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In 1823, a headmaster in a school in the county we're visiting today
developed the rules of this iconic British sport.
Find out where we are in just a moment.
On today's show I'll help a couple
leave behind the stresses of life in the capital
and seek out a spiritual retreat in the country.
And at first it doesn't look like we have a meeting of minds.
I think this house might cause us some disagreements, actually.
Just come and have a chat with me outside!
But finally we hit on house harmony.
Wow. This has the wow factor.
It does have a wow factor.
Today I'm in Warwickshire, and it was on the playing fields
of this county's most famous public school
that William Webb Ellis bent down, picked up the ball and ran with it.
Now, the myth is that that was a huge transgression of the rules,
but the truth is that there weren't many rules back then.
Hundreds of players could be on the field at the same time and it was a complete ruck.
So the important thing
wasn't so much the picking up and running but the rules.
Set within the West Midlands, landlocked Warwickshire shares borders with nine other counties.
The majority of its 535,000 inhabitants are spread across
the more industrial north,
while the south retains a more rural and farmed landscape.
Stratford upon Avon receives over 3.5 million visitors per year,
drawn to the famed birthplace of William Shakespeare.
And the cottage where his wife, Anne Hathaway,
spent her early years is just a mile from the historic town centre.
Another of the county's architectural landmarks is Warwick Castle.
Largely restored in the 19th century, it has a rich history
stretching back 1,000 years.
Throughout its towns and villages, half-timbered properties dating back
to the 15th and 16th century are a common theme,
making it a compelling option for aspiring escapees.
Before we look at the houses, let's centre ourselves, relax
and meet today's buyers.
Over the past five years, Simon and Karen have completely renovated
their four-bedroom property in north west London
to accommodate their natural health therapy business.
But they're running out of space,
so they have their sights set on developing a retreat in the country.
Bringing people into peace and stillness is a very important part of our work, as we work
with that sort of spiritual understanding as well,
and we do it to a certain extent here.
But in order to magnify that on a greater scale,
offer it out to more people and provide an even deeper experience,
that's why we're looking to buy out in the country.
As well as giving their young son JD a rural upbringing,
they're hoping to free up more time for their hobbies.
Just in this little area alone, JD and I have managed to establish
some really nice herbs, which we use on a daily basis.
I'd like to restart some old hobbies,
which included painting, writing poetry, photography.
Life is busy.
Along with more space, the layout of their next property is important.
In the new property they'll need a treatment room,
and as part and parcel of the retreat experience,
overnight accommodation for guests would be a plus.
And there are other requests.
In a nutshell, we're looking for something that has a lot of light,
a nice farmhouse kitchen with a communal eating area.
I think we have to try and look at four bedrooms plus,
especially if we're having people to stay.
It could be something architecturally very striking,
very contemporary, very different, or it could be an older building
which just has that something special.
With their current house under offer,
how much do they have to spend?
Our budget for this move is £750,000.
Karen and Simon have given us a real challenge, because on top of the practical considerations
of good transport links into London,
good schooling, and a client base for their business, they also want
the more nebulous qualities of spiritual energy and flow,
things that don't typically get listed on a property's particulars.
Still, we love a challenge.
As they'll still need to occasionally commute to London for work,
Simon and Karen don't want to stray too far north.
So we're focusing our search around Stratford upon Avon,
with good transport links and schooling for JD.
I'll be showing them three properties that I hope
will fit the bill, but I won't
be revealing the price of each until they've had a guess first.
The last one is our mystery house, which is designed
to challenge their preconceptions.
-Welcome to Warwickshire.
Thank you. Good to see you.
You've got quite a long wishlist.
What are the sort of top few items?
Schooling I think has to be the first one, has to be a priority.
And also the ambience of the place is the most important thing for us,
the light, the tranquillity, the potential.
But also you're intending to have some strangers, clients, coming to stay with you.
How comfortable will you be about having strangers living in your house?
I think the trick is having some places which are out of bounds,
there are certain parts which are completely private so you can retreat there.
What about listed properties?
I know that you're not keen. Why is that?
Might slow things down in terms of what we might want to do with the property.
Well, I'm sure you're going to be wowed by some of the properties.
It's a beautiful bit of country.
-Just to check with your budget, what's your budget?
There's lots of beautiful properties out there and I'm going to show you three.
Great, thank you.
With a top budget of £750,000,
Simon and Karen are looking for a property with positive energy
that gives them enough reception rooms
to accommodate family and clients,
a large communal kitchen diner, four bedrooms,
an annexe or space for treatment rooms,
all wrapped up in a semi-rural location,
but close to excellent schools
and with good transport links to attract prospective clients.
We're kicking off our property search in the village of Arden's Grafton,
which, although only six miles from Stratford upon Avon,
is set in a prime rural spot in the Forest of Arden,
an area steeped in history.
Shakespeare's parents were reputedly married in the church
at neighbouring Temple Arden, and there are some notable timbered
and thatched properties dotted about.
In the heart of the village is this somewhat newer proposition,
which offers more than they might expect at first glance.
This is the house I want to show you.
It was built in the '80s.
What are your first impressions?
Interesting. It's a lovely spot.
-Very, very pretty village.
-But it's, I think, a really interesting property for you guys inside.
-Shall we go inside?
Behind its deceptive facade, this modern house really comes into its own towards the rear,
offering peace and tranquillity,
and as we will see later, business potential.
Straight into the kitchen.
It's quite a roomy kitchen.
They've done a lot of work to this, the present owners.
They've only been here five years
but they've completely refitted it and put in these French doors.
It just comes across as very new.
Well, actually the kitchen is brand new.
No, it's good. But it's got a fabulous view and that means a lot.
On the opposite side of the hallway,
the current dining room is at the heart of the property,
which they might think about using as a treatment, or a chill-out room.
Adjoining it is a handy utility room
that flows through nicely into the main sitting room.
So this is south-facing, so you get all the daylight sun through here.
-And this rather gargantuan fireplace.
-Yes, isn't it?
But again, quite contemporary,
apart from the old beam.
And very, very sunny.
Very sunny. This is the nicest room of the downstairs.
I like it, I like this room.
Well, they've given quite a measured response to downstairs so I wonder
what they'll think of the four bedrooms upstairs.
There's a spacious double, with the room next door currently being used
as a study, and a family bathroom also on this side of the house.
Let's see if the layout works for them as we inspect the third bedroom.
Here we've got two doubles and a single, effectively.
And presumably one of the doubles would go to JD.
But you're all sharing a bathroom.
So is that not going to work?
Ideally, with guests that are working with us, they would need to have their own side.
So this is a little bit sort of mixed in with the family space, I think.
Perhaps they'll be swayed by where they might sleep.
So it's quite an extensive suite.
-Oh, gosh, yes.
-Because this is your dressing room.
-The walk-in wardrobe.
Pretty big. And then your own bathroom suite in here.
And then you go through this arch.
Mind your head on here.
This is in the eaves. And this has this incredible view
down over the garden, down over the Cotswolds.
You see, this is the side of the house you would actually give to your guest.
-You would give this to the guest?
-I would, yeah.
We usually agree on most things.
But I think this house might cause us some disagreements, actually, in that case.
Well, before we make any rash decisions about giving up one's
walk-in wardrobe for the guests, I want to take us outside,
particularly to look at the garage.
And I'm hoping the potential of what lies outside in the garage
might build on that positive response.
Oh, my goodness, that's huge, isn't it?
Could be your retreat therapy palace.
It could indeed be a palace.
But it's absolutely massive.
And it could easily be extended up.
You could put a floor in here, take the ceiling right up,
put in skylights, and a spectacular window at that end.
With a lovely view of the Cotswolds.
Which looks all over the Cotswolds.
If we go out into the garden, we can see what you can see.
The gardens would provide a real haven for their guests,
and there's room for Karen to grow her own organic produce.
What do you think of the garden?
It's not massive, a third of an acre.
It's nice. I love the garden.
It's beautiful. They've put a lot of work into it.
So how much do you think this little plot of beauty and peace costs?
Well, without any local knowledge at all,
and a pure guess, I'd say 500,000.
No, I would say more like 630, something like that, 620-630.
-That would be my guess.
-Yes, you're being quite optimistic, Simon.
It's actually on the market for 650.
-So you'd have £100,000 to do this
and make that what you wanted.
On the market at £650,000, this property gives them
a spacious family home which requires no work
and features an enormous kitchen-diner, two generous
reception rooms, and four bedrooms, including a master suite.
It leaves them £100,000 to convert the garage for their business,
which would make the most
of the beautiful one third of an acre garden.
And it's wrapped up in a spectacular rural setting,
close enough to civilisation to attract their clients.
-Enough time to soak it all in?
-Yes, thank you, Alastair.
Good, well, get ready for the rest of Warwickshire.
Good, thank you.
Fortunately, many of this country's architectural treasures
are on the conservation map, but there are a number
that sadly slip through the preservation net
and are in danger of being lost forever.
However, help is at hand.
Over 1,200 of the most threatened have been placed on a Buildings at Risk Register
which has been run by English Heritage since 1998.
Astley Castle in North Warwickshire is one of its deserving cases.
I met up with Hayley McCafferty David from English Heritage to find out how buildings
get elected onto the register and what lies in store for them.
The register itself is a comprehensive list
of all Grade I and II starred buildings that are at risk in England.
It doesn't have to be a ruin.
There are some fully standing structures.
And it can be anything from a castle to a public house.
Starting life as a 13th century fortified manor house, Astley Castle
was largely rebuilt in the 1500s by the Gray family,
of Lady Jane fame who was Queen for nine days.
Oh, wow, it really is a ruin.
So, how did it get into this state?
Basically, in the 1960s, the building was used as a hotel,
and in 1978, tragically, there was a fire
and has gone into a state of disrepair ever since.
-It looks like a pretty lost cause, doesn't it?
But with funding now in place from the Heritage Lottery Fund,
a state-of-the-art glass building
is going to be inserted within the existing walls.
The scheme won't disturb the original parts of this Grade II listed ruin,
but will generate an income which will secure its future.
The work at Astley Castle is a prime example
of an enlightened approach to conservation where
the best modern architectural designs
are woven into the existing fabric, giving a building
a new lease of life while holding on to its historic integrity.
But for now it's time to return to our house hunt.
And Stratford upon Avon is just six miles away from our second property
in the village of Wootten Wawen.
With a population of around 2,000, its active community benefits
from a delightful Post Office and a local pub.
The village church, St Peter's,
dates back to Saxon times and it's said to be the oldest in the county.
Our second property has quite a historical pedigree of its own.
This is the property I want to show you.
Wow! This has the wow factor.
That does have a wow factor.
It's a 17th century mill house.
It is a listed building.
Mmm-hmm. It would be.
Well, perhaps we wouldn't need to do too much to it.
Good. Let's look inside.
With its blue lias stone base and timber frame,
the authentic character
of this beautifully restored water mill continues inside.
It blends the old and new nicely.
-Yeah, it's nice.
-You don't mind these beams?
-No, not at all.
-They're not low.
You're not skimming the head on them, are you?
You know, it's not as big as some,
but, actually, it's really nicely planned in.
I like the way it's blended in.
There's more living space in the adjoining garden room.
So, this is actually an extension that they've put on
not so very long ago
and this went through without any problems with the Planning Office.
Did it really?
But it is in-keeping, you've got these green oak beams throughout.
Along with the utility room and handy cloakroom
tucked away off the kitchen, there's also a lovely snug
warmed by its own multi fuel wood burner, and the stairs
in the entrance hall lead up to yet another impressive living area.
-It's an exquisite room.
You've got this wonderful kind of lattice brickwork fireplace,
which is very unusual.
-I haven't seen anything like that.
I was thinking, if you had clients and you wanted
a part of your house to be open, then the downstairs could be open,
including the garden, and this could be your kind of sitting room.
But, you see, I'd share it, again.
You would? She's sharing crazy, you!
Just come and have a chat with me outside!
I think that's part of what you're giving to people,
but it's very beautiful, yeah.
Also on the first floor is one of the four bedrooms,
with bespoke oak shelving and wardrobes,
which might make a nice study.
The high quality wooden timbers are a running theme
in the three bedrooms upstairs,
one being a small double and another making a potential dressing room.
There's a snug family bathroom opposite.
This would be your bedroom.
It's not the biggest, but you're not banging your head against beams,
which is always my pet hate,
being tall, and it's just really characterful.
You're far too accommodating, you two!
I was hoping you were going to throw a strop and say, it's not enough space!
And then I could have gone, "Ah, but there's more!"
How could you throw a strop in a property like this?
The remarkable charm of this house seems to be wooing them
in spite of the bedroom sizes,
but the annex building outside could solve that problem.
The ground floor houses a double garage and a workshop,
but upstairs is a real self-contained retreat.
You've got a bedroom here with its own little en suite.
The shower room, a porthole window.
And then this is already now a beautiful sitting room cum office.
-But it would be very easy to turn this into a second bedroom.
Wouldn't it? You've got a lot of potential.
That sounds a good big tick.
Yeah, I think everything so far is ticked.
Well, wait until you see the rest of the garden, then.
The beautiful grounds have been sympathetically landscaped
with the ornamental pond
and mill pond providing the perfect setting for relaxing and meditation.
So, it's a big plot of land, more than two acres.
So, how much do you think at all costs, this dream plot?
Yes, I think you've probably eked us over our budget, but I would say 780?
I'm taking 780 from you. What do you say?
-760. Split the difference.
It's on the market for 775, so it is slightly above your budget,
but, you know, the important thing
-is that you love it, you seem to love it.
Granted, at £775,000 our listed mill house is £25,000 over budget,
but we couldn't resist showing them a property
which offers so many of the elements they were after.
Along with character in spades, it gives them a charming kitchen,
two large and adaptable reception areas with a snug,
four potential bedrooms and a ready-made annex
from which clients can enjoy the two acres of wonderful grounds.
It's also conveniently located, with Stratford upon Avon,
Warwick and Birmingham all within easy reach.
As the sun sets over the Warwickshire countryside
it marks the end of the first day of our property search.
When I started this house search I had this inkling that Simon
wasn't so enamoured of the move to the countryside
because they'd be leaving their very successful London practice behind.
But when I saw their faces after the property yesterday afternoon
I knew that the country dream could be a reality.
This makes the mystery house slightly problematic
because in many ways this is a nod back to their dream
of an urban retreat,
because it's in a very popular village, so while it offers
lots and lots of space inside,
it's a little bit further away from the isolated ideal of yesterday.
For our mystery house we're heading into the heart of a village,
a location they specifically didn't ask for.
Five miles from Stratford upon Avon lies the popular village of Hampton Lucy.
It offers a primary school for JD, who might also enjoy the
resident wildlife in neighbouring Charlecote Park,
home to the Lucy family since the 15th century.
Among the thatched and red brick properties is our mystery house,
which while sitting in a village,
still has a rural feel and offers more of a conventional home
with an adjoining practice.
This property dates back to about 1830.
It was an estate worker's cottage.
What do you think of the location and the exterior?
It's great, yeah.
It would be nice for JD to be in the heart of a little community.
Well, of course, the key is the property, so let's look inside.
Inside, its early 19th century core has been tastefully extended
at the far end of the hallway
to offer up this spectacular kitchen dining room.
-Come in, come in.
This big, big extension was put in in the '80s
which I think is really successful.
-They've done it nicely.
-Blends in with the old house.
I know you go very much on energy.
How are you feeling the energy of this place?
Yes, I like it. It flows nicely.
Leading off the kitchen is a great utility room
and a generous study with a real chill-out feel.
But we're heading to the front part of the house
where one reception room offers up a versatile living area.
And does the main sitting room opposite give them good vibes?
You really pick up that this is the older part, don't you?
What do you think, Simon?
It doesn't have the wow factor the other one had.
-I think it'd work very well, though.
-It's a lovely family home.
-Is it YOUR family home?
-We haven't finished looking at it yet.
-Ah! Canny, OK.
Let's see if they're in agreement as we head upstairs via the kitchen.
These are the new stairs that take you to the upstairs of the extension.
Which is interesting for your guests because you've got
one double room here with an en suite, very nice,
and another similarly beautifully done one here.
With an en suite.
Both with really high quality fittings and en suites.
They might need to change the colour scheme for JD in our next room.
-Maybe you could make this your wing, as it were.
So JD gets this room. There's a lovely family bathroom over there.
-OK. Sweet, very characterful room.
I'm wondering what you might think of YOUR floor - I've named it your floor.
I have allotted you this room,
in my magnanimous way.
So this is a second bedroom, effectively, but you could
make it into a little sort of private grown up sitting room.
Or meditation room.
-Or meditation room, close to the heavens.
-Very quiet. Good.
Next door is where they would sleep.
So you just topple out of bed in the morning into your meditation room,
but you do have your own en suite.
-It's cosy up here.
-It's very cosy.
-It is, isn't it?
I like the blend of the old and new as well.
There's a lot more internal space, more accommodation, in one spot,
by far the greatest amount.
But less outside space, a smaller garden.
Outside unlocks yet more potential space for their clients.
I'm almost embarrassed showing you another annexe, but this is a particularly beautiful one.
You can see it's got some reclaimed beams.
A beautiful en suite and bedroom.
It's been built very nicely and mirrors the shape of the house, doesn't it?
You could maybe make this your treatment room even.
-It'd work very well as a treatment room.
-Let's go back outside and let's talk about the whole plot.
Although the garden is well maintained with a nice terrace,
it's small and wouldn't deliver the outside sanctuary they were after.
But with the ready-made potential of the annexe as a therapy space, our mystery house is the only
property of the three we've seen where they can keep work and family life truly separate.
It's a different offering from what you originally sketched down in your wish-list.
How much do you think it costs?
Uh-huh. What do you think?
I think about 695, actually.
You're much closer, it's actually on the market for 700,000.
It's been on a few months.
And you're right, the price is high because of the location, it's a very desirable village.
But is it what you want?
Priced at £700,000, our mystery house is £50,000 under budget.
Tastefully furnished throughout, it gives them:
Along with great kerb appeal,
it's set in a very desirable village.
-Now, guys, all done?
-Yes, all done.
-Let's re-group and re-consider.
This has been a fascinating house hunt because we've been dragged in all directions -
spiritual, financial, family, public.
It'll be really interesting to see what they've decided.
If we look at the houses individually, what do you think
about the first house?
Yeah, lovely elevated position, beautiful views, lovely garden.
-But the house itself...
-It just didn't work for us.
I got the impression that you, Simon, sort of hung back a bit
from the project until you saw the Mill House where things seemed to click in.
Is that a fair assessment?
I mean, that house changed the energy for me
because I felt very at home there, and I saw the potential there.
It's undoubtedly a beautiful property, and I loved the grounds,
but when you look at the house, it is quite small.
And I'd want to be confident that, you know, we could really make
it work for us commercially, because we have to.
And the mystery house, on one level, this did offer that practical side.
I think it probably was more practical and I think they'd laid it out very well,
all the bedrooms had en suite,
and that was a very usable and workable annex.
I didn't feel at home there, really.
The heart wasn't singing there.
OK, well, whatever happens, I know it's quite a complex change for you.
I hope you do move to the country, maybe not to one of our houses,
but something that makes you both very happy.
-Yes, thank you very much.
Although it's not stuffed with ley lines, you do have to admit
that Warwickshire does have tranquil beauty and it's been interesting trying to find
the dream home for Simon and Karen here because, in many ways, they want four different things.
They want a going business concern, but also a spiritual retreat,
a place for their family, and a place for their clients.
Although I think we came close to squaring the circle
with the Mill House, I think they've got
a bit further in their voyage of discovery here in Warwickshire.
If you'd like to be inspired by the British countryside and people moving into it,
tune in next time for more Escape to the Country.
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