Jules Hudson heads to Somerset to help a couple with a budget of £400,000 find a perfect countryside retreat. He also visits Castle House in Taunton.
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Welcome to Escape To The Country. All over the UK, there are stone circles just like this one.
For centuries, scholars have debated their origins and their purpose.
Often they're surrounded in mystery and intrigue, but in this case, we know all about it,
so where are we and what does it all mean? Join me in just a few moments and I'll tell you.
'On today's show, we've been entrusted with helping two self-confessed townies
'to finally find some rural respite.'
-That's a bit special.
-'Though they struggle with the right vibes in one place...'
-I'm not getting the feel.
'..we could hit the jackpot.'
This is absolutely the real "wow"!
Today, we're in Somerset and this stone circle is in the middle of Ham Hill,
a local beauty spot towards the south of the county.
Ham Hill itself is an Iron Age hill fort.
It dates from about 800 BC,
but since it was constructed, it's also become a source for this -
gorgeous, honey-coloured, local hamstone.
Nestled in the south-west of England, Somerset is bordered by a number of counties,
including Dorset to the south-east and Devon to the south-west,
with its northern fringes meeting the Bristol Channel coast.
Part of the imposing Ham Hill is now a 400-acre country park.
Its underlying geology has provided the stone used to build much of the county's distinctive architecture.
Hinton St George is one village that exemplifies the beauty of this stone
with its warm, ochre-toned houses.
But one of the county's most iconic landmarks must be the 500-foot Glastonbury Tor
which soars to the skies with the ruins of a 14th-century church standing proudly at the summit.
This is certainly a place with something for everyone, including today's buyers,
so let's go and meet them and find out what they're after.
Retired postman Andy caught the eye of his partner Fiona in a shoe shop eight years ago.
They share this three-bedroom 1960s detached house in Haywards Heath near the south coast,
but are looking for a new stomping ground to call home.
We're both from the outskirts of London and when we moved here, this was escaping to the country,
but now it's catching up. It's almost like a suburb of London.
So, the plan is to swap suburban East Sussex for the wilds of the West Country.
We particularly want to go to Somerset or Somerset-Dorset borders
because it's an area that we've known, we've been on holiday,
it's quite close to friends and relatives.
And there's another member of their party with itchy feet.
We've got a fairly large dog, a flat-coated retriever called Toto, who we got from a puppy...
He's a big dog, so he quite enjoys walking.
He needs a lot of exercise.
With four legs catered for, there are also half a dozen four-wheelers that take top priority.
My passion, as it were, are old cars.
Although we have a garage here,
it's quite small, it's quite tight,
Obviously, when we move, we'll have to try and accommodate them,
so a bigger garage and a bigger drive and I'd be as happy as anything.
For Andy, it's classic cars, but for Fiona, it's classy cakes.
I spend most of my time in the kitchen. I love baking.
I bake many cakes. I've done pop-up tea rooms with a friend of mine.
At the moment, because I've got no pop-up tea rooms, Andy seems to be eating most of the cakes.
My must-haves are... definitely a fairly large kitchen.
The garden we've got at the moment is nice, but it's a little bit small,
so I'm thinking that I would like a larger garden,
possibly grow a few vegetables.
Both Andy and Fiona have grown-up children from previous partners,
but this move represents a defining moment in their relationship.
We've been together for eight years.
We want to go somewhere on our own terms. We want to decide where we're going to live.
Exactly. Somewhere that we both want to live, as opposed to just meeting and continuing with life as it was.
-And to incorporate retirement, so it's a huge, huge step for us.
All that's left is to find out the figure they're willing to spend on their new Somerset venture.
The budget for this move would be 375,
but if you found us an absolute dream house, we could probably stretch it to 400.
'To stay connected to their families, Andy and Fiona would like good access to the A303,
'so we'll be concentrating our house search on the pretty villages in the south of the county
'close to the border with Dorset.
'It's in a peaceful Somerset spot where we're meeting up to nail the finer details of their move.'
-Well, guys, welcome to Somerset.
You've spent quite a long time thinking about this ideal property. What's in your mind?
In my mind, roses around the door, pretty, in a nice, little village,
up to the village pub and general store, something like that, not too big,
but we are essentially townies, so we don't want to be too far from the main...
It's not a phrase we hear often, "We're essentially townies." But it's right to be honest about it.
We all need amenities, after all.
You've got a big, extended family. How many bedrooms do you need?
-Four would be nice, but we can cope with three.
Good. Let's have a think about money. How much does this whole endeavour need to cost you?
Let's head off into this "land of the summer people" while there still is a bit of sunshine. Come on.
For a top budget of £400,000, Fiona are Andy are looking for...
I'm hoping that our line-up of textbook country properties will appeal to them,
but I'll keep them guessing as to what each house is worth until the end of the tour,
then there's the Mystery House which might be a little less sweet, but a lot more substantial.
Fiona and Andy have said they wouldn't mind a bit of border-hopping,
but we're not jumping over just yet
because property number one is in the village of Rimpton right on the Somerset-Dorset border.
Rimpton is just five miles from the beautiful abbey town of Sherborne.
The streets are full of historic interest
with architecture that spans the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries,
much of which has been constructed from the distinctive, mellow hamstone.
In Rimpton, we have another property with vintage pedigree
that we've chosen as our first house.
-Oh, my goodness!
-It has all the pretty charm that I think you're looking for.
-I think you're right.
-In terms of garaging...
-I'm not seeing one.
I'm afraid you're not going to. The parking is there, but we have a solution.
About ten minutes down the road is Sparkford and in Sparkford we have located a hangar.
Now, it's a huge kind of barn
which you can garage your cars in
and it has some separate garages as well which you can lock your bits and pieces away in.
All of that is about £600 to £800 a year to rent.
That's not too bad at all.
Come on, let's have a look inside.
'Thatched fairly recently within the last seven years,
'this Grade II-listed property appears to have all the hallmarks of a classic and cosy English cottage,
'but there's a lot more to this place than immediately meets the eye.'
-Oh, wow, beautiful!
-It's a beautiful room, isn't it?
-And I love the inglenook.
-Yes, it's gorgeous. But the detailing, I love.
-The panelling there is fabulous.
-So, we're happy with the living room?
-We like it very much.
'In this main reception room, there's also a staircase that leads directly into the master bedroom
'which is one of two staircases,
'but we'll continue our tour of the ground floor where there are two study areas,
'one of which has double patio doors out to the back garden. Up next is the dining room.'
So, here we are, feeding time.
-The dining room.
-This is another nice room.
-A very good-sized room.
-Yes, another nice room.
-We've talked about Fiona's love of chocolate box. Is this you as well, Andy?
-I like it, yes.
I look beyond into the practicalities of it all,
but my reaction is it looks lovely. It's got character.
It's an overused word, but it's got it in spades.
It has. You've done very well. I like it.
Right, so far, so good. Let's have a look at the kitchen.
There you go.
-This is a nice size.
-I like the cooker.
It's the way you said "OK" that perhaps betrays your slight disappointment
at the fact that it's not...
-Not quite my big...
I like this bit where you've got the cooker.
It's whether you can work with this, given you've got the dining room next door and a huge utility room.
-Not too bad.
-Not too bad.
-Come on. There are no compromises upstairs.
-This is the other staircase.
-Look at this.
-This is the upstairs?
-Yet more character...
-Look at these boards.
-These stairs are challenging.
Now, you've got three bedrooms - one double there, really nice vaulted ceiling in it.
-Oh, that's... Yes, yes.
-Lovely guest room.
'A smaller double with exposed woodwork lies in the middle of the property
'right opposite a large family bathroom
'and a wooden staircase in the hallway goes up to an attic room.
'That leaves the rooms we have earmarked for Andy and Fiona.'
-This is like a master suite. There's a dressing room in there.
-Oh, my goodness! I like that.
There's an en-suite there for you.
And then this is your bit.
This, we like, yes.
And I love the idea that you can roll out of bed and...
Roll down the stairs, exactly, yeah. Well, let's try it.
-Let's go outside and...
-We'd have to put a guard across there.
-..have a look at the garden.
'The staircase from the master bedroom winds its way downstairs back to the main sitting room
'where we're headed for the garden.'
There's more to this than meets the eye. A vegetable patch over there currently under plastic.
-A shed, the well...
-And the pond.
-And the pond.
How much do we think property one is worth?
I think 395,000.
Within our budget, just.
-I'm mindful of the fact that there's no garage and it's attached,
so I'm going to go a bit lower and say 370.
-You are hopeful!
-Well, it's as well you are, Andy, because this could be yours for 375.
-First blood to me.
The first in our selection is a charming, listed period cottage that's brimming with character.
This was the perfect place to start. It has set the scene as to what you like, that cosy cottage feel.
But I'll drag you away because you've got two more to look at, including our Mystery House.
-So, are you ready?
Despite Somerset's tranquil landscape,
it was the backdrop for the 1685 Bloody Assizes
in which over 100 locals were sentenced to death by the notorious Judge Jeffreys
who resided here at Taunton Castle.
Within the curtilage of the building is the Museum of Somerset
and the once derelict Castle House,
one of the town's few surviving 15th-century properties that has never been open to the public,
but now in the hands of a charity-run project,
work is under way to restore Castle House to its former glory.
-Nice to see you.
'Russell Lillford from the Somerset Buildings Preservation Trust
'is overseeing the restoration of this unique building.'
I know it's associated with Judge Jeffreys, a man who has gone down in infamy in the history books.
What were the Assizes all about?
Well, we go back in history 300 years to the Battle of Sedgemoor,
the last battle fought on English soil between the Duke of Monmouth and the King's forces.
After the battle which the Duke lost, the prisoners were brought to Taunton and tried by Judge Jeffreys.
It's a beautiful room, but the idea that a man like that,
who, after committing people to be hung, drawn and quartered, would relax in here is a bit spooky.
People like "spooky"! It's got atmosphere.
'Before the Trust came to the rescue, this part of the castle was in such a poor state of repair
'that it was placed on the English Heritage At Risk Register.'
-What's this feature down here?
-This is absolutely fascinating.
It was an architectural feature the Normans used
to keep evil spirits out of churches, so it was in the church doorway.
'Restoration of this room is near completion,
'but there is still a lot more work to do at the hands of skilled craftsmen like Dean Horsley.'
-This is the real thing.
-Lath and plastering as it was done.
-Can I have a go?
-I'd love to try it.
-A lot of it is patience. Have a go, see how you get on.
-I don't think I'm going to do very well.
You've got so much to do, I'm not sure I'm helping.
'There are no quick fixes for a project like this and sticking to the ethos of "repair not replace",
'traditional methods are being used throughout,
'but it's hoped that the full restoration will soon be finished
'with plans afoot to incorporate the ground floor rooms into the museum.'
This is a lovely view of the exterior.
It certainly is.
-What about those rooms upstairs?
-They will generate enough income to maintain the building.
They'll be let to the Vivat Trust who let historic houses to the public.
-So, you can actually stay in Judge Jeffreys' bedroom?
-That really is spooky!
'Castle House has had quite a role to play in the story of Taunton's history,
'but it's great to know that that legacy is in safe hands
and will be preserved for future generations.'
'For our next destination, we're travelling east
'and popping over the Somerset border to Fontmell Magna in North Dorset.
'With documented evidence of a settlement here over 1,000 years ago,
'the historic Fontmell Magna is a highly desirable village within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
'After our success with the thatched property this morning, we're serving up another one.'
Our second property of the day - there you go.
-Very nice, another thatch.
-It's another thatch and it's also another semidetached.
-But this one does have a garage.
It's also a step forward in terms of the kitchen on offer,
as you will see when we get inside. You'll love it.
-Let's get out of this wispy snow, shall we? Come on.
'Built in the 1800s with attractive banded brick and flint, as well as timber cladding,
'this is another surprising cottage.
'Beyond the classic frontage at the back of the property
'is a contemporary oak-framed extension, given over entirely to the kitchen.'
There, that's what I was promising you.
-Now, this is much more like it.
-That's a bit special, isn't it?
-Lovely, isn't it? Green oak. It's only about five years old.
I do like, and I like the outlook as well.
Yeah. The island is moveable, so you could have a great, big kitchen table in there if you wanted to.
-It's quite exceptional.
Yeah. This is what I was saying. This bit is the wow factor.
This is the part of the property that really sells it.
What it really needs is this touch to be carried through to the rest of it.
'The modern kitchen extension has been added to the back of the property via the main hallway
'and it's inside the older part of the cottage where the layout gets more unorthodox
'with a bedroom and family bathroom down on the ground floor,
'then to the far side of the hallway are two main reception rooms.'
Now, this is the dining room, as it's currently set up.
And we've got this dual aspect going on right through the property,
these lovely cottagey windows.
It's certainly got the right components.
It continues through here into the living room.
-I mean, it's similar to property number one.
We've got the beams, lovely big inglenook.
I like it. It's just I'm not quite getting the feel.
-So, we had a "wow"...
-A "wow" in the kitchen.
-And now we're...
-I think that's probably it, the "wow" in the kitchen.
-From "wow" to "ow".
'Apart from being lost for words at the start,
'we've now lost a crucial letter and our buyers' enthusiasm.
Oh, this is a sweet little room.
-This is what we're thinking about for you.
-This is the master.
-This could work.
-It's the biggest, the squarest of the bedrooms on offer here.
-There's some built-in storage over there and through that little door in the corner is a loo as well.
It's growing on me, I think, yeah.
Are you being generous?
'This house is a tough one as it does take time to figure out both the geography and the mix of styles,
'but now to figure out the price.'
I thought we'd finish off here in the kitchen because you can see the garden from here
and it's so cold outside, it's a nicer place to do it from.
OK, let's move on to the final stage of the process which is, of course, what...?
-How much. Exactly.
I'm going to go for 410,000.
410,000, yeah. Fiona?
I'm going to go for 415.
This could be yours for 395.
-Oh! So, just under budget?
Our second property offers an intriguing mix
of 19th century history with 21st century design and features...
Well, that is it, I'm afraid. Our two houses for today are done.
-It's still snowing.
-Shall we go and have some supper?
That sounds like a wonderful idea!
'Our last stop takes us over towards the southwestern portion of Somerset
'where we're destined for the small hamlet of Sticklepath within the shadow of the Blackdown Hills.
'We continue our journey towards the edge of the Blackdown Hills on the outskirts of Combe St Nicholas.
'But our Mystery House isn't smack-bang in the middle of the village as our buyers wanted.
'Instead, we're going into the quiet countryside hamlet of Sticklepath, a good 15 minutes' walk away.'
This is our mystery property. What do you reckon?
-It looks nice from the outside.
-It looks huge.
-Yeah. It looks as though it's got beautiful views as well.
It's got amazing views and the further up the garden you get, the better they become.
-All in all, it's about an acre.
LAUGHTER That's a lot.
Bigger than the last garden, yeah.
It's by far the biggest space we've been able to find you.
-Can we go and have a look?
-I need to see this one.
'Set in an elevated position,
'this sprawling mystery property gives our buyers an alternative style
'to the traditional chocolate box they requested,
'but that's not to say this one is without character,
'so let's see what Andy and Fiona make of this design, starting at the back and straight into the kitchen.'
-Here we are.
-Come on in, Fiona.
-This is nice.
As you can see, it's all very much done.
-You know, very easy...
-You could move straight in.
-Ready to move into, absolutely, yeah.
Good. A bit more space then? Come this way.
Now, this, I think, is a real winner.
-This is huge.
-This is lovely.
-Oh, my God, look!
-That's what you call an inglenook, isn't it?
-Come on over.
-It's... This is absolutely the real "wow", actually.
-I think our Mystery House is pressing a few buttons.
-I think it's pressing all the buttons.
Let's see if we can press a few more. Come this way.
'On the ground floor, there's also a large utility room, as well as a contemporary shower room,
'but we'll head to the first floor where there's the perfect place to soak up the rural surroundings.'
Right, up here, we've got you this conservatory...
-Those views are to die for, aren't they?
-Aren't they just?
Fantastic. I can just see us sitting here, cup of coffee. Lovely.
-As long as those pictures are emerging, that informs me...
-I'll never get any work done on the car.
-I'll be here drinking endless cups of coffee.
-It informs me a house is working for people. That's great.
'If we can tear them both away from the views, the bedrooms are all on this level too.
'A bright, fully tiled family bathroom serves four bedrooms.
'There are two doubles, one of which is being used as a study,
'then a smaller single bedroom, and that just leaves the master.'
And then finally, this one.
-Oh, this is nice. This is great.
-Again it's a...
-Yeah, this is lovely.
-Built-in wardrobes, that's lovely.
It's got far more of a cottagey feel here.
It's really cosy, and waking up with that view out there,
I think really sweet, actually.
-I'm a bit concerned about the price.
-Well, you should be, yeah!
-Let's go outside and take in that garden and talk about the money, shall we?
-Come on then.
'Outside, the acre of grounds is mostly laid to lawn across various levels
'with a deck terrace and a heated swimming pool.
'What's more, there's a large garage with off-street parking
'and the whole plot is enveloped by lush Somerset countryside.'
It's gorgeous, isn't it? So, how much then is our Mystery House on the market for?
I'm going to go for 425,000.
I think, looking at it and what we're getting, probably even more.
I'm going to go for 430,000.
It was on the market at £475,000.
-It's not any more.
This is now on the market
-By 50 quid!
Where do we sign? Where do we sign?
I think this is a real steal, actually, for what you want.
The detached Mystery House is the biggest property in our selection, but still within budget.
Considering we started this morning in the snow, I love this sunshine.
-This is a bit more like it.
-With this and the house, what could be better?
-It's a perfect combination.
-I'll have to whisk you away because there's another viewing here in half an hour.
-We'd better be quick.
If you want this, you'd better start thinking.
We've explored quite a lot haven't we?
We needed to find you a lovely home and somewhere for your car collection.
-How have we done?
-I think the first house, I loved the house, roses round the door, thatch.
I think for you it was a bit more difficult.
I always had issues with the fact there was no garage
and the parking outside was very tight.
It wasn't just Somerset that was of interest. You were quite happy to go into Dorset
and there we went for our second property with that amazing kitchen.
It was beautiful, yes.
Unfortunately, the kitchen just overshadowed everything else in the house.
As we started out this morning on the snow-covered Blackdown Hills,
I was apprehensive as to what you would make of our Mystery House,
but it was all smiles, wasn't it? The sun came out.
Yeah, it just blew us away. We couldn't believe that that was the one house
and that it was within our budget.
What is it about our Mystery House that you have fallen in love with?
Absolutely everything about it. The house is good for us. It works well for us, I think.
The garden was gorgeous and those views, just unbelievable.
And to have a double garage as well, that really did put the tin hat on it.
-What happens next?
-I definitely want to go and see it again and I think it's a real contender.
-Thank you so much for finding it.
-I'll keep everything crossed for you.
Throughout this programme, you may well have caught a glimpse of this wonderful building behind me.
It is, in fact, Dillington House.
Back in the 1780s, it was home to Lord North.
He was then Prime Minister, clearly a man used to making a difficult decision or two,
and that's what we've been doing this week during our house-hunt.
He was a man who loved Somerset and this was his escape to the country.
With any luck, we've managed to find Fiona and Andy their very own too.
If only you could have that for £400,000!
Fiona and Andy were completely won over by our Mystery House
and are desperately waiting for that elusive buyer for their own home,
so they can finally make their move to Somerset.
If you would like to escape to the country in England, Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland
and need our help, you can apply online at:
Jules Hudson heads to Somerset to help a couple with a budget of £400,000 find a perfect countryside retreat. Away from the property hunt, Jules visits Castle House in Taunton to get hands-on with some unusual medieval restoration work.