this part of the house.
You can see that it's not the same building, if that makes sense.
It's a good-sized room, though.
And it's really bright.
It's difficult, coming from the bungalow, because it was so nicely done
and this is a little bit dated.
But in some ways, that's nice,
because you'll be able to put your own stamp on it.
If it's in the budget.
-Well, you worry me now you said that.
Don't want to jump the gun. Come through back here and you can get
an idea of the rest of the layout.
I just want to stop here because this will give us a bit of bearings.
There's this fantastically light and bright room here, huge volume.
My initial thought was, that would make a lovely kitchen.
-You could have an island in the middle.
Oh, yeah! I like your thinking there.
And then you've got this massive sort of hallway with a huge landing.
Upstairs there were three bedrooms, in the older part of the house,
including a master suite with views out over the valley.
It does have a little shower room en suite.
-Good space, again.
Looks all right, yeah.
Yeah, definitely potential again.
The reason we bought you here was not because of the house,
although I think the house has amazing potential, it was because of the land.
Although the property required some creative thinking,
the land was the real selling point and we ventured outside to discuss
What do you think this property with the view and the land is
-You can go first this time.
It's a difficult one, this.
I'm going to go for £440,000.
I think it will be £430,000.
Well, in this instance, you're both pretty close,
but if you split the difference, you would be spot on,
it's on at £435,000.
-That is a good price.
-It is a good price.
£40,000 below budget,
the second property had come up trumps on land but it was clear
the house needed some money spent on it to bring it up-to-date.
It's a fantastic house but it's going to take some work to get it to
what we would want it to be but it's definitely got the potential there.
This house has thrown me a little bit because it's so much different
to the bungalow. It needs a bit of TLC, some modernising.
I think I may have found your G&T spot.
This is lovely.
The only thing is, you have to buy this house.
-That may be an option.
-May be an option.
I know it's difficult, but don't worry because we've got the mystery house tomorrow
-to confuse you even more.
-Just what I need!
Come with me.
Nicky and Carl seemed quite overwhelmed by those two properties
even though the second one in particular requires quite a lot of love.
But I still haven't shown them the mystery house and this was going to
really throw the cat among the pigeons, particularly for Carl.
So what are your thoughts about the mystery house,
what do you think we might serve to you next?
I think this might be...
..a really nice house but maybe not so much land.
We are sat here, we can't work out between us what it's going to be.
Good job it's a mystery, then.
Our last property was back over the border in Shropshire,
in the hamlet of Ash.
Carl and Nicky were spot on with their predictions because the
mystery house was going to test whether they would give up their dream of land for
a really beautiful property.
This is a good mystery house.
Wow. I wasn't expecting that.
It's not the whole house.
But, it is this whole front portion, and all of this is yours.
So the mystery about it is one, that it's attached,
it is a big old 1850s house, split into three,
there is two houses at the back, but it's completely private.
The other part of the mystery is, you were right,
-you don't get as much land.
So it's all about the house here.
-It's a special house.
-It is, yes.
Can't wait to see inside, actually.
Well, it's all about the house, so let's get inside.
This mid-19th-century mystery property had been impeccably refurbished.
Carl, this might be your...
..big kitchen diner.
It's fantastic. This is exactly what I had in mind.
I feel all choked up, actually!
Not going to be able to afford it.
We've only seen one room. We can compromise on the land.
We've only seen the hallway and the kitchen.
Already blown away.
Just off the kitchen was a conservatory for summer dining,
and the rest of the ground floor had a stately feel to it.
This is the living room.
That view, it's amazing.
It's all about the views, this house.
We've moved in!
-I don't know what to say.
-That's the third house you've moved into.
I know, you've done a bit too well!
What's lovely about it, all these original features, the deep windows,
all the walls are about 18 inches thick, and through there you can see the arch
that takes you into a similarly sized dining room,
with similarly fantastic views.
-We could get married here.
-Yeah, cancel the venue.
Upstairs, there were four bedrooms, which were all a good size.
Here we are, in the master bedroom.
Wow. It really is a master bedroom.
And a great view.
So the house is top marks?
-Oh, top marks.
-So let's see what we can do with the compromise about the land.
The grounds included a well-maintained lawn and a paddock.
Although it was not the five acres of land they were after,
it was nonetheless impressive.
That is such a great view.
What do you think of the outside?
Is it a deal-breaker?
For me, it isn't, I love it.
That was always going to be a point of compromise, land versus house.
I'm really battling with this one.
I guess we need to know how much it costs,
what do you think this is on the market for?
I think it's on budget, I think it's 475,000.
I think it might be over budget, I think about 490,000.
OK, brace yourself,
the house has only been on the market for two or three weeks.
And it is marketed at £500,000.
But, the vendor has said he will sell it to you
for your top budget of 475.
Oh! So that's three houses now...
-How do you choose?
-Lots to think about.
The stunning mystery house had certainly charmed
one half of our couple.
When we walked round the corner and saw the house,
I couldn't believe that this was the mystery house,
the whole grandeur of the place,
I didn't think it would be anywhere close to our budget.
Carl is so in love with this house,
it's going to be a really difficult decision.
I feel that you're going to be discussing this for quite some time.
It's going to be an interesting car journey.
At the end of our house hunt, when we discussed their next step,
it seemed there was a division in the camp.
Nice spot you've found.
OK. Usually at this point, it's very obvious to me
which house you are going
to go for. But I'm sort of in the dark because you've kind of loved
-You've got a definite favourite, haven't you?
I have now, after the mystery house.
That's my favourite, it really is.
Am I smelling a little bit of division here?
I think there's going to be a really big, long argument coming up.
-Discussion, we're going to have a discussion.
Tell me about the Welsh house.
That's my favourite, that's got so much potential.
The location was fantastic, the views are amazing.
It has got the acreage we were looking for,
it's got the outbuildings,
and the garden's amazing.
Carl, what about the mystery house?
I still can't believe it's within our budget,
it's such a grand house and the space within the house is amazing.
You look terribly troubled!
It's good troubled.
You know, you've definitely opened our eyes.
I think the wedding might be off!
Don't say that, that's the last thing we want to happen!
Although they appreciated some aspects of property one,
I left Nicky and Carl at loggerheads debating the virtues of property two
in Powys, with all that potential and land,
versus the mystery manor house in Shropshire, a perfect wedding venue,
with a beautiful garden but alas no space for their smallholding.
It was a fine dilemma for them to be in,
but which of these two very different offerings would ultimately capture
both their hearts and win through?
For a moment there,
I thought that their wedding might be called off because Carl was so
in love with the partitioned manor house
and Nicky had her heart set on the Welsh smallholding,
but I am very glad to say they did get married and they did buy house
number two. So here I am in Powys,
to see how wedded bliss is working out for them.
Carl and Nicky moved into the Welsh smallholding in 2015 and two years
on, I'm keen to see how they've rung the changes,
including how many newcomers have been added to the fold.
-Hi, how're you?
-So nice to see you.
Carl, how're you doing?
Oh, who are these girls?
-That's Mia and Widget.
-Mia and Widget.
-They're new and new, right?
-Yes, they are, yes.
-How's it going?
-It's fantastic, thank you.
-How's countryside living?
-Oh, it's brilliant.
-It is, yeah.
-This view, I remember this view, it's so beautiful.
I'm so intrigued at what you've done with the house, because it's what,
-two years since we?
-Yeah, two years.
-Nearly, nearly, yeah.
-Show me around, show me around.
-Come on in.
-Come on, girls.
The exterior of the property has been re-rendered and the windows
replaced, but it's the interior that has really benefited from
some home improvement.
Back in 2015,
the ground floor of the house had a galley kitchen
and a large family room off the dining hall,
which we talked about turning into a large kitchen diner.
Two years on, this room looks very different.
-A bit different.
-You took my advice!
-Oh, my God, it's amazing.
-And we're very pleased we did take that advice.
Yeah, it's a lovely place to spend time in.
-So, how soon after you moved in, did you get this done?
It was a year, a year later.
It was a year later we started knocking holes in the walls.
-Oh, really, you waited a year?
It's just a great space, though, isn't it?
-It's a real party room now, isn't it?
-When people come up, so.
Because there was this really lovely space and it was like...
It's just really a through room.
-It was a waste, this was just sort of a wasted space, really.
You have a huge island, gosh, I could play ping-pong on that!
We do, we've actually got a little table tennis set.
A sucker net and you just play over the top.
The dogs chase the ball!
It's good, people come over, I'm cooking,
they sit round and we can all drink some wine while cooking.
It's a great family space, isn't it?
-It really works well.
-Carl wanted an ideal space for cooking and the new kitchen is
now the focal point of the home,
with enough space for two huge sofas as well.
They've also put their own stamp on the living room.
This is beautiful.
Yeah, so this was orange.
That's right, it was weird, wasn't it?
-But we could already see that it was all about these views.
It was, yeah.
That's why when we got the windows done,
we made sure we kept a nice big picture window over there.
-Didn't spoil it with frame.
And new floor?
-Carl's fair hand.
-That was here before.
Yeah, but we needed a room
-We did it sort of ready for the first winter,
so we could have the logburner on and sit somewhere cosy,
so we wanted to sit somewhere that was, you know, to our taste as well,
while we relaxed.
With so much space here for the two of them,
the older part of the house hasn't dramatically altered since they've
-You've still got the old kitchen.
-Still got the old kitchen!
Anything we can cook that might be a bit smelly or messy,
we can still do out here and not ruin the new one.
There was another big room at the end, wasn't there?
Yes, that's our office now.
Having taken on my thoughts with the kitchen renovation,
I can see how they could make use of this room.
I think you should take all this out, sell the range,
get good money for that. Take all this out,
keep the tiles and then just keep this whole area as a sort of really
nice boot room, with bench and some storage for your clothes.
-Because you've got all your white goods here, have this as a bit of a utility room.
For washing the dogs and the dog stuff.
-That's a good idea.
-It is a good idea, because we could bring,
-we've got a freezer in the...
-Then you can sort of reinstate the front
door so people come in and they've got a proper kind of grand hall.
Another good idea. I'll come back in five years' time,
if you could just carry that one out for me, that would be great.
It's clear they've already made a lot of changes to the property in
the two years they've been here,
and there are plans to continue those home improvements.
Outside, I'm intrigued to find out how they resolved their differences
on the house choice.
Such a lovely spot and such a great view!
-It is fabulous.
We bought the house for that more than the house, I think.
Well, I remember you weren't sure about which house to buy,
you wanted the mystery house, didn't you?
-How did you resolve that?
-It was an interesting conversation.
I think you'd almost, we'd convinced each other to go the other way,
You'd persuaded yourself for this one and I'd persuaded
myself on the mystery house, I think,
by the time we'd got back to Farnborough.
Yes, on the drive back, a lot of discussion.
He said if we could get it under budget then we'd have
-And what did you pay in the end, can I ask?
What did we pay in the end?
It was 450...?
-Getting mixed up!
-So a bit under the asking price?
-A little bit.
It was accepted pretty quickly, it was June.
We moved at the end of August.
We got married on the 20th and moved on the 25th.
That's right, you were right up against the marriage date, wasn't it?
-So you got married back near Farnborough?
-How was it?
It was fantastic, it was a lovely day.
Lovely. We're still waiting for our honeymoon, but...
This is your honeymoon!
This is the honeymoon, that's what I keep saying!
I thought honeymoons were supposed to be relaxing!
Living the dream.
They clearly like a challenge.
It's amazing to think they moved down here just five days
after their wedding.
Carl has also continued to travel around the country for his work as
a security operations manager.
How is it with the commuting, the travelling?
Erm, yeah, it does add up, 36,000 miles I think, roughly, a year,
that's personal and business.
So, you know... Obviously still go and see friends and family down south,
and it's 400 miles every time you do that.
you get used to it, I think.
And are you thinking, "Ooh, I want to pack it in...?"
Oh, I mean I'm sure most people who are still working when they move somewhere like this,
it's kind of a dream to be able to give up work and do something
here. But, you know, we're both realistic.
To do what we want to do here, we need to earn the money.
Everything just takes so long.
Yeah, it is just...
That's the thing you get used to as well.
When we used to live in a normal house on a street,
if we were doing something in the garden and you need tools for it and
you forget to take something, the shed's just there.
So we're down in the field and I've forgotten something and you've got
to walk all the way back up here, that's ten minutes gone straightaway.
We've got walkie-talkie radios.
-For outside, we can talk to each other.
-Do you go over and out?
-Rubber ducky and all that.
Later on, I might need those walkie-talkies,
as I explore Carl and Nicky's six-acre smallholding
and help with feeding time.
Get off my trousers, you big porker!
But first, here's a reminder of some other house-hunting highlights.
Over the years, we've combed the length and breadth of the UK with
our house-buyers. They've all been armed with different budgets and a desire
to improve the quality of their life by a move to the country.
It's such a satisfying outcome when they go on and make that all-important
offer on a house we've shown them.
That was certainly the case in spring 2014,
when Jules Hudson was in Scotland with wildlife enthusiast Dave and
his wife, Kathleen.
They wanted to escape to the peaceful surroundings of the Highlands.
With their Bristol home already sold,
they were living in a caravan and hoped their £325,000 budget would
buy them a traditional three-bedroom property
set in a quarter of an acre of land.
The quirky mystery house was the most modern of our line-up and provided
Dave with his own bird hide.
There you go. What do you reckon?
Well, unusual shape.
From the air, it's effectively an octagon,
but they've removed this central section to create a more sort of formal entrance way.
But because it's an octagon,
it has these huge picture windows on most sides of it,
designed to take in everything you can see.
-The list of species here was so long, I had to write it down.
This is to whet your appetite, mate. You ready?
-Merlin, red kites, oystercatchers, curlews, lapwings, plovers,
salmon dancing around in the water, sandpipers, housemartins, owls.
They have occasionally seen an otter.
Roe deer and, of course, red squirrels.
Excellent, well we got the reaction I was hoping for.
And wait till you get inside,
I think there'll be one or two more wows as well.
-Uh-huh. Oh, my gosh.
-So think of it as a house that's a hide.
-Come on, let's have a look inside.
Because of its shape, the room proportions were quite unconventional.
Look at this, you've got this sort of galleried hallway.
-And then, in here we've got you a sort of dining entrance way.
Interesting shape, isn't it?
-All the rooms are that shape,
which means you get these enormous windows,
letting the light and the view in.
Oh, what a view!
Although the house only dated to the 1970s,
there were hints to the architectural heritage of the area.
A certain sort of almost baronial feel to it because they've incorporated a nice
bit of stonework there.
It's lovely, really lovely.
I get the feeling this is a house that you genuinely could see yourselves
-I think I could.
There was also a kitchen with a range,
and upstairs gave them five bedrooms,
all with great views of the surrounding countryside.
And this is your room, we're thinking,
because it has a lovely little en suite in there.
-..views for the wildlife.
Nobody's interested in the en suite, are they?
It's that that's really captured your imagination.
Dave and Kathleen were clearly captivated by the mystery octohouse which
was set in a third of an acre of land, but how much change, if any,
would they get from their £325,000 budget?
I think it must be pretty close to our max, so I would say 320.
I'd say we might even have to add a little bit to it,
so I'd say top-of-the-range, 325 plus 5-10, maybe.
OK, so over budget?
-Just about, yes.
-So, it's offers over 290,000.
-How about that?
And all this on the doorstep, too?
-I'm going to go off camera.
Oh, Kathleen, come back, come back!
You can have a cry with me, that's all right, Come on, come here!
With emotions running high,
Dave and Kathleen forged ahead and put an offer in
on the mystery house.
It was certainly a memorable moment in our Scottish property hunt portfolio.
Two years later, Nicky Chapman was helping a Croydon couple,
Paul and Sue, who were after a characterful home with room for
holiday guests in Devon. They had £750,000 to spend and, again,
it was the mystery house that really hit the mark.
You can look up now, and welcome...
-..to your mystery house.
That is gorgeous.
It is absolutely gob-smacking nice.
-I really like that.
Parts of this grade II-listed thatch dated back 400 years.
Come on in to your kitchen.
-It's amazing, yeah.
-It is perfect.
-So a beautifully fitted kitchen, lots of space,
and then as you've probably spied,
you've got a garden room/conservatory.
-It is just too much to believe.
It's just perfect.
The sitting room had a wealth of character features.
Lots of little nooks and crannies, even the window, yeah, beautiful.
And upstairs had four good-sized bedrooms,
one of them had separate access to the garden,
so ideal for potential holiday guests.
You could rent this out,
they don't need to come into the rest of the house unless you wanted
them to and they can come and go as they please.
-Outside, there was an attractive cottage garden,
but would they be able to afford it?
So we've now got to look at the finances, haven't we,
for our mystery property?
Well, I think it's probably over our budget.
I'll go for 760.
-OK, and more out of hope, I'm going to go 750.
The asking price is offers in the region of £750,000.
-There you go.
Paul and Sue were so enamoured with the mystery house,
they put in an offer.
But now it's time to return to Powys in Wales,
where Carl and Nicky have set up home.
Powys is a surprisingly large county.
It's about a quarter the size of Wales,
and within its boundaries there are 2,000 square miles of territory
stretching from the Snowdonia National Park in the north,
all the way down to the Brecon Beacons.
And within that rural landscape there are some real property gems,
and literally acres of potential for living the good life.
There's also a unique way to appreciate the landscape in all its glory.
Whilst in the county, I'm taking the opportunity to visit the Welshpool
and Llanfair Light Railway,
not far from Carl and Nicky's new home in Powys.
It was built in 1902 to link the small farming communities in the area to
the nearby market town of Welshpool.
The narrow gauge track was chosen specifically to handle tight curves
and steep gradients.
To help me understand what this region has to offer,
I'm taking a scenic trip along the line with stationmaster Callum Johnstone.
Good morning, Callum.
-Good morning, Alistair.
-What a beautiful beast.
So, we're about to go?
We've got about three minutes before we go.
Let's get on board.
Still powered by a century-old locomotive that operated on the route when
it first opened, the eight-mile journey takes in river valleys,
viaducts and negotiates the steep Golfa Bank
as the track climbs its way through the Welsh landscape.
It's beautiful countryside.
We've been admiring the countryside all week.
The nice thing about this countryside is that it's not too,
not too rugged. It's undulating and interesting,
but it doesn't quite have the harshness if you go a bit further west.
Montgomeryshire's very well-known for its dome-shaped hills.
As we're curving across here,
we're going to move to the other side of the River Banwy.
This is one of our major structures, the Banwy Bridge.
And when the line was reopened, preservation,
it was one of the first almost disasters for the railway,
because this river comes up and down and it can be very fast flowing,
although not today - part of the pier was washed away.
Had it not been for the Army, who volunteered to do it as an exercise,
the line might probably not have continued to run.
Small railways like this transformed the rural economy in the late
19th century, by getting supplies
into remote communities and agricultural
produce out to the market.
Today, this heritage line is run by a committed group of volunteers like
Callum, who now divides his time working on the railway and running
his own gardening nursery business.
Have you always been here or did you also move into...?
We came here in '88.
I moved from Leicester.
I worked for Leicester City Parks,
and always wanted to set up a nursery, so.
So you escaped to the country?
Yes, indeed. We made a conscious decision to be self-employed,
to create our own opportunities.
If you come here and are looking for work, then you have to commute,
mostly, which to me,
that's a difficulty for me because part of living here is the lifestyle,
the pace and all that sort of thing, and if you're
having to commute to be able to enjoy it,
you're not getting the full benefit, are you?
Yeah, and also, I mean, you kind of want...
If you move here, you kind of want to spend as much time here as possible.
Callum has found a way to earn an income and enjoy the countryside at
the same time, which is an ambition of Carl's in the future.
With that in mind, I'm returning to catch up with him and Nicky to find
out about their plans ahead.
Having seen the changes they've made to the house,
I'm keen to see what they've done with the land that came with the
property. The main motive for moving to the country was to establish a
smallholding, and two years on,
they're tending a whole menagerie of animals, including sheep, a pony,
six chickens and four pigs.
-Come on, little pigs.
Come on, little pigs.
It's feeding time.
What kind of pigs are these?
They're British Lop. So quite a rare breed.
So do they end up on the table, can I ask?
They do, yes.
-Yes, the last ones were very tasty.
-So they've got something to live up to, these guys.
Have you got plans to extend it, are you going to get more?
Yeah, I mean I'd like to start breeding eventually, I think.
But it's then the logistics,
of making sure we have a nice inside area for when the sows are ready.
So are you planning to kind of sell the meat?
That is the long-term plan for these girls, I think.
-Yeah, if we can try and find a market, as well.
Because this is all the land as well, isn't it?
-Is the idea that you're going to have a pig empire?
If we do the breeding, then, yes.
What about your lovely garden,
because I remember being really wowed by the potential there,
-have you got much done there?
-Erm, it's keeping on top of it.
We don't really know where to start,
so we've sort of been clearing out the nettles and the brambles and
Extended the veg plot a little bit.
Get off me trousers, get off my trousers, you big porker!
Deriving an income from their pigs is part of a long-term plan to live off their land,
but maintaining a six-acre plot is hard work.
We've arranged for them to visit a local nursery for inspirational tips
on how to cultivate their garden from manager Jill Rock.
-Lovely to meet you.
-This is Nicky and Carl.
-They moved into the area a couple of years ago.
Jill is going to solve all your gardening problems.
Maybe not all at once!
But fire away, she is a mine of information.
-Try to be!
-So what sort of plants grow well in this sort of environment?
Lots of things grow round here.
We get quite high rainfall but we get quite a lot of sun, as well.
-So, you know,
you can make like micro climates in your garden as well,
by putting in some structure to start with.
So I think I'd start with working out what trees perhaps you want to get rid of.
You know, if you've got old trees in the garden.
We've got some conifers that are quite big.
-Yeah, well, to be honest...
-They're taking all the moisture out, as well,
-from the ground.
-They will do. And then you won't be able to plant
-underneath them either, probably.
So I think I'd pinpoint what you really don't like first,
-and get rid of it.
-Got to be ruthless, I think, is the message I'm getting.
I think you've got to be really ruthless, and then put in some trees that you really do like.
Once they've stripped out what they don't want and
planted some new trees,
I've got my own ideas on what they could do to add some colour to their garden.
Look, this is beautiful, I've got this in my garden.
It's a Sambucus, it's like a black elderflower and it gets really big.
It's a lovely colour. I like the foliage.
But this one I've never seen before, it's amazing.
Love the dainty flowers.
Yeah, apparently Jill was saying it grows out in sort of layers.
We want to get you this, this will be yours.
When I come back in four years, I can say this is the Escape plant.
-Layered up... Yes.
-As you come up the drive, you'll look to the left,
-you'll see it growing up.
-It's already in the diary, Nicky!
It is amazing to see what the two of them have already achieved in just
The two of you look incredibly healthy.
I mean, you were obviously a bit stressed with the wedding and everything
last time we met, but it really suits you, countryside life.
Yeah, feel healthy, perhaps a little too healthy at times, but you know,
It is, it's the bounty of the pork and the veg.
Growing our own.
Nicky and Carl have clearly adjusted to country life.
Their positive attitude and willingness to embrace new challenges bodes
well for their future in this beautiful part of Wales.
It's so lovely to be back in Powys in the fresh air and the mountains
and to see what Nicky and Carl have done with that property,
because I have to say, I did have my doubts about that house and how
they'd make it work. But they took my advice and they converted the
kitchen so beautifully, and yet there's so much more to do there...
The animal husbandry, the work on the old kitchen and the boot room,
and then that fantastic garden.
So I wish them all the best and I hope that you join us next time for
more I Escaped To The Country.
And if you dream of escaping to the country in Wales, Scotland,
England or Northern Ireland, and would also like our help,
why not apply online at...
Alistair Appleton revisits the Welsh Border region and is reunited with a house-hunting couple who originally had a £475,000 budget and serious ambitions to start a smallholding. Within just a few years of moving into one of the properties Alistair showed them, they've not only transformed parts of their new home, but are also making impressive strides towards self-sufficiency on their land. Whilst in the region, Alistair takes in the countryside and heritage of the Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway.