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Today I'm in a country famous for its mountains, its mines,
its murky weather and its wonderful ancient monuments.
Surely, armed with clues like that, you must have a pretty good idea of where I am.
But if you're not, stay with us for a special edition of Escape To The Country
as we take a trip down memory lane.
Yes, today we're in Wales, taking a look back at some of the best Welsh properties we've visited.
-I've never seen anything like this.
We discover views that leave our buyers stunned.
And hold tight for some explosive action in a Welsh slate mine.
Well, you wanted Wales. There it is.
Yes, today we're in Wales, one of my favourite parts of the country.
Where better place to start a review of the best properties we've seen in this part of the world
than in the shadow of one of Wales's most imposing ancient monuments, Harlech Castle?
Of course, castles like this never come on the market, but we have had some wonderful properties that have.
Now we have a chance to look back at some of the best of the best.
The Welsh countryside is diverse, from the high peaks of Snowdonia to the rolling hills of Pembrokeshire.
With 750 miles of coastline, there are some beautiful locations to escape to.
Of course, Wales is also well-known for its castles,
and if it's grandeur you're after,
then a Welsh castle is sure to impress.
There are 641 of them still standing in Wales, which, if you work it out,
averages one castle for every 34 square miles.
But don't worry if castles aren't your thing -
Wales has a rich diversity of housing stock,
from small workers' cottages to large, flamboyant estates.
Property aside though, it's the dramatic landscapes of this country
that gave it a reputation as a land of myth and legend.
We start down in Carmarthenshire in Rhoshill.
Sue and Alan were looking for a lovely Welsh hideaway
but had two main concerns.
They wanted a master with an en suite
and a house that had high enough ceilings so that the tall Alan wouldn't keep banging his head.
They had a modest budget of £300,000,
but the great thing about the house I showed them
is that its main asset came for free.
I was taking Sue and Alan to Rhoshill in Carmarthenshire,
just 15 minutes from Cardigan.
The nearest pub and shop were only a mile away in Boncath.
There it is. That's what I want to show you.
-It's a nice, spacious, period property.
Take a hand each. Shut your eyes.
-Trust me, cos I want to show you something really exciting.
You want us to trust you, George?
Trust me! Never trust a man who says trust me!
'Now I think they're going to like what they're about to see.
'Land, accommodation, it's all here,
'but take a look at this for a bonus.'
Right, open your eyes.
That's the whole of Wales, isn't it? I can see the sea.
-Well, you wanted Wales. There it is.
-We've got the sea.
You got the sea over there, Cardigan just nestling down there.
Talk about king of the castle!
Churchill famously said when he bought his house, he bought the view and the house came with it.
I think you're getting a bit more of a house, actually,
so let's have a look at that.
I can't wait!
-have a look at this one.
-This is huge.
What do you think? Go through.
I love this. It's really nicely done, I think.
A real good family kitchen.
It looks quite new as well.
It is pretty new. Nice new, I think, quite stylish units.
-You got your high ceilings.
-Yep, I have.
I've had you in mind throughout this search, Alan.
I wouldn't do it to you. We've given you high ceilings where we can. But there's more.
This is so cosy, George. You've done us proud!
I think I could settle down for a cup of tea right now.
This is lovely.
-It is nice, isn't it?
-Right, go through there.
Have a look at reception room number two, really.
I think this is quite cosy. A sort of a snug, really.
I know what this would be used for.
-I think it would make a fantastic study.
You can still be part of the living space.
You could see what's going on in front of the computer.
'I think this house would be perfect for them. It's even got a room where
'they can bask in the sun together and put their feet up.'
There we are.
My mum would love this!
Mum, if you're watching, you would love this!
-She would absolutely adore this.
-Papers, Sunday morning, coffee.
The views, George, are just wonderful.
The thing about the aspect of this place, notice how the ground slopes away from the house,
so wherever you are on these two main sides, you are blessed with the view.
I'm really impressed so far.
-Downstairs is good?
-Garden, good. Downstairs, good.
-Let's have a look upstairs.
'I'm going to give my buyers a whistle-stop tour of the first-floor,
'as I want to concentrate on finding out
'where they would prefer to have their master bedroom,
'because, yep, there's a choice.'
In here, a lovely family bathroom.
Again, another good size.
And then in here,
the principal bedroom.
-A good size.
Now, I know on your list was an en suite, preferred en suite.
Of course, none of these bedrooms on the first-floor have an en suite.
-But upstairs there's something quite exciting I want to show you.
-Let's go. Follow me.
-Lead the way.
'Apart from the fact that Alan may have to face some DIY,
'this attic space could make a spectacular master bedroom.'
It does offer, this room, a huge amount of potential.
Go over there towards the window.
-You could either see this as a room for the kids, which, to be honest, would be a bit of a waste.
Or it could be your master bedroom.
I think it's a master bedroom, don't you? I'll bagsy this as a master bedroom.
I'd even put up with the beams.
Just walk down the middle, you'll be all right!
I think this makes a fantastic study area. I could see us all up here.
It's got so much potential.
I think Sue has hit spot on the money there.
-I'm normally right!
-Thank you, dear! Of course you are, dear!
'Well, Alan, you were a bit of a pushover there,
'but full marks to Sue for her study sales pitch,
'but the bonus features of this property just keep coming.'
-How about that?
If the view wasn't good enough, they also put a balcony on for you to enjoy it even more.
now then, now then, of course the million-dollar question.
-Are you going to put us on the spot now?
-I am. And on the balcony!
I'm going to ask you what that is worth to you.
I think this is over our budget.
£330,000, maybe up to £350,000.
It's a difficult one.
I think, because of the work that needs doing,
I'm going to be really cheeky and say £315,000.
Very cheeky but not bad, actually.
This house is on the market for a fiver short of £320,000.
-So not bad, actually.
Now, it's often said, perhaps correctly, that it's Wales that keeps the rest of Britain dry.
And this is what it's all about.
Classic, good old-fashioned Welsh roofing slate.
For 200 years or so, the mining of slate in North Wales
has been one of the most important industries going,
but what I want to know is how do you turn Welsh mountain into this?
I've come to one of the oldest slate mining quarries in North Wales to find out.
The Welsh slate industry was at its peak in the 1890s
when 92% of all Britain's slate came from these Welsh mountains.
The slate mines employed over 17,000 men in North Wales by the end of the 19th century.
During the 20th century, however, the industry went into heavy decline.
I'm here at Llechwedd mines,
one of the only working mines left in the area,
to meet Eirwen Jones, one of the few remaining slate miners.
-Jules, how are you?
-Nice to see you.
-Not bad at all.
-A nice day for it.
You picked the right day!
What I want to know is, how do we get this lovely Welsh roofing slate from the rock we can see behind us?
It starts off on the rock face. We'll do a bit of blasting.
-A bit of blasting?
-Blasting, yeah, and sawing and splitting.
We'll arrive at that.
-We'll show you a bit of history first, if you'd like.
Come on, then.
'Before I see how Eirwen mines for slate today, he's going to show me
'how the Victorians did it when the slate industry was at its zenith.'
-Are with both going to get in it?
-Yeah, why not, we're not that big(!)
'The maze of caverns and tunnels created by Victorian slate mining
'are now open to the public
'and accessible via this electric tramway.
'Although now part tourist attraction, Eirwen is all too aware
'of slate mining's importance to the local community.'
You come from a family of miners, don't you?
Yeah, three generations of us have worked in this quarry and the quarry up the road.
-There's a feeling of belonging there definitely.
-So you're a slate man?
'Two minutes later, we're deep into the hand-cut Victorian cavern.'
-OK, Jules, this is the chamber.
This is amazing. Is this all hand-cut?
-This would have been a Victorian working?
-Victorian era, definitely, yeah.
I know you have this set up for visitors to the mine today,
but what's that guy doing on the ladder?
He's the danger man inspecting the roof basically to make sure it's safe for the lads working underneath him.
-I bet you're glad you not a Victorian miner.
-Yeah, you wouldn't catch me up there!
Let's leave the 19th century and take a step into the 21st.
This is equally dramatic compared to that Victorian mine,
but we're not just above ground, we're on top of the mountain.
But you've removed most of it. The mountain's gone.
Yeah, Alwyn here is just drilling a few holes here, ready for blasting.
-This is the bit that I've really been looking forward to.
I do love fireworks.
So, he's drilling a number of holes and then what?
And then I'll be staying down here to light the fuse and...
"I'm going to stay down here and light the fuse"?
It's the 21st century! I thought you'd have some sort of a button?
The fuse is the preferred way for black powder and works just as well.
-So you just light that?
How long have you got before it goes bang?
This fuse is about a metre long, and that gives me three minutes.
-So you got three minutes to get out of here?
-Good luck! I'll meet you at the top!
Well, that was very, very, dramatic.
Well, what a contrast.
The beautiful mountains of Snowdonia and then broken mountains?
Yeah, the broken mountains, the slates.
This is the raw material which we have just blasted from the rock face.
It gets sent up to our mill, everything happens here,
where we turn the raw material into a finished product, the roofing slate.
-So it all happens in there?
-In there, if you'd like to...
What a place, I love it!
'These enormous pieces of broken Welsh mountain
'are then cut into a more manageable size by these huge industrial saws.'
-What's all that?
-This is this slate ready to be worked.
We use slate to keep the rain out.
We need them wet to work.
A dry slate is like trying to slice a cream cracker.
-So it just shatters?
-What have we got going on here?
-This is Errol.
-Hi, Errol, nice to see you.
I see you've still got a way to go with this. With a hammer and chisel?
Yeah, the old-fashioned way.
The old-fashioned way - that's a method hasn't changed presumably since the day slate was first used?
-So what are you going to do now, Errol?
I'm just going to cut it down into a small, manageable block.
Take it away, sir!
'Amazingly, it takes just a few taps from Errol's chisel,
'and the slate splits clean in two.'
For such a big, heavy, tough material,
I'm surprised at how workable it really is.
It's the best stuff we've got here, basically. Best in Wales, best in the world.
Hey, look at that. That's what I was looking for.
-The finished product.
-That lovely bevelled edge.
All from that very simple machine.
-The whole process is an incredibly simple thing, isn't it?
I think it's absolutely fantastic.
Next time I look at my slate roof, I won't take it for granted, I promise you.
If I get a leak, I know where to come!
Thanks very much for showing me round.
For our next property, we're off to Powys, the biggest county in Wales.
Alison and Richard were looking for a rural lifestyle that would be in some ways more self-sufficient.
They had £310,000, and for that, they wanted a house that would
accommodate Richard's beekeeping ambitions
and his candle-making skills.
I thought this property would fit them down to the ground,
but, as ever, it's that my buyers think that really counts.
I was taking Alison and Richard to Llanfyllin,
an 11-mile drive from Welshpool in Powys.
The village rests in a deep valley surrounded by gently rolling hills so typical of mid-Wales.
Llanfyllin has two well-known landmarks,
St Myllin's Well, which was used for early baptisms in the sixth century
by the town's local saint,
and the Lonely Tree, where folklore has it you must trek up the hill and give the tree a hug.
The real question was, however, would there be any hugging after I'd shown them the property?
-We are somewhere very rural here, as you can see.
-And that is the property I want you to have a look at.
What do you think? What are your first impressions?
I think it looks really nice.
I like the location as well, really peaceful,
open aspect here at the front.
Right, let's start in the hallway, appropriately enough.
Now, this is the new extension, the latest edition, so this is only about eight years old.
Come in and have a look at kitchen.
-I like this.
-This is a real sort of country kitchen.
It's a real country kitchen. And the floor looks like flagstones, doesn't it?
Actually, these are huge heavy roofing slates
reclaimed from an old barn.
It's the sort of kitchen I envisaged. You can imagine people being in.
-I do most of the cooking.
-So he does most of the cooking?
-I do, yes.
Can't cook, won't cook, so I can imagine Richard in here,
he would be in his element.
This is a turn-up for the books!
-So I need to refer all the kitchen issues to you.
-I'm afraid so, yes.
Well, have a look through here. It is a kitchen/diner, snug.
It's not as light as I would like it, but it's cosy,
so I suppose that does compensate for it,
-but it is a nice cosy little room.
It is very cosy and it gets cosier through here. Have a look at this.
Now, what about this?
Oh, this is cosy, yes. It is, yeah.
I like the way they've decorated with the carpets and everything.
-Yeah, it's very tasteful.
-Made it homely.
Is this the kind of thing you had in mind, lying back with the fire going?
Oh, yes, yes.
-Now, we have seen the kitchen.
-But there is another kitchen.
There is another one. All will make sense in a moment.
This is the second kitchen,
which is kind of a glorified utility room, is effectively what it is,
but it does mean that in the summer, when the oil range is off,
you've got the emersion heater for hot water and the oven.
This would be a useful room for candle-making and honey-extracting.
-A bit of a craft area.
-That's a good idea.
Right, let's go upstairs and have a look.
Not a bad-sized room.
Not exactly the decor that we would choose.
Known in the trade as a feature wall.
Becoming increasingly popular, it has to be said.
-But easily sorted.
-Two great big windows giving you views all around.
Good. Right, that's up here. We've seen downstairs.
-Let's go outside and get some fresh air.
'Next door is some land which they have the option to buy,
'but most of the grounds are to the side of the property
'with an impressive rock garden feature.
'There is also a shed which could come in handy for their craftwork,
'but will they see the land as a clean slate?'
Right, the top of the garden.
And what a garden. Very unusual, it has to be said.
Yeah. And nice views across the fields here. It has a nice aspect.
-What do you think of it?
-Well, it is a nice house, isn't it?
-They have obviously done a lot of work to it
and they have worked very hard in the garden to achieve all this.
You can tell that.
So the question is, how much do you want it?
How much money do you think it's going to cost you?
You've 300 or so, 310-ish to spend.
Go on, Richard, make me an offer.
I'm always hopeless at these things, I really am.
I would guess without the land, between 310 and 300, 310 maximum.
I was thinking because there had been a lot of work done to the house, I think 320.
OK. Right, I'm going to put you out of your misery.
-It is on the market for 50 quid short of £290,000.
-Comfortably under budget.
Now, the land still to be negotiated, but I would think within
the change you would have left over, you would probably achieve that.
-Subject to negotiation.
As it is starting to rain, you might as well get inside
and see what you get for 290 or thereabouts,
and I will catch up with you later.
-Go on. Off you go.
Run away! The rain is coming - will it dampen their spirits?
£290,000, comfortably under budget, and I'm going to get wet!
It is nice. It is.
And it has got potential for the garden area and with the extra land,
but the actual living space for me is just a bit too cramped.
I do like that garden,
and even though it's probably not quite what we're looking for,
to have a productive vegetable garden,
but I do like that bit of rock face out there.
I think it's a good feature.
For our final offering,
we're heading to mid-Wales, just outside the town of Builth Wells.
Hugh and Lyris had grown up in the area
but were now looking to retire.
They were armed with a very handsome budget of £750,000.
Now, the house we showed them was the mystery house,
and in a country littered with numerous converted chapels,
it was tempting to offer them something along those lines,
but you know what? That would have been a little too obvious,
and I have no doubt they weren't expecting the property we showed them.
Lyris and Hugh's mystery house was just outside Builth Wells in Powys.
Builth is a pleasant town with a busy high street,
but in the 19th century, it was a Victorian boom town.
The discovery of healthy springs transformed Builth
into a centre for early tourism with tourists flocking here,
keen to take the waters,
but would Hugh and Lyris be as excited about this house?
Now, this little lot,
come on in...
this little lot is the mystery house.
Wow, and a mystery it is!
Any idea what we're looking at?
Well, because of the veranda on this building,
I'm going to go really wild
and speculate that it was for drinking the waters.
-Yes, you're right!
-We have seen this type of architecture.
We are outside Builth Wells, a great Victorian spa town,
and what we've got is an 1890 house with associated outbuildings,
not least of which is that,
-which was a pump house and a well house...
-Ah right, yes.
-..combined, for taking the waters
-when everybody thought these things were good for you.
-I think it's wonderfully quirky.
It's very, very quirky. Let's see what you make of the inside.
Let's start in here.
-The hallway, as you can see.
-It's a grand hallway.
It is very well-proportioned, that's the striking thing about this house,
and this panelling...
-I love the wood finish.
-It is gorgeous. I love that.
-The panelling is everywhere, so if you like this...
-I do like it.
-It is the right colour, isn't it?
That's important. If somebody is going to do this sort of thing.
I think it is original, isn't it?
You know what, I'm not sure. I won't put my hand up to that.
It feels very at home here. Come into the living room. Look at this.
It's getting warm. Tell me what you make of this.
Well, you said there was plenty of panelling.
-There is plenty of panelling.
Now, there's the hatch.
-That comes through from the dining room, and this is your kitchen.
Come through here.
-I mean, obviously a later addition.
Bringing in a lot of light. What do you think of this so far?
This is going to sound as if I'd buy any house on the market,
but I really like it - it sounds silly -
but the kitchen is a very workable kitchen and I love that gas cooker.
Now, this is currently set up as the main living room.
-I find this large room more attractive than the other one
because of the panelling. There is no panelling here.
You have that lovely fire surround.
-And pretty new.
-And the room is a lovely size.
-There are huge possibilities, aren't there?
-Ooh, are the wheels turning?
Oh, they are, they're turning like mad. Do you hear them?
-I can! I was wondering what the noise is.
-We're in trouble now, girl.
-We are in trouble.
-Why are we in trouble?
This is just not...
It's not something we'd ever thought about, something like this.
'Well, there could be more trouble ahead, then,
'as upstairs, there are plenty of rooms for Lyris to consider.'
Now, this is currently set up as a guest room.
-It is a good-sized room. It's nice.
-There is also a shower tucked away behind that curtain.
I'm not sure I would really call it en suite as such...
..but the point is, I suppose, is that you've got all the plumbing there,
-so if you did want to do something different...
-A bit more solid.
-..it would be possible.
'There's another matching room at the other end of the house
'which could be used as the master bedroom.
'In all, there are six bedrooms here, but only one bathroom.
'There's also space for a gym and there is a sauna to relax in
'after a hard day.
'And outside, well, there's money-making potential.'
Come out through here, and we'll start...
-..with the old pump house, shall we?
'The converted pump house has been renovated
'into split-level accommodation - perfect for visitors.'
Big enough... It could be rented out on a holiday let basis.
Would you consider that?
-Oh, yes, yes, yes, definitely.
-One of the things we have discussed.
We have discussed any way of making money, really.
Well, it's a nice supplement, isn't it? And it's away from the house,
so you haven't got B&Bs in your house.
'This could be an enjoyable challenge as a money-spinning venture,
'but I wonder if Hugh and Lyris are really up for it.
'Next door is the well house that caught Lyris's eye earlier.
'It too could have commercial possibilities.'
Now, this extraordinary building, it's Grade II listed, this.
-Oh, yes. Grade II listed rings alarm bells in my head.
I think "money".
Well, I mean, this is one of the issues -
you get something which is historic and characterful,
but it comes with the burden of responsibility in some ways.
-Plenty of buildings. Shall we have a look at some land?
-Oh, yes, please.
-Last, but not least, the duck pond.
-That's nice, too.
-It is sweet.
-And I do like ducks.
So all in all - buildings, house, etc -
you've got about nine acres.
Has the mystery house gripped you, I wonder?
It has gripped me. There's certainly a project in this,
and I still have scope for keeping some animals.
-Make me an offer.
£600,000, says Lyris. Hugh?
I'd like to go higher.
I loved the wackiness of the place.
I would say probably 650.
Suppose I told you this was on the market for...£795,000?
That probably makes up our mind. We can't afford it.
It is over budget, but you do get a lot of history with it.
Oh, fantastic history, fantastic place.
I think, before we leave, you should take another look around,
-because it is incredibly unique, this.
It's an amazing place with several fairly quirky buildings.
That's all ready to go, is it, the holiday let?
And it's converted to a high standard.
It's beautiful. I'd rent it as a holiday let.
There are bound to be business opportunities on this property.
Well, yes, I was thinking tea rooms.
This would have been where they drank the waters.
It takes us out of our comfort zone and makes us think a little more
about what we're going to do with the next ten years of our life.
There is potential here to be a little bit more adventurous.
I have to say, I really enjoyed showing Hugh and Lyris around that property,
and it is a lovely way to end this show as we've reviewed
some of the best properties that we've had in Wales,
and where better to wrap it up than here on the beach
on the edge of Wales with a setting sun over the Irish Sea?
I've certainly enjoyed our trip down memory lane.
I hope you have too. I'll see you next time.
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