Kent Escape to the Country


Kent

Jonnie Irwin helps two very exacting buyers in Kent look for a medieval oak-beamed barn with expansive living spaces on a budget of £630,000.


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Transcript


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Today's county is associated with this type of hazelnut.

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These were a favourite with the Victorian and Edwardian hoi polloi, served with cheese and port.

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Where am I? Well, find out in an appetising Escape To The Country.

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'Today, we're attempting to find a new home for a bride and groom.

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'It's got to be something old, not new.'

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This isn't what you want. I don't think so.

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'Heart strings will be tugged in all directions.'

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Really making this difficult.

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'And there won't be a dry eye in the house.'

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Are you OK? Yes. It's beautiful.

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Today, I'm in Kent, home of the Kentish cobnut.

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Until the early 20th century, there were over 7,000 acres

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of cobnut plantations, or plats, throughout the UK.

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Most of those were here in Kent.

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Sadly, after the First World War, the industry went into decline.

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But the cobnut is having a comeback.

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In the last five years, nearly 200 acres have been replanted.

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These are far from the only things grown in the county.

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'For centuries, Kent has been a rural playground for city folk,

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'bordering London to the west, and to the east, 350 miles of coastline.

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'Kent became known as the "garden of England" during Tudor times.

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'Apple orchards were planted here in the 16th and 17th centuries.

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'Kent resident Charles Dickens gave a nod to the county in The Pickwick Papers.

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'Apples, cherries and hops all made an appearance.

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'Oast houses that were once used to dry hops are a familiar sight.

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'Many of these old industrial Victorian buildings

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'have been converted into exclusive attractive homes.'

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But what are today's buyers after? Let's find out.

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Meet recently retired Major General Malcolm and fiancee Catalina, who works in green technology.

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Catalina lives in this two-bed terrace in a busy Surrey town.

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Malcolm's house is an hour's drive away in Hampshire.

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With a wedding planned in months, the key thing missing from the wedding list is the marital home.

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Catalina often works from home. I have commitments all over the place.

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We don't spending much time together so as soon as we can get our own place, make it ours,

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get together all the time, the better.

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And it's hard to find something for someone this tall!

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'At six feet six inches tall, space is a priority for Malcolm

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'when they cross the threshold.

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'And they have specific ideas about their preferred style of home.'

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We're looking for a very large hall space with beautiful oak-beam ribs,

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very high ceilings, a lot of history.

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It doesn't have to be in a perfect state.

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It can be an older barn that's yet to be made into this.

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I've been collecting tapestries and old master paintings for 20 years.

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This is a Flemish piece I'm looking at restoring.

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I can't hang it up properly, or the others.

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So it is a bit of a crisis,

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'Catalina has a passion for historic treasures.

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'Her current home is a 17th-century listed building. How does she feel about other styles?'

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Big no-nos for me would be modern. My skin would crawl. Really.

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Georgian is a bit too pompous,

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a bit too much for us - although I love it.

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It isn't where I want to live.

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'What about the outside space?'

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Now I've got a big piece of grass to cut, uphill.

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You're spending all the effort working, as opposed to enjoying it.

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So, if possible, I'd like to have, perhaps, a bit more wild of an area,

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not high-maintenance, but natural.

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And some sort of water, maybe a pond or lake? With ducks?

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'They've decided to relocate to Kent but, aside from its countryside,

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'why have they chosen this county?'

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I've got family ties in Hampshire.

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I've got three daughters in their 20s, two of whom live in London. Don't want to be far away from them.

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'Both of their properties are on the market.

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'What's the budget these nearly newly-weds have for their first home together?'

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?600,000, maybe to ?630,000.

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Catalina is after something specific -

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a timber-framed historic building with a large open-plan living space.

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Whilst ?630,000 isn't to be sniffed at, these properties are in high demand.

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The good news is that we seem to be looking in the right area.

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Traditionally, agriculture in Kent is done on a small scale

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and throws up a wealth of timber-framed barns.

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Hopefully, we should have plenty to look at.

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'Having to make trips into London for business and to visit family,

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'Malcolm and Catalina want to be within a reasonable commute.

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'Our search will take us around Maidstone.

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'We'll see some incredible properties, including a development opportunity,

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'but I won't reveal the price straightaway.

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'Finally, the mystery house promises to unearth

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'more than they'd bargained for.'

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This is a start of a new chapter.

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You're living in separate houses and are both coming together. Exactly.

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The budget was 630. Is that still the case? I'd hoped for that.

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To keep something in reserve for the project or daughters.

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But I realise we've had to push up a bit. 650, 670, if we're realistic.

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We've got properties to look at. Are you excited? Yes. Let's go. Thank you.

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'For a top budget of ?670,000,

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'Malcolm and Catalina haven't given us an extensive wish list,

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'but it is precise.

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'A detached historic property, preferably a barn,

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'with exposed timbers...

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'With that in mind, we're kicking off not far from Paddock Wood,

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'a popular bolt hole for commuters

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'situated eight miles southwest of Maidstone.

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'Our first property is situated close to a town,

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'is in easy reach of amenities and benefits from a great rural setting.

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'Let's see what our buyers think.'

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What do you think, Catalina? I don't want to speak before I get inside.

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Let's get inside and find out some more, shall we?

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'Malcolm and Catalina are reserving judgment

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'on this beautiful two-storey 18th-century barn.

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'It was converted 20 years ago and has an unconventional layout

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'that places the open-plan living area on the first floor.'

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So what are we thinking?

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Very nice beams, as requested. There's some heritage there.

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Got character.

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Is it tall enough?

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That is still a potential Malcolm headache.

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Yes. Probably.

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But I'd get used to one.

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It's if I was having to bob up and down. It's got a lot of light.

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There's a good sense of space.

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I'm looking forward to seeing the rest, to understand a bit better what could be done.

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'The vaulted ceiling and walls feature a wealth

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'of original beams that have been dated to the early 1700s.

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'The top floor is also home to the master bedroom

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'with exposed woodwork and an en suite shower room.'

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What do we think? Is it big enough?

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It's big enough. You've gone very quiet, Catalina.

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I kind of wanted something all on one level, like a big traditional barn with the height.

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Then we could maybe add something on later or develop it slowly

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with other period barns, if we needed to. This is interesting.

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So many people like to go up or down a set of stairs to bed.

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This isn't what you want. I don't think so.

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'It's apparent that their vision for their dream property

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'is even more specific than we'd thought.

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'Let's get down to the ground floor to the kitchen.'

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Fabulous! Good and open.

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We like open. Mm. I like your reactions, then.

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Catalina has a lovely long table which deserves to be used.

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In terms of visions, I saw this long table and everyone around it.

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So there's no room for that table here? We'd struggle.

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'To the opposite end of the ground floor

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'is the family bathroom and two bedrooms.

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'One is a single being used as an office.

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'The other is a double room with storage.'

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We've now see every room in the house. What do we think?

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It's a family home.

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It's been designed into little compartments.

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We were thinking maybe we could open up a bit more. Yes, exactly.

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'This is an historic and homely family property,

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'but it's clear that it's not delivering the right vibe.

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'Perhaps the beautiful garden

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'will be more to their liking.

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'There's a double garage with storage space.

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'The grounds are in terraced areas, with patios and water features,

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'which should be to Catalina's liking.

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This was a real surprise to me, the whole style of this garden.

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It's gorgeous. You like it? Yeah. It's lovely. Catalina likes water.

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A little piece of water flowing through it gently.

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How much do you think this house is on the market for? I'll say 620.

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Higher or lower? Probably lower.

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Probably lower? You're right.

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This house is on the market for offers around ?585,000. Gosh.

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'Very comfortably under budget at...

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'Dating back to the 18th century,

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'our first house delivers on period features,

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'but will it match their very particular requirements?'

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Shall we move on? Mm-hm. Good.

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'A crop that swept to popularity in the 19th century was a wild hazelnut

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'called the cobnut, cultivated in Kent as it could be easily transported to London.

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'By the mid 20th century, the Kentish cob was eclipsed by more exotic imported varieties.

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'Cobnuts grow in clusters

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'and are harvested by hand, as each nut

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'is individually inspected for quality.

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'Product manager Catherine Robinson showed me the ropes.'

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It's pretty simple, really. You just shake the tree.

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What? As simple as that? You'll hear the nuts come.

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NUTS PATTER

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There they go. They're camouflaged!

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Yeah... Look. There's loads of them.

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Why are people starting to eat the cobnut now?

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People are looking for locally sourced food.

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They're the only type of nut to be commercially grown in the UK.

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If people want local produce, nuts, they're looking at cobnuts.

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'But nutcracking is a very seasonal trend,

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'so this farm has diversified by tapping into a market where cobnuts can be savoured all year round.'

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We designed a machine

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to crack the shells, to get the kernel out,

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then once we have nut kernels, we roast them and press them for oil.

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These have been pressed for oil. OK.

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So, may I?

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See what you think of the taste. Lovely colour.

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It is a lovely golden colour.

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Mm, that's... That would rival any olive oil I've had.

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It's very tasty. Mm. Very good for your skin.

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It's full of vitamin E, B vitamins and no cholesterol.

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'No wonder that demand outweighed supply this year.

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'The future looks bright for a successful revival

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'of this tasty Kentish treat.

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'It's back to the house hunt to see if I can unearth their perfect property.

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'They may be unfazed by a bit of work,

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'but how will they feel about starting from scratch?

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'We'll find out at our second destination,

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'the village of Bredgar, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

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'Surrounded by hills and woodland,

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'Bredgar has a 13th-century Norman flint church and a farm shop

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'with a post office.

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'We're upping the space stakes with our next property

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'in the centre of the village, but it's not much to look at - yet.'

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So... The lady wanted a barn. CATALINA GIGGLES

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Is this barn big enough? It's incredible. I can't believe it!

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That's the size. It's about 2,500 square foot inside.

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It is massive.

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This is very tempting. Let's look.

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Come over this way.

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Our boundary... comes to this corner.

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You're on the corner of your plot. Everything that way is yours.

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Does it have planning to become residential?

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Or is that a question mark? No. That's a full stop. It has planning. Wow.

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Happy? Yes.

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It's probably a ruin inside and his face will drop.

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Suddenly, it's a longer term project, not a walk-in and live-in. Let's do one thing at a time.

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'They're both more animated outside this historic agricultural barn

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'than at our first property, and I'm certain Malcolm's height won't be an issue.

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'But has it got the potential to fit Catalina's vision?'

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CATALINA LAUGHS Wow! What do you think?

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Big enough?

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Speechless?

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Tears. Are you OK? Yeah.

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MALCOLM LAUGHS

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Are you OK? Yes. It's beautiful.

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So...how old is this?

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It's mid 16th century. It's a real piece of Kent history.

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All the beams are from then. Yeah. This was a threshing barn.

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The more you look at it, hopefully,

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the more you can see the useable space, the very rare opportunity

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to get an untouched barn with that big space.

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It's a little bit intimidating as to where you would...

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start!

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It does look in very warm condition.

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Honestly, this is not as rotted as you might have expected.

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I see some tidying and things that have been done, but done well.

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The barn is listed. Mm-hm.

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So you can't cut a beam to put a window in. Don't want to. Good.

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So you've got long slatted windows.

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'Catalina's full of great ideas of what to do here.

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'I can almost hear the cogs turning as she mentally creates a home.

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'It covers an enormous footprint which, I suspect

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'is a daunting prospect for Malcolm.

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'I've brought architect's plans, which should help them configure the massive interior.'

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This is the proposed layout. Just proposed.

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Look at these words! "Open-plan living space"!

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I saw that straightaway!

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They've got it open plan at one end.

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Then your three bedrooms at the other end.

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You should be able to change this.

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It should give you an idea

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of what you might want to put where.

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One thing the planners might stipulate on keeping is the porch.

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All glass. Of course. There's a doorway here.

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So...2,500 square foot of useable living space

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all wrapped up in a lovely-looking barn.

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You know what's coming, don't you? Guess the price.

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Let's have a look at it.

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I always have to go first, don't I? I have no idea, really.

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300? 350?

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Let's say 350. 350,000.

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OK. Higher or lower?

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That's all you have to say. Maybe a bit higher. I don't know.

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Well... It's in very nice condition. It is.

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Though there's a lot of work, hundreds of thousands of pounds to make that suitable.

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But, Malcolm, I take my hat off. It's on the market for ?350,000.

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That's a pretty good guess! It was a guess, though.

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Trust me.

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'For ?350,000, our second offering is substantially under budget.

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'But at the same time, it needs a huge amount of money, time and TLC

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'to turn it into their dream home...

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'With a basic refit estimated at about ?150,000.

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'The prospect of the work is enough to reduce most people to tears.

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'Fortunately for our buyers, theirs are tears of joy.'

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All done in here? Yes. All inspired? All planned out?

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Thinking it through. Lots to think about.

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It's almost the end of the day. Let's find somewhere to warm up. OK.

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'With the sun setting

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'on a day of high emotion, excitement and apprehension,

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'the first day of our property quest comes to an end.'

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Yesterday was a roller coaster, but I think it ended on a high.

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Today, we show them the mystery house, which often surprises our buyers.

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I hope they're not expecting another barn conversion.

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'Time we challenged their preconceptions

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'about an alternative architectural period,

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'just under a mile from the village of Cooling.

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'Surrounded by traditional farmland, Cooling has a public house,

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'a 14th-century castle

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'and a 13th-century church believed to be the setting of Pip's encounter

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'with Magwitch in Dickens' Great Expectations.

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'The house is a Grade II-listed farmhouse

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'built during the reign of William and Mary.

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'This early Georgian neoclassical style

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'is the type of property our buyers described as pompous.

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'It's full of gems that I hope will deliver an historic authenticity

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'that they'll both appreciate.'

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This property was built around 1700, so we've got a lot of history.

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Always been a farmhouse. Excellent.

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Let's take a look. OK. OK.

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'Intrigued by its 300-year-old pedigree,

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'let's find out whether what lies beyond the facade excites them,

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'starting in the first of two elegant reception rooms.'

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Let's talk dining tables. BOTH LAUGH

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Yes, it could fit! You've got space, you've got beams.

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It's tall, isn't it? It's a good height. You're right.

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This has almost been modernised a bit too far for your tastes.

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Would you say that's fair? Yeah.

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Could you bring this back? The history's there, isn't it?

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Is it one layer underneath or a bit deeper?

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Is it listed? It is. Grade II. Only II.

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There might be bits and bobs you can do internally.

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'Across the hallway, the second reception room is presented

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'as a sitting room with a fireplace.

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'What do they make of the kitchen?'

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That is absolutely original.

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Look at that. It's lovely.

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I would put the table in here. Great.

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What they've done is to retain this more as a reception room.

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They've got the nuts and bolts of the kitchen next door.

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You'd at least keep it as a working utility.

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Get all your white goods out there, non-period items.

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Keep this pretty much as it is. It's a lovely room.

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This is a beautiful view, too.

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'Catalina and Malcolm are starting to appreciate

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'the character of this house.

0:22:120:22:14

'We head through to the hallway to the first floor,

0:22:140:22:17

'where the family bathroom serves four bedrooms.

0:22:170:22:22

'At the back are two double bedrooms with fireplaces and sash windows.

0:22:220:22:28

'The smallest bedroom sits at the front

0:22:280:22:30

'and is another double with dark timber floorboards,

0:22:300:22:34

'which are also a feature in the largest bedroom.'

0:22:340:22:37

Ah!

0:22:390:22:41

I thought you'd like the floorboards. Original floorboards.

0:22:410:22:44

Painted dark chocolate but that's not a problem.

0:22:440:22:48

'Catalina and Malcolm are warming to the mystery house.

0:22:480:22:52

'But I've got a surprise that should turn up the heat another notch.'

0:22:520:22:56

You don't mind getting on your hands and knees? Let's have a look.

0:22:560:23:01

Look at this staircase. Oh, my gosh! It's untouched.

0:23:010:23:05

Come in. Mind your heads, especially you, Malcolm.

0:23:050:23:10

CATALINA GIGGLES Oh, my gosh!

0:23:100:23:14

If you were a fan of timbers... LAUGHTER

0:23:140:23:17

It's phenomenal. A lot of new work.

0:23:170:23:19

How many fireplaces? Two. That's incredible.

0:23:190:23:23

You've both got quite wry smiles.

0:23:230:23:27

Haven't you? Looking at this!

0:23:270:23:29

Cos we're going to have to give joined-up views in a minute. Yeah.

0:23:290:23:34

'The untouched open plan second floor

0:23:340:23:37

'is full of possibilities, subject to planning,

0:23:370:23:40

'and has given them food for thought.

0:23:400:23:43

'We weave our way down the two sets of stairs to check out the garden

0:23:430:23:47

'or - dare I say? - grounds.

0:23:470:23:50

'The land is mainly laid to lawn with a pond bordered by flower beds

0:23:500:23:55

'and a weeping willow.'

0:23:550:23:57

I can't believe I'm apologising for the amount of land.

0:23:570:24:00

One and a half acres. Oh, gosh!

0:24:000:24:03

Cos I said my lawn-mowing days were behind me? Yes.

0:24:030:24:07

What do we think of the house?

0:24:070:24:09

It definitely deserves restoring. It's stunning.

0:24:090:24:13

It's got a lot of heart, some beautiful features. OK.

0:24:130:24:17

So, tough question but I've got to ask it.

0:24:170:24:21

How much is it on the market for?

0:24:210:24:22

I'm going to say ?680,000.

0:24:220:24:25

OK. 680. A bit more, I think. A bit more? Mm.

0:24:250:24:29

Then you'll both be pleasantly surprised. Oh! It's on the market for ?625,000. What?

0:24:290:24:36

It's a beautiful property. A lot to think about.

0:24:380:24:42

'At ?625,000, this extensive period mystery property

0:24:420:24:47

'is again well under budget.

0:24:470:24:50

'Stately yet simple, the house is full of historic charm...

0:24:500:24:54

'You get a lot for your money with a little left over for remodelling.

0:25:060:25:11

'Would they take on a classical property rather than a Tudor barn?'

0:25:110:25:16

So, that's three properties.

0:25:160:25:18

Let's find somewhere for you to have a sit down and a chat.

0:25:180:25:23

After three properties, I clearly got the best reactions from the barn conversion project,

0:25:290:25:34

but I do think the mystery house gave them something to think about.

0:25:340:25:39

Let's find out what they want to do next.

0:25:390:25:42

I thought I'd bring you to one of the county's most famous buildings, Leeds Castle.

0:25:450:25:51

It started off fairly challenging. A barn conversion already converted.

0:25:510:25:58

On reflection, not for you guys.

0:25:580:26:00

Loved the garden. Nice family home.

0:26:000:26:04

The way the space was used

0:26:040:26:06

probably means we're unlikely to follow up on that one.

0:26:060:26:10

The second property certainly gave you an open-plan layout!

0:26:100:26:14

But that's all it gave you!

0:26:140:26:17

I can't believe you got the depth and width.

0:26:170:26:20

Beautiful beams. Really left as is.

0:26:200:26:23

Hopefully, we can look very carefully at that detail

0:26:230:26:27

and try to enhance it rather than ruin it.

0:26:270:26:31

I'm being the practical one.

0:26:310:26:33

I'm, as I said before, both excited and daunted in equal measure.

0:26:330:26:37

That was a great end to a day. This morning, the mystery house

0:26:370:26:42

gave you something very different.

0:26:420:26:45

There were some beautiful heritage pieces, honest to God.

0:26:450:26:49

Someone will fall madly in love and treasure that.

0:26:490:26:53

The favourite is the barn project.

0:26:530:26:56

What do you want to do about that? We want to follow up on it.

0:26:560:27:00

You showed us some interesting plans but that's one version.

0:27:000:27:03

There's enormous potential there.

0:27:030:27:06

It's such an exciting project.

0:27:060:27:09

You look like you can't wait to get your hands on it. I can't.

0:27:090:27:12

Very few people protect the fabric and integrity of a building.

0:27:120:27:17

And it's small enough for us to get our arms around it and keep going.

0:27:170:27:22

It has a lot of benefit.

0:27:220:27:24

It could be falling into the right hands. Let us know how you get on. I wish you the best of luck.

0:27:240:27:30

Thank you for looking after us so splendidly.

0:27:300:27:33

Quite a fitting location after spending time

0:27:360:27:40

with a couple who are passionate about England's historic buildings.

0:27:400:27:45

By choosing the barn-conversion project,

0:27:450:27:48

they could well be putting their money where their mouth is.

0:27:480:27:52

We wish them both the very best of luck. We'll see you next time.

0:27:520:27:57

'Malcolm and Catalina went back for another viewing

0:27:570:28:00

'and are currently in consultation with the agents.

0:28:000:28:05

'If you'd like to escape to the country in Northern Ireland, Wales,

0:28:050:28:08

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