Buyers are helped to find their dream homes. Alistair Appleton helps a couple of young retirees find a new home in north Devon, and goes mussel fishing on the Exe.
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This beautiful part of the countryside
was the inspiration for one of the great books of the 19th century.
It's a fictional tale of romance and dastardly deeds,
and its heroine's name became synonymous
with this lovely landscape. Find out who she was,
and where I am, in just a moment.
Today, I'll be helping a dynamic pair of young retirees
find a remote country retreat -
ad we're off to a cracking start with our first house.
If you were to design a perfect country house,
it would be like this.
And our mystery property steals the show before they even step inside.
This house is absolutely awesome.
I don't really care what it looks like inside.
It's good enough for me.
Today we're in north Devon.
And this is Lorna Doone Country,
named after the famous novel by RD Blackmore, published in 1869.
Lorna, of course, is the central character.
She is kidnapped at the beginning of the book
by the wicked Doone clan.
Then, through the twists and turns of the plot,
over years, she falls in love with a local farmer,
before the dramatic climax where her true identity is revealed.
The book was such a hit that it's transcended its fictional roots,
and become synonymous with this beautiful landscape.
In fact, it's even called Lorna Doone Country
on most modern maps.
But north Devon is more than just Lorna.
The county of Devon is England's third largest,
but one of its least populated,
with about half a million people sharing
2,500 square miles of land.
It's a county of great variety,
from the craggy headlands on the north coast,
to the deep water and natural harbours of the south coast.
Agriculture dominates in Devon,
with a workforce of approximately 25,000,
and about 11,000 farm holdings.
A majority of the county's farming production centres on livestock,
with a focus on dairy, cattle, and sheep.
In the early 19th century, the wild expanse of Dartmoor,
which covers some 368 square miles,
was home to the tin and granite quarrying trades,
which used ponies as working animals.
But now, just the ponies remain,
roaming wild and free on the moorland.
Who are the lucky couple planning to move here?
Let's meet them.
Former business consultant Dominic
and Spanish-born translator Placi,
moved into their four bedroomed house in York in 1997.
And a year later, they tied the knot at Gretna Green.
Having achieved their ambitions with successful international careers,
they've now given up work,
and are ready to start the next chapter of their lives.
This house means a lot to me, because I have decorated it all.
I've learned how to DIY through all the little projects in this house,
so I am going to be very sad to leave it, but it's time to move on.
Their pastimes are many and varied.
They'll need a lot of space for each one.
As you can see, I'm into a lot of different crafts,
like mosaic making and sewing.
Everything takes up so much space
that I would love a room just for my things,
so I don't have to tidy up every single time.
I do a lot of kick boxing,
and I train in here pretty much every day, so wherever we go,
I definitely want to have a place like this. It's a lot of fun.
The countryside is a particular draw for Placi.
It reminds her of her childhood in Spain.
We'd like to move to the country
because I grew up in a farm in Spain.
And I love working the garden,
and possibly creating a meadow,
rescuing animals and all that.
I've done animal rescuing in the past,
so I'd like to carry on doing that.
But I can't do it here, because I haven't got enough space.
After viewing over 100 properties online,
they've narrowed their search area to north Devon,
and have a good idea what they'd like us to find them.
The ideal home would have a minimum of two bedrooms,
ideally three or four.
It would be in a private valley, with a bit of land around it,
and quite a peaceful place, where there was no possibility
of any developments around it.
It would ideally be maybe five to ten miles
from the nearest town or village.
We'll consider anything that's detached,
whether it's a character property...
Yeah, we do like churches, yeah.
-People are often...
people are often put off by churches with cemeteries...
-I look after the ghosts.
-What quieter place could you get?
Well, that's plenty to go on.
As cash buyers who can move quickly, there's no time to waste.
Luckily, the finances are all set.
The budget for the property is £500,000.
If the property was £500,000, and there was renovation work
to be done to it, we would probably fund that separately.
'Dominic and Placi have decided they'd like a house in north Devon,
'so we're focusing our search in the countryside
'around Barnstaple and Tiverton.
'We've got some very impressive properties to show them.
'And I'll be asking them to guess the price before I reveal it.
'Our last property is, as ever, the mystery house,
'which I think will really push their imaginations to the limit.'
Welcome to north Devon. Here we are.
I've spared you the rain by keeping you inside.
-Neither of you have actually been to north Devon.
-We've been through it,
but we've never been to spend any time in it.
But we do have a lot of friends who have lived and worked,
or holidayed here.
When we were looking at the whole of the UK,
we simply asked for advice,
and the constant theme was, for what we want to do,
you want to go to north Devon.
The place we're living now is our 25th home,
so I think it's time we settled down.
Not much pressure on us, then, just to find the forever home(!)
The dream home! It IS a dream home.
There are lots of beautiful properties here with lots of land.
But we need to look at the houses, so let's get going.
With a budget of half a million pounds,
and some additional funds for renovation work,
Dominic and Placi are seeking a secluded property
with three or four bedrooms,
a craft room for Placi,
space for a kick boxing gym for Dominic,
and plenty land for growing plants
and keeping animals.
'We're heading towards the village of Cheriton Fitzpaine,
'which is just ten miles south of Tiverton.
'The village has many 15th century houses,
'including the longest thatched house in England.
'Amenities include a pub that's been serving the residents
'for the past 150 years.
'Our first property is a traditional farmhouse dating back to the 1850s.'
-Here we are. House number one.
-This is fabulous.
Looks like a jigsaw puzzle house.
-I think it looks beautiful,
it's got character and personality.
How do you feel about thatch? That wasn't on your wish list.
I think it gives character to the house and it's a plus, if anything.
'The inside of this property very much continues
'on the old world theme.'
Come into the main sitting room.
Oh, it's a real country feel in here, isn't it?
It's lovely. You've got the stone fireplace.
-You've got the log-burning fire.
-Are you keen on the beams?
I'm not a fan of beams, certainly dark beams,
because they tend to make a house look more claustrophobic.
I love the thick walls, and the colour of the walls.
'Also on the ground floor is a cosy snug area,
'perfect for those winter nights,
'and a definite contrast to the bright feel of the garden room.'
-Oh, that's nice!
I do like that.
This is an older extension, but it's in keeping with the beams,
but much higher, much lighter.
This sort of beams, we love.
And you can look out onto the garden and see the trees.
-This could be your craft room.
-You've got lots of light, so you don't have to squint.
'With Placi's craft room sorted,
'we're heading past the dining area, and on to the kitchen.'
The kitchen is the heart of the home.
-Oh, very cute!
-It's baby blue.
-Eggshell blue throughout.
One of my favourite colours, as you can see.
It's a very modern-looking kitchen.
We're not massive cooks, so we don't need a huge kitchen.
So, for me, this is ideal.
If we were to live in a place like this,
we would almost certainly have breakfast, have meals here.
Quaint little space.
And you've also got a shower room at the end,
and a utility cupboard with your washing machines and stuff.
-It's got bags of character.
It's ticking all the boxes.
'With the downstairs rating so highly, can the upstairs match up?
'Off the landing, there's a family bathroom with freestanding bath,
'along with three very characterful bedrooms,
'all in keeping with the pastoral charm of this house.'
Mind your head, this is a low door sill.
-Perfect for me.
-I had to duck for that one.
This is the master bedroom. What d'you think?
It's not huge, but it's enough for us.
We don't have a lot of things, so...
I think it's lovely. I like the wood cupboards.
It's quirky. I think it's exactly what we're looking for.
-And amazing views. Look. You can wake up and look at the horses.
-Look at that!
-Oh, my word. Look at the horses!
-That's beautiful, isn't it?
'For our buyers, the outside is as important as the interior,
'due to Placi's dreams of creating a meadow,
'and keeping rescued animals.
'I think she'll find there's more than enough space
'for all of that out here.
'We might be able to discover somewhere for Dominic
'to indulge in his sporting pastimes, too.'
Here's your kingdom of the rescued animals.
Three quarters of an acre. Is it big enough?
-It's big enough, isn't it?
And, behind you, you may have noticed this discreet building,
which is a brand-new wooden timber structure.
-But this is specially designed as a...
-Kick boxing. Excellent.
How much d'you think it all costs?
Well, I'm going to opt for 499.
I'm going to say 450.
-To be honest, this property's a little over your budget.
-It's on at 525.
-But they're very keen to move,
so why not offer 500?
'So, at £525,000,
'but with offers potentially considered
'around their maximum budget of 500,
'this property meets many of the demands
'on their wish list.
'It has three bedrooms,
'a bright room that's ideal for Placi's craft work,
'gym space for Dominic's kick boxing,
'plenty of land for rescuing animals,
'and gardening adventures.'
-I'm going to have to tear you away, I'm afraid.
-We've got another
-property to look at.
-Brilliant! Let's go.
With its source on Exmoor,
the River Exe flows south through Devon before eventually
reaching the Exe Estuary on the county's southern coast.
The estuary here is a Site of Special Scientific Interest,
but it's also a busy fishing harbour, with mackerel and bass
being the main catch for anglers off Exmouth Beach.
Setting a course through the carefully protected environment
is Miles Blood Smyth, who's been a mussel farmer since 1996.
Is there something particularly good about the Exe in terms of mussels?
I think...the biggest thing with mussels is protection.
They're physically protected because it's enclosed. So although it gets
a bit wild in here it's nothing like out to sea.
'The boat used by Miles and his team is a French oyster barge,
'which hovers over the seabed and uses water pressure
'to knock the mussels off the mud and up onto their elevator.
'It's the antithesis of the invasive process of dredging
'and helps to protect the sensitive environment of the Exe Estuary.
'Over a year, Miles handles around 400 tonnes of mussels,
So what we want to do now is, before we put it in the cleaner
to clean all the barnacles and everything off,
we pick out anything that's still alive, any of the cockles or crabs
or anything, and they go back in.
It's a completely natural process. Then it goes through the grader.
So we want a 60mm mussel, nicely clean, shiny and black,
no barnacles on it, that'll be absolutely perfect and ready for
the chef, so with confidence,
you can just stick it in the pan and eat it.
So, with a successful catch, we head to the floating cafe for lunch.
-There we go, gents.
-Get stuck in.
The great thing with mussels is they provide their own cutlery.
Have you eaten better or fatter mussels than that before?
Of course not, Miles.
-They're really good.
-That's the Exe for you. Fantastic.
Now it's time to return to our house hunt.
We've travelled three miles southeast of Barnstaple
to the village of Landkey,
home to around 2,300 residents.
It has a 15th-Century church,
along with the usual amenities of pubs, school, and a post office.
Set in an idyllic edge of village location,
our second property is a former barn, converted in the 1990s.
-So, house number two.
-This is a very different offering.
This is the house,
but, most excitingly,
this is your land.
Oh, my goodness!
The paddock right down to the trees where the river is.
-That's a fantastic view, isn't it?
A river runs through it, along the edge of it.
-How much land is there for this?
-Five acres? Wow!
What are you first impressions?
I like it! I like the remoteness of it.
I like all the woodlands coming up.
Very magical. And I like the paddock right in front.
-There's a lot of positives there.
-When can we move in?
Maybe you should look at the house first!
'The huge amount of land certainly fits the bill for Placi
'and Dominic, but can the inside of this conversion do the same?'
-Ooh, very big room!
-Great big room.
It's a much more modern house,
but it still has a lot of character.
I like it. Yeah, I like the open space and the fact that
it opens up to the garden.
If we step down here,
you can see how everything is built around your view.
-Now, that's exceptional, isn't it?
You can see the whole valley from here. I can see why they built this.
I can even see myself sitting here, even in the rain!
There's not a lot of space downstairs. There's this big space,
then there's the kitchen space the other side.
'The kitchen isn't the most important room for these two,
'but I think they'll appreciate the social aspect of this one.'
Here we have the kitchen - much more open plan.
This is a big kitchen. It's certainly bigger than ours.
-Yes, it is.
-Again, it's more modern than the last one.
Breakfast bar here. I like the fact there is a lot of light coming in.
And then you've got French doors
that go out to a nice courtyard terrace at the back.
'Upstairs, off the landing, are four rather generously-sized bedrooms,
'one of which is currently being used as a study,
'not just for the cat.
'There's a bright family bathroom, but we're heading
'for the biggest room, which has an en-suite shower room attached.'
Again, the whole width of the building.
It's a nice surprise, with the sloping roof.
It's quite unusual, isn't it?
It's also unusual to have the windows so low down.
I do think this would be perfect for Placi's crafts
and things that she does like that.
-There's so much light.
-Yeah, the light.
-And the view!
To inspire you.
'With the bedroom confirmed as Placi's craft area,
'we need to find a space for Dominic's kick boxing gym.
'So we're heading outside to show him what's on offer.'
-This is big!
-This is big.
It's a huge iron-framed garage.
It's perfect size. It might need a little bit of work,
but it certainly could make a really nice place to train, yeah.
A hidden gem!
'A hidden gem indeed, but what does it all cost?'
-Let's get a little view of the house, and let's talk money.
How much does five acres of prime north Devon countryside,
and a house, obviously, and a big garage, cost?
Well, it is very impressive, especially the land and the view.
The property itself I was less attracted to,
so I'm actually going to say less than last time.
I'm going to say 450.
And I'm going to say 410,000.
This is on at £50 under £550,000.
-I wasn't expecting it to be over 500,000.
It might be way over their budget, at a fraction under £550,000,
but this property does have plenty to offer...
-Well, that's our lot for the day.
-Shall we go and digest all that we've seen?
As dusk falls over the north Devon countryside,
it marks the end of the first day of our property search.
We've travelled nine miles south of Barnstaple,
close to the village of High Bickington.
The village is situated at the top of the River Taw valley,
and has a pub, post office and a local shop.
Set within extensive grounds,
our mystery property is an 18th-Century coach house conversion
that has lots of potential,
but could test our buyers' desire
to carry out renovations to the absolute limit.
-Whoa! Look at the view!
-That's a nice view.
-Oh, my word!
-That's the best view we've seen so far.
-Now we're talking!
I'm glad, because this house has it.
-It's a project.
But I'm glad you love the view
cos, really, it's all about the view
and what you two are going to do with it.
-It needs your special touch,
-particularly yours, Placi...
-OK, I'm happy to go with that.
..to create something wonderful with it.
-But there are a few complications about this property.
One is that it's going to need a lot of your imagination
to really bring it to life, I think.
And two is that this part, the stables,
which is the most substantial part,
is, at the moment, two self-contained flats.
-We could work with that.
-Great. The house is impressive.
It looks like it needs a little bit of work,
and that's really what I'd be interested to have a look at,
-but it's got character, it's got style.
-I like it.
This house is absolutely awesome and I don't really care
what it looks like inside. It's good enough for me.
'While Placi is very positive before she's even seen it,
'I'm wondering whether Dominic will have the same feeling once he views
'the inside of this property.'
Oh, my word! Look at the floor!
-That's a grand entrance.
-It's a grand entrance.
-And these are the original Victorian stable tiles.
-It is an unusual space because it's not obviously a home.
Could you imagine making it homely?
You could turn it into a marvellous family home,
And you've only seen the first room.
I can't wait to see what you think about the rest of the rooms.
Oh, the floor continues.
The floor does continue.
And here's your bigger room.
-This would have been where the carriages came.
It's a really big room, so that's nice.
It does feel quite dark in here,
even though there's a lot of windows, so it's something
we'd have to lighten up a little bit more.
Sorry, I just spotted the old sewing machine.
My great grandmother had one of those and I still have it.
It's a sign. You have to buy the house!
Yes, that's actually the third sign I've seen.
-What were the other two?
-The first one is I have a Castilian sign
-that says "The Old Coach House".
-So it's literally a sign?
I've got exactly the same table that we've seen in the other room.
Oh, it's spooky now.
-And then my great grandmother's sewing machine.
-Is it haunted, as well?
'Well, actually, I can't promise them a ghost.
'But there is a good-sized kitchen which could lift their spirits.
'However, I'm showing them the upstairs,
'which has a small boxroom,
'and three other bedrooms of varying sizes,
'some lighter than others.
'They all flow off a landing with a long corridor
'which leads to the family bathroom, ripe for renovation.
'But we're heading for the fourth bedroom.'
This room used to be one huge room that's been divided into two.
It's a bit dark and spooky.
It's like walking back in time.
So you've got four rooms here, but remember, you've also got all the
rooms in the front of the house and the stable, as well,
so there's probably seven or eight bedrooms, all told.
You have to classify this as the mystery house of all mystery houses!
Aw, thank you! I was a bit worried that it might be a bit overwhelming
for you, cos there's a lot to do.
No, it's not overwhelming. I love it.
There is, but there's an awful lot of history here,
-a lot of nostalgia.
-The bones of the property are amazing.
-It's really exciting.
-# She's excited! #
I'm so excited.
'And if Placi's singing the praises of the interior, I think both
'of them will be thrilled by the potential of what's outside.'
-Here you can see,
this is all extra agricultural buildings tacked on the back,
-but with amazing stone and brickwork.
Here we have another very charming outhouse and, behind it,
another vast set of agricultural buildings.
So what are your thoughts about this?
That's the rescue centre, isn't it?
I love you! You get it all so quickly.
Horses, cows, kittens.
-Does this inspire you to have visions beyond?
'With Placi still enthused by this project of a house,
'Dominic might still need a bit of convincing. I'm hoping that
'the breathtaking views
'around the back of this property will be just the thing to do it.'
That's the best part of the whole trip, that view.
-You've got the river down here.
-The River Taw, yes,
that flows through. That's, sadly, not quite your land,
but this property comes with 11 acres of land.
-Wow, that's good!
It's a LOT of work on the outbuildings.
How much do you think it's going to cost to start it off?
Well, this couldn't be within budget,
-so I'm going to say £600,000.
-I see the state that the property's in,
so I think it's going to be well below budget.
But I'm then thinking about the cost of renovation.
I'm going to say something like £350,000.
-Oh, that's quite a spread.
-Oh, a big difference. Yes.
Well, split the difference.
It is exactly on-budget. It's £500,000.
So, right at the top end of their budget of £500,000,
this project offers a real challenge.
They have said they could come up with extra funds
for renovation work if needed and, with that in mind,
this property is an excellent proposition.
It has four bedrooms,
plenty of space inside for Placi's crafts,
extensive outbuildings, one of which could be
renovated and turned into a gym,
and 11 acres of land,
so easily enough space for all those rescued animals.
Ah. How are the views from up there?
-Oh, they're absolutely gorgeous.
-Good, good. I'm going to take you
away from the mystery house for some decision making. Come with me.
'It's time to find out if Dominic and Placi have come to a decision
'about treating themselves to a north Devon hideaway.'
It's been lovely showing you around north Devon.
The sun's come out, which is very nice.
Can you remember back to the very first one?
-It was perfect, wasn't it, in so many ways?
-That sounds pretty positive.
-Ready to move in, nothing to do.
That was, as you say, one that you could move straight into.
Obviously there wasn't much space for you to put your mark on it.
-The second house,
much more potential for putting your mark on it.
What were your thoughts about that?
I liked that one because of the five acres.
It gives you more flexibility to have larger animals, maybe.
Er, and you could put your mark on the house.
The second one was a little bit overshadowed by the first.
The first had a lot more character.
The second, we loved the land and the view,
but obviously it had a lot of work to do to beat the first property,
in terms of style and character, which we both liked.
-And it was expensive.
-And it was over budget, as was the first one!
The mystery house was right on budget, although it was complicated
in all sorts of other ways.
-What are your thoughts about that?
-What a cracker!
That's all I'm going to say! It's absolutely fantastic,
but, obviously, the renovation costs may be too high.
It's just a question of, do we have enough money to renovate it?
It was an amazing house.
It really was a head-and-the-heart type of property.
Did the heart or the head win out?
What are your thoughts about what happens next?
Yeah, we need to talk about it, seriously.
We're very good at stepping back and saying, "OK, right,
"let's discuss the emotions, let's discuss the practicalities."
You know, can we afford it?
So do you think that the mystery house is something that
-you could seriously proceed on?
-Yeah, I think so. Yeah.
More than the first house?
I think they're both worth investigating further.
Excellent. Well, I do hope that your cool, analytical stepping back
doesn't dampen the enthusiasm that you've both shown and that we see
-you very soon here in north Devon.
-Oh, thank you very much!
Considering that Placi and Dominic
had never actually been to north Devon,
I think we can claim this as a great triumph.
They may well have turned down 100 properties on the internet
but here, in situ,
I think they may have slightly fallen in love with the place,
and I'm crossing my fingers for the mystery house.
I really want to see what Dominic's business brain does with that place.
If you've been intrigued by our adventures in rural Britain
then make sure you tune in next time for more Escape To The Country.
Well, with the mystery property,
Dominic's head won out over Placi's heart,
and so their north Devon house hunt continues.
And if you would like to escape to the country in Northern Ireland,
Scotland, Wales or England, and you need your help,
why not apply online at...
Alistair Appleton helps a couple of young retirees find their dream home in north Devon. They have a budget of £500,000 and are happy to take on a renovation project, but the mystery house almost leaves them speechless. While in the county, Alistair takes to the River Exe for a unique spot of mussel fishing.