Property series. Jules Hudson and Nicki Chapman showcase the county of Oxfordshire, looking back on two house searches with two couples there.
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Hello and welcome to a very special Escape To The Country.
Today we're returning to two diverse property searches in one county.
Throughout the programme we'll be immersing
ourselves in our chosen location, and giving you
plenty of advice along the way about buying property in the area.
Today's county is home to a city which was once
the capital of England during the English Civil War.
Find out where in just a moment.
Today we're looking back on two house-hunts.
My property-hungry pair
were swapping the slopes of Switzerland for the rolling hills
of England, in what they hoped would be their final move.
And their prospective homes needed a little lateral thinking.
-It's a nice space.
-And this is definitely more manageable.
While my couple were moving on
and up, as they searched for their first family home.
But emotions ran high as the journey to a place of their own
didn't always run smoothly.
I'm almost disappointed by how much I like this house
and the fact that it is attached to a neighbour.
Today we're focusing on the county of Oxfordshire.
Now, during the English Civil War, Oxford housed
the court of King Charles I in 1642 when he was expelled from London.
And as a county, it's always been popular with
buyers on Escape To The Country. Not just because it's beautiful,
but also because of its fantastic transport links into the capital.
In fact, the new Oxford Parkway station is due to open soon,
which will get you into London in less than an hour.
It also has great road links too, with the M40
connecting Oxfordshire with London and Birmingham.
But when I think of the county, I also think of the Cotswolds,
and in particular a town called Chipping Norton.
Very lively, beautiful architecture and steeped in history.
So, if you want amazing property in a wonderful setting, this really
is a county you should look at.
Situated in southern England,
landlocked Oxfordshire is bordered by six counties, including
Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Berkshire.
The Chiltern Hills make a striking appearance
to the south of the county, and are a
designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty,
covering 324 square miles over four counties.
Oxfordshire's home not only to archetypal English meadows and
fields, but also to the world-famous and prestigious Oxford University.
The region is also home to charming towns like Burford,
with honey-coloured Cotswold stone buildings lining the streets,
and Wallingford, which has the tranquil River Thames running through it.
So whether it's country walks, a dose of culture or day trips,
the region offers diverse country living
away from the hubbub of busy city life.
Oxfordshire does seem to have it all, doesn't it, Jules?
Rolling landscapes, classic English villages and,
of course, right at its heart,
that extraordinary city which brims with culture and history.
And its proximity to London has always helped fuel the property market.
Yeah, definitely. But there's a premium that you have to pay for that.
The average price of a detached home in Oxfordshire is around £443,000.
-That's a lot, isn't it?
That's about 50% above the national average,
making it one of the most expensive counties in the country.
Well, in the last year alone, there's been a phenomenal rise -
some 11% on property prices in the heart of Oxford itself,
and that's also radiated out to the surrounding countryside.
There, prices have gone up by some 6%.
-So it does cast its shadow right across the region.
But I suppose if getting to London isn't an issue,
I would suggest stretching your search area,
perhaps towards the west, towards Gloucestershire or
North Warwickshire, because then you'll get all the benefits of living
in the country, but you'll make your money go just that little bit further.
Indeed you will. But both of our couples were determined that Oxfordshire
would be the county for them.
So let's remind ourselves of my couple.
Jill and Bob have recently returned to the UK
after 13 years living and working in Switzerland.
They've been in this rented apartment in north-west London, which they're
using as a base whilst they search for a new home, for eight months.
We love living in Hampstead because of the amenities here
and the bookshops and the cafe culture.
Hampstead is really beautiful, so we're getting spoiled.
We sort of love the city, but we don't want to live in the city.
Environmental engineer Bob is moving into semi-retirement.
He's spent much of his working life abroad, and he and Jill
met in Derbyshire, where they both grew up, just before he
was due to set off to the other side of the world, over three decades ago.
My first job was in South Africa, and I had a leaving party and my
next-door neighbour brought Jill down to the party, so that's where we met.
31 years ago they tied the knot, and they have two grown-up daughters.
Their family couldn't be happier that they're back on home soil,
and Jill and Bob don't want to be too far from either their daughters
in London or other family members in Derbyshire.
We're looking forward to buying a house and settling
and putting down roots in the UK, specifically Oxfordshire.
Oxfordshire, for me, is easy access to family in Derbyshire and London.
It's countryside, it's beautiful in that area.
And it has all the things we want.
And after so long away from home,
the couple are also looking forward to staying put.
We've moved a lot of times.
Switzerland has been the most consistent, stable
part of our living together.
We've been married for 30 years and we've lived in 16 houses.
It took Jill and Bob four years to find their house in Switzerland,
and a lot of hard work to turn it into their dream home.
-We totally renovated it.
-From top to bottom.
We're not frightened of a project. Big projects.
'Jill and Bob are happy to consider moving anywhere in Oxfordshire,
'so we have the freedom to cast our net far and wide.
'But before we do, I'm meeting them in this green county to go
'over the finer details of their proposed move.'
So what is your perfect home going to look like?
Well, we like traditional, we like old buildings, but we like
to renovate or for it to have a modern feel on the inside.
I want a fabulous kitchen, open-plan,
and we want it to be the hub of the house.
Patio doors onto a fabulous terrace, and great views.
That's what I would ideally like.
So what would be a real no-no?
-Really low ceilings.
-Beams. Beams and low ceilings.
And obviously you've come back to be closer to family, they're
going to come and stay, so how many bedrooms do you think you would need?
I think four, maybe five, depending on if there's a study.
If there's a study, then we need fewer bedrooms.
And what about you, Bob?
I've done woodwork at stages in my life, earlier on at school,
and it's something I've really enjoyed,
so if we could have a workshop or something to escape to
in the garden, that would be fantastic.
I like where you're coming from. That's my kind of house too.
Give us an idea of how much you are going to spend on this?
We're aiming for £800,000, but we can go a little bit higher,
so up to a million if it's absolutely perfect
-and we don't have much to spend or do on it after that.
-All right then.
The property market here is fabulous, as you probably know,
and we've got three properties to show you to get this move
-underway to find what you hope will be your final home. Shall we?
Come on, let's go.
Jill and Bob have a very generous budget
but they have chosen one of the most costly regions in the UK to
live in, so I hope we can find them what they want.
They're not keen on cottages or beams,
but they're happy to take on a project, as they've
done in the past, and they're hoping for four or five bedrooms.
Jill would love a large kitchen-diner with doors to the garden,
which can become the hub of their home.
Bob is looking for a workshop to call his own, and they would both be happy
to be close to a centre with shops, eateries and access to culture.
We've found three distinctive properties,
one of which could be Jill and Bob's 17th and last home together.
And once they've toured each one, we'll let them in on its price.
The last stop will be the Mystery House,
and today it will require a very good imagination, so, if our couple
remain open-minded, this could be the home they've been dreaming of.
For our first offering,
we're heading slightly west of the centre of Oxfordshire to the
town of Witney, just under 12 miles west of Oxford.
Witney is a thriving market town,
providing locals with a great centre, packed with a variety of shops
in its busy and attractive high street of stone buildings.
Just a ten-minute walk from the centre of town is our first property,
a grand, detached house located in a quiet cul-de-sac.
-So this is it.
-Wow. It's pretty.
-Yes, it's very nice.
And this one, really, I think is all about location and those transport
links you need to get into London and, of course, up to Derbyshire.
-It looks lovely.
-It's got a nice old feel to it.
It's looking good.
'This house was built from reconstituted stone
'around 34 years ago and extended in 2001
'to create this bright, spacious home.
'Through a large reception hall is a very large living room
'which opens onto the garden.'
-Wow. This is nice.
-But it does have a beam.
-It does have a beam.
It's got a nice open feel. I like this.
Behind you, you've got what the current owners
use as their winter snug.
I get the feeling that this is the sort of style that would appeal.
-Yes, it is.
-It is nice. It is very nice.
Even though the room perhaps isn't huge,
but it has an airiness to it, which I like.
'Also on the ground floor there's a room which would be
perfect as a study, and at the back of the house is a large
kitchen-diner, also with access to the garden.
-This is nice.
-It is nice.
-Yeah, I could hack this.
-Come and have a look at it. It's huge.
It goes on round this corner.
You've got the central island, as it were.
-This is lovely, really nice. I like it.
-Bright as well.
-It's just super.
-The bones of it, it's nicely done.
I really like the window feature there, that's beautiful.
It does look really good.
'Off the kitchen is a larder and next to that
'there's a utility room and also a cloakroom.
'Moving upstairs, there are five bedrooms,
'including two large doubles, both flooded with light, and there
'are also two comfortable single bedrooms,
'one currently a bright study.
'Plus there are two good-sized bathrooms.'
And then this is yours.
-Good feeling of space.
-Yes, I like it.
It also has that rather special en suite. Go and have a look at that.
-Yeah, like it.
-Yeah. There's a sort of very European flair to this.
Also, we have a giant bed, so that's important to us
because our bed has been with us for 30 years, so it has to...
-Time for a new one.
-No, no, it's not.
-A bed with history.
'Well, Jill and Bob definitely seem taken with this property,
'I'm just not quite sure how much.'
I love the double aspect.
Well, that's what this is all about.
'As we move outside to the pretty garden with its sun terrace
'plus two small outbuildings, one of which could be transformed into
'a workshop for Bob, they can really take in the property from the back.'
-That's the garden, is it big enough?
-It's definitely big enough.
Yes, it is.
So, in terms of the price, you've got 800 to a million to spend.
Where does this one come on the scale of things?
For me, I would say £825,000.
I would say a little bit more than that. I would say 849.
849? That's very precise.
-The thing about this one is that this is under £800,000.
It's on at £775,000.
This fantastic detached stone house
is, surprisingly £25,000 under the
bottom end of Jill and Bob's budget.
So, coupled with the fact that the
house barely needs anything
doing to it, it would leave them
a great amount of cash to enjoy
in Bob's spare time,
as he moves into semi-retirement.
It's got the number of bedrooms
they were hoping for,
plus a study, and the inside space
is bright and airy,
with a kitchen-diner, ideal to take on the role of the heart of the home.
There are also not one,
but two rooms opening onto the garden
and there's even scope to give
Bob his workshop.
When I first saw the house I was impressed.
It has a traditional look to it, but it has a new feel.
Traditional, new. So it suits what we like.
I think coming into the house, it comes into its own.
It's a really bright space, very liveable.
I think it's homely and I could live here.
Good. Well, that's it.
Our first house tour is done and dusted.
-Have we spoilt you?
-Yes, you have. Great start.
But, also comfortably under budget.
It's lower than expected. I thought it was going to be higher.
-I think we'll spend it all by the end of the week.
Back in Witney, in the heart of the Oxfordshire Cotswolds,
one business has been producing a very British head attire
for over 240 years.
One of the oldest hat manufacturers in the UK,
the company has passed through eight generations of the
Christy family before being sold on the 1960s.
It's now owned by a London-based department store.
It's makes headgear for not only for your man
and woman in the street, but also the rich and famous, and even royalty.
At its peak,
there would have been up to 3,000 workers on the production floor.
Today there are just 20, and managing director Steve Clarke has
worked here for just over two years.
Look at this! A hatter's paradise.
Absolutely, an adult playground.
The range of styles here is extraordinary.
Everything from classic country to very much man or woman about town.
And I notice over here, even the police get a look in.
Indeed. We have the national contract for making police helmets.
-That's a lot of helmets.
-That's a lot of helmets.
Now, it's hard for us to imagine these days,
but there was a time when a man or a woman was considered not
-dressed correctly if they weren't wearing a hat.
The owner of the manor wore the top hat, the head gardener wore the bowler,
and all of the rest of the gardening team wore flat caps. So the whole
household in the 19th century were all wearing some form of headwear.
Well, not to be left out, I've got a taste for my own bespoke hat.
Now, what would a smart man about the country have adorning his head?
An Epsom hat, apparently.
So, Jules, this is the start point. This is a fur felt hood.
It's made from rabbit fur. It's felted in Portugal.
It's a by-product, so everything is used from the animal, and a
chemical addition enables it to felt. And it has the natural properties
of the rabbit fur, so fairly waterproof and a beautiful feel.
So that's how my Epsom is going to start.
That's how it starts,
but by the end it will be a beautiful Epsom for your head.
Kevin is the guy who is going to
take you through and show you how it's done.
'Kevin has been working in the factory for 34 years,
'and it's his job to hand make felt hats from the original blocks.
'Over 50,000 are made here every year.'
Well, the first job we do, Jules,
is put it into this clamp and clamp the brim down.
The next thing we do is we give it some steam
so we can stretch that brim.
You're almost cooking it, aren't you?
-I love it.
-It gets very hot in there.
-I'll bet it does.
'This machine is over a century old,
'and Kevin is making my hat just like they did all those years ago.
'The felt absorbs the moisture
'and as it gets softer, the brim can be stretched.
'Then, a wooden sizing block is placed in the crown of the hat,
'which will make it the perfect size for me.'
Push it right down, bring this clamp up.
You just pull that down, the lever.
That's going to force the block into the felt,
so if it's not big enough, it's my fault.
Yeah, that's right.
'Next, the hat is cooled and dried.
'It then goes into a press which sets the crown
'and gives it the Epsom's distinctive characteristics.'
There you are.
-Your initial shape and your hat.
-Look at that!
My hat really is taking shape.
'What an unbelievable labour of love to produce my tailor-made hat.
'It goes through 45 processes in total, that include shaving,
'waxing and curling before it has a quick turn on the rounder again,
'a buff with a brush and a blast of steam. I think we may be done.'
There you are, Jules. That's your finished hat.
Thank you very much indeed.
But there is one final thing that seems to be missing.
And that's a little band.
We'll have to go upstairs to see the girls and they'll finish it off for you.
'A sweatband is stitched to the inside and the ribbons attached to
'the outside and, after it's lined, I'm good to go.'
Wow, the famous box.
Is it all done?
-There you are, Jules.
-Thank you very much indeed.
As the song says, wherever I lay my hat, that's my home.
For our second property, we're journeying nine miles west,
to the village of Fulbrook.
It's just over 20 miles west of the centre of Oxford
and just a mile north of the picturesque town of Burford.
The main street of Burford sits on a steep hill
with beautiful views of the Oxfordshire countryside from the top.
Cotswold stone buildings line the streets with a delightful mix
of artisan shops, restaurants and pubs.
A six-minute drive or 15-minute walk takes us
from bustling Burford to our second house.
This period property is perfectly situated within minutes of open countryside.
All right then, Jill and Bob, here we are. This is it.
Property number two. What do you think?
That's a very quiet laugh.
It's old. It's definitely old.
It really is old. A lot older than our first property.
It is effectively a barn conversion, but to be perfectly honest,
it's unlike almost any other I have seen
because you've got the outside wings of the barn
and then the central bit has been removed to create this courtyard.
It doesn't look like a barn conversion at all.
'This unusual barn, built from Cotswold stone, dates back to the
'17th century on the outside, but was converted to a family home in 1982.
'And off the entrance hall is a sitting-room.'
I wouldn't have described it as cottagey, more barny.
-Yes, no, it's cottagey.
-This is not your principal living room.
Don't worry about space.
This is but one of four reception rooms you've got to play with.
The main event is though here. Come and look at this.
'On the other side of the hallway
'and down a few stairs is another huge reception room.
'This one has a sloped ceiling
'and skylights, as well as doors to the garden.'
Now, to me, this doesn't feel that cottagey.
-No, it doesn't.
-This definitely feels more barnlike.
-Yes, I like this.
-I love the wooden floor.
-It's a great space.
It's a lovely living space.
It's a mixture of garden room, living room, dining room.
It's light and airy, but there's a certain elegance to it,
which I quite like.
'Thankfully, this fabulous bright room has got
'Jill and Bob back onside, and just next door to it is a
'farmhouse-style kitchen. But is it good enough to be the heart of Jill's home?'
-No, it's not doing it for me.
-I thought we'd turned a corner for a moment.
-Bob, help me. What's happened?
-Well, I think...
If we could knock that wall out.
..Jill likes it open.
Because I like to be far more connected to the living space
-when I'm cooking.
-Yes. OK. What if you put the kitchen next door?
That is a thought.
See, it's really interesting.
I had really high hopes for this.
I thought, of all our properties, this is the one you're going to love.
I must admit, I love that space and I like the olde-worlde aspect to it.
-You're pretty connected.
-It's worth thinking about.
-In a bit of time it will grow. We've got to see.
-You see, he's being an optimist.
-I'm the realist.
THEY ALL LAUGH
'Also on the ground floor, there's a utility room, cloakroom,
'a snug and a garage-cum-workshop.
'Upstairs, the unique layout continues with a long landing linking the two ends
'of the barn, leading to another living area. This time, a library.'
-I love it.
-Jill's library. It's really nice.
It's unexpected. Huge space, this.
I mean, it could be a bedroom, it doesn't have to be. But I love it.
No, I like this.
'Also on this floor there's a family bathroom,
'a character double bedroom and a quirky single,
'both linked by a dressing area.
'And above on the second floor are two bedrooms in the eaves.
'But back on the first floor...'
Across this lovely gallery is the main bedroom.
-That's the story of this house.
-Yes, it is.
-It's all interesting.
-You've got an upstairs mezzanine, which gives you a dressing area.
This is the master because it's got the en suite.
Is this still a grower, Bob?
Yes, it's growing. I love the landing that connects everywhere.
'This house has certainly got Jill and Bob thinking,
'so let's see what they'll make of the outside space.
'An attractive terrace and garden laden with fruit trees and flowers.'
As would be fitting with such an unusual house, the garden is
also fairly unusual in its layout because nothing here is conventional.
Long and thin, but with a slightly exotic feel over here,
and a very Cotswold feel over there.
So, the price.
For me, about £850,000.
I would say a bit higher - 870.
You are right to be higher,
but I'm afraid for this one you're going to have to go a lot higher.
It's Burford, it's a big house and it's the Cotswolds.
This 17th century barn conversion may be on the costly side,
but it is £50,000 below the
top end of Jill and Bob's budget.
The slightly hefty price tag comes
with its hugely desirable
But it is a great space
for entertaining, with its various
reception rooms and it's got
the five bedrooms they're after.
It's also got a great garage,
providing an ideal work space for Bob.
And it's got the advantage of being
close to stunning countryside,
but it's also got great access
to the transport links, shops,
eateries and culture
Jill and Bob are after.
So your couple liked the first property,
-but weren't too sure about the second, were they?
I think with the second property they'd really underestimated
the draw of the Cotswolds.
I mean, you do always pay a little bit more to be there
cos it's so popular and so gorgeous.
But when you consider over the last five years prices have gone up
there on average by 10% or so,
the numbers do go up and up.
Yeah, it's quite a hike, isn't it?
-It's just as well they had a generous budget.
Well, my couple were also hungry for a slice of country life.
Let's meet them again.
Air pilot Nick and his cabin crew wife Catherine have been married for four years
and have an 18-month-old daughter, Charlotte.
They were six miles up when they first laid eyes on each other.
We met on a flight to Houston, I think it was.
-It was Houston, yes.
I thought, "Hmm, pilot."
But he turned out to be OK.
They've spent the last five years renting this detached house
in Horley, Surrey, close to Gatwick,
and the estate is home to many other airport workers too.
Here, you're always getting the sound of aircraft flying
overhead day and night, you've also got neighbours who are working
shifts, so they're up and down all hours of the night as well.
It doesn't make for a very peaceful homecoming after a long work trip away,
and they're planning a move to the country for a quieter life.
Home is very much a haven.
When you've been up all night after a long-haul flight,
to actually come home and put your bag down
-and have a very comfortable life is nice.
Space, and peace and quiet, I think would be
the two things that we'd need in a future house.
And it's toddler Charlotte who is the main consideration in their move.
Having Charlotte now makes it all the more important to move on
and get her settled in an area, rather than getting her
comfortable here and moving on years down the line.
That's right, set down roots.
Nick and Catherine want their new home to be no more than a
two-hour commute from work, and have decided
they want to call Oxfordshire home.
I've got family in Gloucestershire in the Cotswolds
and we've got friends Oxford way.
It's just a lovely part of the world.
Our buyers are both excited about the move
and are looking forward to having a place of their own.
It will be the first house we've bought together as well.
It will be nice as well, because we've only live in rented
accommodation, to actually have a house we can actually put our own stamp on.
'So they're dreaming of a tranquil life
'that's not a million miles from work, and moving to the Oxfordshire
'countryside along the M40 corridor works well for them.
'Prices in this area are high, but they're hoping that
'in Oxfordshire they'll find the right family home.
'But first I'm going to meet them to hear more
'about their proposed country move.'
So here we are in Oxfordshire. Welcome.
What are you looking for with this move, Catherine?
I would like to find a nice village, be part of the community,
because Nick goes away quite a lot, so for me
it's finding somewhere for Charlotte and I to fit in.
So in an ideal world, we're going to find you that dream
perfect house, but quite close to work. So where is base for work?
Heathrow for myself and Gatwick for Catherine.
This is the first time you two will have bought a property together.
Do you think you are going to be united?
-I think our dream property we would be completely in agreement on.
-Yeah, very much so.
But compromises are something that are going to be an interesting feature, shall we say.
-How many bedrooms?
-A nice garden.
-A nice, big garden, yeah.
I'm going to ask you, livestock?
I would quite like to have animals at some stage,
if we have enough land.
-I've always fancied having a cow, for some reason.
You really are sold on that country dream, aren't you?
-Wonderful. Let's hope we can deliver for you.
-What's your top budget?
We do have three splendid properties lined up for you.
One of course is going to be our Mystery House.
So are you keen to get started?
Nick and Catherine have a generous £500,000 to play with, but they
may be hard pushed to get everything they want for their budget.
They'd love a detached house with four bedrooms to accommodate
a growing family and visitors.
Nick has visions of owning land and livestock,
and Catherine is imagining being part of a community.
We're kicking off today in the hamlet of Kiddington, 13 miles
north-west of Oxford and about seven miles south-east of Chipping Norton.
The hamlet sits on the pretty River Glyme,
and is home to a handful of attractive stone houses.
Three miles away, the village of Wootton offers
a convenience store as well as a primary school,
an attractive church and a welcoming pub.
'A five-minute drive takes us back to our first property,
'a delightful 19th-century stone cottage, extended
'and modernised to a very high standard.'
What do you think?
-It looks very attractive. Great surroundings.
-Yes, it looks lovely.
That does concern me slightly, being attached to the neighbours.
That said, it is quite a long property,
so we've got the distance there.
I like the look of the property. It's very Oxfordshire, isn't it?
I like the sandy colour of the stone, the blue windows and doors.
Very nice looking.
-Yeah, it's an attractive property.
-It's a good start.
-Interested to see inside.
Come on, let's go.
'I'm quietly optimistic because although I know Nick
'and Catherine are disappointed this house isn't detached, I think
'they'll be pleasantly surprised once we step inside.'
So come on through.
So, this is our first reception room.
-It gives you a flavour of being in a cottage.
-Yeah, cracking fireplace.
It's lovely, isn't it?
Now originally, this probably would have been the
main cottage, but, one thing I will tell you -
you've probably spied it -
there is a little bit more to this than just this room.
-This is quite a small room.
-It's quite cosy, isn't it?
-Shall we see the rest?
-Yes, lead on.
'A roomy hallway laid with stone flooring leads to the
'heart of the home.'
Now, how's this for an open-plan, wonderful room?
Wow, that's fantastic, isn't it? Isn't that lovely?
-Bit of a surprise from next door.
-It is a huge surprise from next door.
Yes, really nice. This is really good. That is a good-sized kitchen.
Now, as you can imagine, this doesn't date back to 1844.
This was done in 2010.
This would be the main room of the house, without a shadow of a doubt.
And it's nice because we like the kitchen and we like the living room,
so to have them combined would just be brilliant.
-Keen to see upstairs now?
'Stairs from the front reception room lead to the first floor,
'and we're heading past the bathroom to the back of the house.'
So I want to show you the master bedroom.
Oh, yeah. Fantastic views.
-It probably would have been two bedrooms originally.
-And it's dual aspect as well.
-That is just stunning.
-Yeah, really nice.
And it's actually not a bad size
-because this wardrobe takes up quite a bit of space.
Now, remind me, how many bedrooms were you after?
They've set it out, the owners at the moment, having three bedrooms,
so you've got two good-sized doubles,
a really healthy single for a child.
If you were in a major city that would be called a double.
But you've also got next door to you a study,
-which could be another single bedroom.
So, enough space upstairs, but just standing here,
-do you have a concern about having a neighbour?
Well, not having the neighbour, but being attached to them.
I'm almost disappointed by how much I like this house
and the fact that it is attached to a neighbour.
That is obviously going to be a compromise.
When they did the extension to this property
they put soundproofing in, not just because they didn't want to
hear their neighbours, but also they were very aware of bringing up
family and they didn't want to annoy their neighbours.
I'd be interested to see how it is in the back garden,
whether you feel looked on.
Well, let's go outside and have a look at it.
And while we're out there,
I'm also going to get you to start thinking about the price.
-That's the serious bit.
'Catherine is visibly torn between her love of this charming house
'and the fact it's not detached.
'But things could change again when we venture outside.'
So here we have our garden. It's been laid to lawn.
You've noticed the sheep behind us.
You've got a paddock next door.
I mean, we are surrounded by pockets of land.
If you really wanted a cow, or perhaps a pony for Charlotte,
it would be possible to look into renting.
And just lastly, I want to give you an idea of where we are.
We're in the north of Oxfordshire.
So Oxford is going to be about 20, 25 minutes' drive away.
But crucially for you two, Heathrow and Gatwick, Heathrow about one hour
and 10 minutes, Gatwick about an hour and 40 minutes on a good day.
There's a price to be put on that view.
-That's what worries me.
-Come on then, on the spot.
How much do you think?
I think it's definitely got to be the top of our budget,
so I would optimistically say 490.
Whereas I think because it's end of terrace it will be a bit
cheaper, so I hope perhaps 480,000.
Asking price is £499,950.
We're reflecting where we are, we are so close to Oxford.
That's it, isn't it?
Just £50 under budget,
this extended 19th-century cottage offers our buyers the space and
rural setting that are so important to them in their new family home.
And although it's not detached, thanks to great soundproofing,
there's no sign of the neighbours once you've crossed the threshold.
Oxfordshire is home to a wealth of history and historic buildings.
And one of the most majestic is Blenheim Palace -
a stunning example of early 18th-century baroque architecture.
200 years into the palace's story,
in 1914 the First World War struck,
and Blenheim quickly transformed from a stately home to
a vehicle of war, and no-one in this grand house was unaffected.
To tell the story of that period,
an exhibition has been curated which offers an insight into
the lives of those at Blenheim who served during the First World War.
I'm meeting Karen Wiseman, who researched and set up this tribute.
As I explored,
I realised you could tell the story of the First World War
through this family and the people who lived and worked on the estate.
And who would those people have been?
Well, right from the very top we have the 9th Duke, who
was at the front, all the way down to the boot boy in the palace.
'Karen's exhibition tells the amazing stories
'of the people connected to Blenheim and paints
'a picture of what life would have been like in wartime Oxfordshire.'
So, Karen, who's this fine gentleman?
This is George Woodford, who went to war in 1914 with
the Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars as a captain.
He was responsible for bringing supplies up to the front.
Bringing up supplies to the men was incredibly dangerous,
and he was exceptionally good at his job and he was given the
Military Cross by the King at the end of the war.
And what do we know about him as a person?
One of the lovely things we know is that he married
the head dairy maid here at Blenheim.
-A remarkable man and very courageous.
-Very. Exceptionally so.
'And just as remarkable were the deep, muddy trenches
'soldiers lived in on the front line,
'hiding from the enemy whilst waiting to come above ground to fight.
'Conditions were tough - wet, cold and often rat-infested.'
-Would they have eaten, slept, everything here?
And indeed, as the war progressed they brought in beds and tables so that
they could actually try and live, odd as it seems, a very normal life.
'The trenches were a long way from the safety of Oxfordshire's splendid
'palace, which became a refuge to the wounded heroes of the conflict.'
In the Long Library at the palace they set up a hospital.
It was a convalescent hospital.
So Blenheim as an estate was
so involved during the First World War, wasn't it?
Yes, every aspect of the war.
Somebody was either in the air, in the trenches or at sea,
and the women were busy either nursing or setting up hospitals.
You've just shown us a small snippet of this exhibition.
Thank you so much.
It did have a profound effect, not just on Blenheim,
but everywhere, the whole of Oxfordshire as well, didn't it?
-Thank you very much.
'Moving to the northern tip of Oxfordshire,
'our second property is in the hamlet of Williamscot,
'ten minutes' drive from the market town of Banbury.
'Although Williamscot is pretty remote itself,
'the neighbouring village of Cropredy offers local amenities.
'A ten-minute stroll brings us to our second house.'
Here we have a house number two.
-It's really pretty.
-I like this lots.
Isn't that a lovely-looking house?
-The house itself...
-Relatively modern, by the looks of it.
Absolutely right. 20 years old.
-That's no bad thing.
-We like that, yes.
Anything else you notice about this property?
We are further north, but the great thing is it's very close to the M40,
so easy for commuting to work.
So let's talk about the house then. What's going through your minds?
It looks very impressive. Very big, very spacious, by the looks of it.
It looks lovely and private from here as well.
It does look good from the outside.
-Shall we take a look inside and see what you think?
'This house has already got off on the right foot,
'and we haven't even stepped inside.
'The very fact that it's detached has won it points, and I can't wait
'until Nick and Catherine see what else is on offer.'
-Pretty large hallway.
-It is a fantastic hallway.
Look at all those bookshelves. I like it immediately.
Let's start off with the kitchen.
-Lovely sized kitchen, isn't it?
-Loads of storage space.
I don't think there's anything I'd change.
On that note we're going to keep going.
So just off the hallway you've got a big utility room and cloakroom.
But here... Good-sized dining area.
In a way, it's like a walkthrough, but you can close it off.
You've got these doors here.
After these doors, you've got a huge sitting room.
-It is a huge sitting room.
-Fantastic, isn't it?
This is superb. This is lovely, yeah.
-Yeah, this is nice.
Excellent. Open. Huge fireplace. They've kept the character.
They've given it a little bit of charm
even though it's a modern house.
Plus patio doors leading to your garden there,
-but you've also got another set there.
Can you imagine yourselves living here?
-Yes, very much so.
I'd like to go and see upstairs and see what there is there.
Go on, then. Let's have a look.
The first floor of this house has four bedrooms,
including three good-sized rooms
for a growing family and a bright bathroom.
The master bedroom.
Wow. It's lovely, isn't it? What a size.
-This is good.
-With an en suite.
And also, just take a step over there, your own dressing room.
Ah, a dressing room. That's good. That's good.
Lots of space here, isn't there? This is fantastic.
Couldn't ask for more. It's lovely.
Well, let's go downstairs.
So far, so good - the house hasn't put a foot wrong.
I just hope it keeps up the good work when we move outside.
The garden is what will really make or break it for Nick and Catherine.
Here, you've got about a third of an acre.
Now, it does slant down,
so if you were looking at perhaps growing vegetables,
you might actually want to do something down the bottom.
So it's not got the fantastic views, but it is a really lovely garden.
Journey times, going to be an hour and 10 to Heathrow,
-and about an hour 40 for Gatwick.
That's well within the realms.
That's right. That's not an issue whatsoever.
How much do you think it's on the market for?
I reckon 515,000.
I would have gone for more. 525?
The asking price for our second property is...
-That is good.
-That's a good price.
This large stone house may be fairly new, but it has bags of character.
It might not leave Nick and Catherine with any change
from their budget,
but it offers them everything they were hoping for.
It has the rural but not too remote location
at the top of their wish list
and a garden big enough for daughter Charlotte to run around.
Well, I think there's quite a bit to do with the garden,
but it's certainly manageable, isn't it?
This house is at the top of the list so far.
It gives us everything we've wanted - it gives us space,
the ruralness of it, lovely location.
It's exactly what we're looking for.
How are you feeling, you two?
Great. We've just been child-proofing the garden.
-Have you really?
-Planning what we're doing there.
That's right, yes. Making room for Charlotte.
-You've practically moved in.
-It's a good way to end our day, isn't it?
-Isn't it just?
Well, that was a nice start, Nicki. They seemed to like both of those.
Very encouraging for two first-time buyers.
It certainly is, but we know it's so difficult
to get on that first rung of the property ladder,
like Nick and Catherine, because there's now four different
ownership schemes available to first-time buyers in England.
If you want to find out more information where your nearest
help-to-buy agent is, you can check out the government website.
And, of course,
there are similar schemes now running throughout the UK.
My favourite is the new starter homes initiative, which aims to
get 100,000 first-time buyers into new homes with a 20% discount.
It'd be a good thing, wouldn't it?
So lots of help is out there, but let's get back to my property search,
where we had a very healthy £1 million budget.
-That's a lot of money.
-It's a lot of money.
But was my Mystery House going to be a renovation project too far?
For our third and final property,
we're travelling 37 miles southeast to the hamlet of Nuffield.
It's just over 17.5 miles from Oxford
and is the closest of our three houses to London.
It sits in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Less than two miles away is the village of Nettlebed,
which has all the essentials on offer in its pretty streets,
including a deli and pub.
Just a four-minute drive
and we're on the edge of Nuffield at our last offering.
It won't take long for Jill and Bob to realise why it's earned itself
the title of our Mystery House.
Well, Bob and Jill.
That's a lot of roof.
-It's a lot of barn.
-A lot of barn.
Why have we brought you here?
You're probably wondering.
With our Mystery Houses, we like to give ourselves
a little bit of latitude in terms of what we offer you.
I know that you have done some major renovations in your time.
That's what this needs.
To find a property like this on the market this close to London
is a rarity.
-It is an opportunity to turn a beautiful medieval barn...
..into a stunning home.
Let's see what you think of the inside.
This striking period barn is Grade II listed
and is built from brick and flint
with a steeply pitched clay tile roof.
It's attached, but it's so large that the majority of the property
sits away from the party wall.
The most recent resident here was a bespoke antiques business.
-I love it! I love it!
I don't know if I could do anything with it, but I love it.
-It's got a few beams.
-Wow. It has got lots of beams.
-I mean, it's a real gem, this.
-Oh, I love that.
-It has planning permission.
That's why we're here,
cos it's good to go in terms of being developed further,
so one could imagine other floor levels in here,
four to five bedrooms.
Living space, well, wow - where do you start?
In the early 20th century, the interior of this superb barn
was remodelled following the Arts and Crafts movement.
-I love the floor.
-Now this is also Arts and Crafts.
-Yeah, I love it.
As are these lovely windows. So it's a mixture of periods, if you like.
The fireplace was Arts and Crafts.
Obviously it wouldn't have had a fireplace originally.
That's a wow. I love that. It's not a space that's totally overwhelming.
It's still doable. It's stunning as a conversion project.
It's an open book, isn't it, really?
But this huge empty shell isn't all there is to see here.
From its days as an antiques merchant's,
there's a small kitchen, cloakroom, and upstairs there's an office.
But back on the ground floor, there's yet another room hidden from view.
So walking through the living room, or whatever.
But do have in mind as we go here that blocked-up doorway there.
That will make sense.
Right, Jill, this, I think, would make a fabulous kitchen.
That's a nice space.
-And this is definitely more manageable.
-That's door that goes through to the main barn.
We could look at making this a self-contained area
for the girls coming to visit.
-Or a workshop.
-Or a workshop.
-I hadn't thought of that. Yeah.
-Neither had I.
-I love the way you've grasped this one.
Not everybody would,
but you can probably tell this is the sort of project I relish.
I think you probably would too if you want to do it,
if it's for the right money.
The cavernous interior isn't all that's on offer here either.
There are beautiful gardens both front and back.
A walled garden.
What's lovely about this is that you do get, effectively, two gardens,
which is rather nice, actually.
This lovely enclosed veranda area and this walled garden.
-It's quite exciting, isn't it?
Well, let's talk about its value. Because, let's face it,
we can't move this forward without knowing what it costs. So, madam?
-I think around 900,000. £900,000.
I'm going to be optimistic and say 800,000.
-You're laughing, aren't you?
-I don't think so.
Jill and Bob said they'd be happy with a project,
but they weren't expecting one quite as big as this.
But that's what you get with the Mystery House.
This spectacular medieval listed barn,
which comes with planning permission,
is £200,000 under their top budget,
meaning they would have a very healthy kitty to convert
this 4,000 square foot blank canvas into the home of their dreams.
What's going through my mind at the moment is whether this is
a real goer, whether it's a feasible project for us to be able to afford.
-It's just a huge project, and you've got to be really brave
to take on something like this, but it could be fantastic.
I think it's got so much potential, and I think we can do it.
Maybe we're mad enough to take it on. Maybe.
-It is. I think the main thing is,
-just getting more light. It needs light.
-And how could we do that?
Well, I thought glass here, coming in, and just beaming light in.
Match the glass at both sides?
I like the way you're thinking!
This is all good. I knew you'd be creative with this one,
and you haven't let me down.
It's a building that's crying out for somebody...to take it on.
-To love it.
But will it be you? We've given you three to choose from.
You've got a lot to consider.
Come on, then. After you.
Let's go. What a place.
Well, you two. Are you still convinced
that this is a county that's for you?
It's reaffirmed for us that it's a great place
to make this as a base for our new home.
But have we managed to find you a home here
that you can look forward to the future in?
Well, I think we want to explore the possibility
of putting in an offer on the Mystery House.
-A bit of research needs to be done,
-and just explore the area as well.
-Our Mystery House, full of beams,
more than you could shake a stick at -
and a project to boot!
I think that's the key word, it's the "project".
We do fancy a project, and that certainly would offer scope!
If you can get it bright and airy on the inside
then I think it could be a fabulous place.
So is an offer on the cards?
I think perhaps a cheeky offer might be on the cards.
-To start with.
-To start with.
-But it's a really exciting proposition, isn't it?
Well, I wish you all the very best of luck.
And let us know how you get on.
Absolutely, we will.
-What a place to revisit in a few years' time.
Thank you, Jules. It's been great, and a lot of fun.
My goodness, Jules, what a property!
It was cavernous.
I particularly like those Arts and Crafts features throughout.
It was a fascinating movement. Turn of the 20th century,
but it really harked back to those great days of artisanship
that you see reflected in the woodwork, stained glass,
even in the furniture. It gives any property, I think,
-a really distinctive feel.
-It's those beautiful touches, isn't it?
Well, let's see if Nick and Catherine liked my mystery house.
We're going back to their property search in Oxfordshire
with a budget of £500,000.
We're heading to the west of the county, to Swerford,
a classic Oxfordshire village close to the Cotswolds.
The village's two oldest attractions are the footprint of
the 12th-century motte and bailey castle,
and the magnificent 13th-century St Mary's Church,
which is a stone's throw away from our Mystery House.
It may be smaller than our buyers were hoping for,
but I'm confident they'll be won over by its character.
This is your Mystery House.
I'm wondering what the catch is! It looks lovely.
The reason it's the mystery - there is a small compromise,
and that's the space.
But it's whether the beauty and its old quirkiness
can overcome that.
-So shall we step inside?
-Yeah, why not?
This detached cottage sits in a conservation area
and dates back to 1741, with a recent extension.
It offers three bedrooms
and overlooks the delightful village green and church.
So as you walk through, you've got a small reception area there,
stroke study, and then it leads to the heart of the property
-right in the centre.
-This is completely different, isn't it?
-It could also be very hazardous to my health!
Well, that's the thing. If you live in an old property with beams,
you get used to it and you know when to bend
without even thinking about it.
It's good, cos we wouldn't normally have looked at a house like this.
An opportunity to have a look around.
-This would be such a cosy living room.
With the wood-burner.
Could you imagine yourself living here?
I'm not sure I've seen enough yet to make a decision on that.
-I love the room...
-But. Yeah, it's very nice.
And it is cosy, and using this as a living room would be fantastic.
But then, thinking practically,
where does everything else go?
-I'm not sure I fit down into there yet.
Let's see if you fit. Do mind your head!
So through here is your kitchen.
Um, now this has been extended.
-It's quite a nice little kitchen, actually.
-I love the butler sink.
-It's not a bad size.
As kitchens go, this is actually quite usable.
Kind of trying to find the space to squeeze it in
because it's just so beautiful.
I know you've got your reservations about the space downstairs.
Let's see if I can change your mind
with what I'm going to show you upstairs.
Nick and Catherine seem taken with this 18th-century cottage,
but they're definitely worried
about its ability to serve as a family home.
On the next two floors are three bedrooms -
one in the eaves - and a family bathroom.
Now is my chance to try and convince them that the house's beauty
outweighs its size.
This is the master. Overlooking, Catherine...
It is a lovely view.
It's very light and airy, I have to say.
-And there's no planes, there's no noise.
If you follow me, this might be the master,
but look at this!
-At the moment, it's a beautiful modern dressing room.
Could be a nursery, if you needed it to,
you could have a little one in here.
-And you've got an en suite with all mod cons.
-Oh, wow. I love it.
-I've still got that garden to show you.
Outside is full of surprises,
and just across from the pretty terrace is a large walled patio.
Now, at the moment, it's been done in quite a basic style.
It's practical, and in summer,
you can imagine it's full of blooms and blossom.
-Absolutely fantastic, isn't it?
-You've got your greenhouse...
You've got this one other little gem that I'm going to show you.
'Round to the side of the house is my last opportunity to persuade
'Nick and Catherine that this could be their country retreat.'
This is the final part of the garden, and just look at that!
-The view is fantastic, isn't it?
-Isn't it gorgeous?
So how much do you think this wonderful property
is on the market for?
Well, I think it's going to be over budget, Nicki, at £510,000.
-And I think I might be doing it a disservice by putting it at 480.
Asking price is...
-Well, reflected, we're right on the Cotswolds border.
Now, in case you've got carried away with the Mystery House,
we did speak to the people and say what your top budget was,
and they would be happy to have a conversation with you
if the house was right.
Our Mystery House is on the market for £25,000 over budget,
but if Nick and Catherine thought it a serious contender,
there is room for manoeuvre.
The attractive cottage may be lacking the fourth bedroom
and space they'd like, but it's overflowing with period appeal
and the quirky gardens would be ideal
for little Charlotte to explore.
The big thing that stuck out for me - literally - were the beams.
Erm, being six foot one, having to duck down everywhere
walking around the house would be an absolute nightmare.
When we walked into the main living room, I was wowed by it.
I was also disappointed, because you just know this beautiful room
and house is not big enough.
It's not going to be practical.
-Have we seen enough?
-We have. My head's had enough, I think.
-Have you been knocking it on those beams?
-I have, a couple of times.
They were quite low, but...
-changed you minds? Hmmm?
-I don't think so.
-It is beautiful, but...
-Not the house for us.
Well, let's so somewhere.
-Let's have a chat and find out what your next move is going to be.
-So, Nick and Catherine, how did we get on?
-Yeah, very well.
I'm very hopeful.
-With the second property especially.
Got very close, I reckon.
For me, I think it virtually did hit the mark.
I think, with Nick, it's going to be
the slope in the garden that is the deal-breaker, if there is one.
Yeah, it's the garden that's limiting he property for myself.
-Is it worth a second viewing?
-I'd like to, yes.
-I think so.
Little bit of work on Nick.
Take a gardener with you. That'll sort that problem out.
I do, because I think the top of that garden
can be levelled out nicely and I think it'll be perfectly sufficient.
Well, we've got an amazing spread here, haven't we,
to celebrate the last few days?
-It has been our pleasure.
-Thank you very much.
So, property two was the clear favourite.
Did they go back with a gardener to see what
they could do with that slope? Maybe terrace it or something?
No, they weren't into the landscaping at all.
Sadly, Nick vetoed that whole idea.
However, they've compromised their commute,
they've moved even further afield,
-so they have escaped to the country.
They've gone to Herefordshire.
-I would recommend it!
-Of course you would.
-Of course you would, and very happy they are too.
What about your couple, Jill and Bob?
Did they go for a second look at that barn?
Well, it was an incredible building.
I would have relished the chance of taking it on,
-and they did think about it, to give it its due...
It was really impressive, but, of course,
they had already undertaken a massive renovation in Switzerland
and I think they just felt it was probably a project too far,
so their search continues and they are still looking in Oxfordshire.
Well, we wish both our couples all the best for the future,
and we hope you've enjoyed our journey through Oxfordshire.
-Join us again for more country escapes.
-See you then.
If you would like to escape to the country
in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales or England and would like our help,
then please apply online at...
Jules Hudson and Nicki Chapman showcase the county of Oxfordshire, looking back on two house searches with two couples who were looking for dream rural homes in one county. While highlighting Oxfordshire's property gems, they also offer hints and tips on buying in the county.
Away from the house hunt, Jules learns how to make a very British accessory and Nicki visits Blenheim Palace to hear about the role played by the estate in the First World War.