Jonnie Irwin is helping a couple of golf fanatics to find a slice of rural heaven in the Cotswolds. With a budget of £500,000 they are ready to leave the bustle of London.
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This grand edifice behind me could be mistaken for one of our country's
magnificent cathedrals. But it's actually a parish church, which in
the 15th century served a town of just 400 people.
Find out why it's so big,
and indeed where I am in just a few moments.
On today's show we're helping two golf fanatics
find a slice of rural heaven.
But will any of our properties be up to par?
At one house we land in the rough.
Not a huge bedroom, admittedly.
No. Bit small, isn't it?
But then we get back on the fairway.
It's a lovely room, isn't it?
Today I'm in the town of Northleach in the Cotswolds,
and this is the Church of St Peter and St Paul.
It's one of a series of impressive wool churches,
so called as they were built on the proceeds of the wool trade.
Now, back in the 15th century, the golden fleece was big business.
And wealthy wool merchants would plough their profits
back into local communities,
bequeathing huge amounts of money to their local churches.
And it's the legacy of this medieval wool trade that today gives
the whole of the Cotswolds its unique charm and character.
The Cotswolds refer to a range of hills
which lie between Bristol and Oxford.
Covering six counties, around 80% is agricultural land
with sheep and arable farming the main activities.
The area sits on a bedrock of Jurassic limestone,
producing a rare grassland habitat which is quarried
for the famous honey-coloured Cotswold stone.
Many of the wonderfully preserved towns and villages developed
when the wool trade was at its peak in the 15th and 16th centuries,
and have changed little in the last 300 years.
Now as you may expect, prices vary greatly across the region,
but generally speaking,
your budget will stretch further the further west or south you go,
especially if you can look for houses
just south of the M4 corridor.
What's attracting today's buyers to this expensive
if not very beautiful part of the world?
Let's meet them and find out.
Married couple David and Jane met at university nearly 40 years ago and
they've lived in the London suburb of Mill Hill since graduating.
Home is currently this four-bedroom detached property
that they own outright.
But having both recently retired, they're now seeking a change.
It's a good time to move now because I've retired last July
and it's taken us six months to sort out what retirement is like
and now we've decided that London is too busy and time to go
and find somewhere a bit quieter, bit of a more laid back lifestyle.
Jane ran her own successful IT business
and David was a history teacher at a nearby school for many years.
As well as being closer to David's home country of Wales and Jane's
mother in Somerset, the Cotswolds offer them the best of both worlds.
We want to move to the Cotswolds because it's beautiful.
We love the valleys, we love the undulations, we love the fact that
it's very, very countryside
and it's convenient for everything in England and Wales.
Although they've now retired,
they don't plan to put their feet up just yet.
For a long time I was a rugby player
and I coached a lot of rugby, up till about five years ago.
In the meantime I took up golf and then Jane did too.
She took it up and got a lot better than I did.
But we play a lot of golf,
we go on golf holidays and moving to the country, hopefully we'll
find a golf course nearby that we can continue doing that.
Over the years they've built up many friends in Mill Hill
and their biggest fear is starting all over again.
It would be very easy to stay around here
and just carry on but we want to do something new, something different,
something enjoyable, which we think it will be.
David and Jane would like us to concentrate our property search
in the central belt of the Cotswolds
close to the Gloucestershire market town of Stroud.
I'm meeting them in the county to learn more
about their proposed rural move.
So welcome, both of you, to the beautiful Cotswolds.
This is a very different life you're setting yourself up for,
isn't it, Jane?
Very different, and we can't wait to get going on it, really.
Now, anybody moving up to the Cotswolds, most people have
the desire to live in a house
built out of this beautiful Cotswold stone.
I imagine you're no different.
So, character house?
Yes, but all the nooks and crannies, we don't go for that.
We don't want the low cottage feel.
We want the... Space is important. It's got to be light and airy.
Let's talk about the house itself. How many bedrooms?
But the space downstairs is more important to us than upstairs.
That makes sense.
I would like a garden to sit out in.
Be able to have the sunshine, but we don't want much work in the garden.
-No, we don't want that at all.
-Now, golf plays a big part in both your lives.
So I imagine proximity to a golf club is at the top of the list,
especially for you, Jane.
At the moment we're only five minutes away from our club
and that's great.
It's really convenient.
So we don't want to be commuting 40, 45 minutes into a golf club.
Let's talk budget. What are we looking at?
We're looking at about £500,000.
We've only got three chances
-but I think we've got three crackers to show you, so let's start.
For a maximum budget of £500,000, David and Jane are after
a character property with a minimum of three bedrooms.
However the downstairs space is more important to them and they'd
like three reception rooms as well as a south-facing garden.
Finally, they'd like to be close to a golf club,
not too far from amenities.
We've lined up three characterful Cotswold properties
to show our buyers, but they'll have to wait
until the end of each tour before I reveal the price.
Our third house, the mystery property,
could leave our buyers brewing with excitement.
Our first property is found in a hamlet named The Vatch, two miles
north of Stroud and a 20-minute drive from the nearest golf club.
The neighbouring village of Slad is famous for being the home
and final resting place of author Laurie Lee.
He wrote the novel Cider With Rosie in the 1950s
in his house in the village.
The first property is often a bit of a learning curve for us all.
Well, me, normally. Here it is. What do we think?
It looks quite small. Is it two or one?
It's semi-detached. We're looking at the right-hand side.
What's going through your mind? Jane?
Nice to look out over fields. Great aspect.
It does look quite small but obviously it goes up into the roof.
-Yeah, that's one of your guest bedroom, if you like.
-So, let's see if you like it.
David and Jane seem a little reticent
and were perhaps expecting something bigger for their budget.
But I'm confident the interior of this deceptively large,
period Cotswold stone cottage will lift their spirits.
In we come. Let's have a quick pause here.
-Perfect size for you.
The person who lives here moved out of London, bought this house
in the countryside and has done it up over the last three years.
So what you see is new flooring, new electrics, new pretty much
everything but it doesn't feel necessarily brand-new.
Now, behind you, that oak-panel wall is a utility room with a
wash-hand basin and all the white goods. Let's keep looking round.
-It's really good.
-Just mind your head here.
Talking to Jane, not you.
Now, you said you wanted to have a house where you could
sit in the living room maybe and look out at views, nice and sunny.
Is this the sort of place you had in mind?
It's very light in here, isn't it?
I thought it would be darker back here.
It is bigger than it looks outside as well.
I think the owners have made it just a lot more user friendly, if you like.
They've raised the fireplace there which gives the fire a better draw,
but also, you get to see the features of the house a lot more,
-straightaway, when you walk in, don't you?
-Yeah, very much.
You get the whole two rooms in one. It's very nice.
Better reactions to the ground-floor living space.
Upstairs there are three bedrooms spread over two floors.
The first floor features two doubles, one of which
overlooks the front of the house and has a small study area.
There's a third bedroom up in the eaves of the house with a cosy
space for a bed overlooking the hills behind.
But we're staying on the first floor
and what would probably be David and Jane's bedroom.
So, not a huge bedroom, admittedly.
-No. Bit small, isn't it?
-Nice view to wake up to, though.
But it's a bit too small for what I'd like for a main bedroom.
I mean, downstairs has been knocked about a bit.
Upstairs, it does have more cottagey dimensions
-or proportions, doesn't it?
-OK, let's go out to the garden and talk about price.
The south-facing gardens are mainly to the front and side
of the property and offer a variety of lawn areas
and a sheltered terrace.
-So, back outside. Now, you did say you don't want a big garden.
You also said you didn't want a big upstairs but that's probably
a bit too small so what do you think of this garden? Is it too small
or is this what you had in mind?
This I the size I had in mind, this is fine.
So after our brief look around this house,
how much do you think it's on the market for?
I think, semi-detached, I would say 350.
This is on the market
-for offers around £450,000.
-But you're paying for the proximity to Stroud.
And the rural position which some people will absolutely love.
And this is close to Slad and it's Laurie Lee and that sort of...
-You've got it.
-So, something to get your head around.
The price of our first property comes as a bit of a shock
to David and Jane, even though it's £50,000 under budget.
Situated in a sought-after location,
the period cottage offers our buyers the downstairs space they're after,
three bedrooms, and it's 20 minutes from the nearest golf club.
-How'd you find it?
-Something a bit bigger next? Yes, please.
-OK. Let's go and find it.
The hard limestone slopes of the Cotswolds make up the largest
Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the country, at 800 square miles.
In the 1930s, nearly half the region was covered
in flower-rich grassland.
Today, much of this precious habitat has gone.
Flatter grassland has been converted
to more commercially viable arable land.
The little that's left is
so rare it's being restored with the help of a herd of cows.
I've come to one of these cattle-managed sites at
Crickley Hill Country Park to chew the cud with
National Trust ranger Matt Stanway.
Well, Matt, I've got to say what an amazing part of the world this
is to be working, and farming.
How untouched is some of this land, then?
Because it's such steep slopes, what's left here -
-we're right on the Cotswold escarpment...
It's high up and it drops away down to the Severn Vale
and we can see that arable land down there.
This is the type of land which has never really been
touched by the plough. For centuries it's been
left untouched as grassland,
and it's been grazed, traditionally, by the cattle or sheep.
-Traditionally, the Cotswolds was always sheep farming...
..but for this type of land, the cattle are equally as good,
if not better, because the cattle are less selective,
so we've got short turf and long turf.
Matt's taking me to a site with no munching cattle,
and the difference is immediately clear to see.
So, Matt, this hasn't been grazed on for how long?
There's pictures of here in the 1930s, this bit of land,
and it was grazed as tight as anything.
-The grass looked like a lawn mower had gone over it.
But then you've got trees here. That's a silver birch, isn't it?
That's grown up, what, in the last 50 years or so?
Yeah, all the natural environment wants to do is to convert
back from grassland to woodland.
-It's a natural process,
and what we're involved in is trying to halt that succession.
So what's wrong with just letting nature take its course
-and having woodland?
-There's nothing wrong in woodland,
but the problem is here is that what's left of this grassland
is so precious, there's so little of it left, that it's that which
we need to preserve. That's the priority.
Rather than introduce local cattle to the Cotswold grassland sites,
Matt is using a breed more suited to the slopes of Scotland.
I don't think I've ever seen cattle with those colours before.
Where are they from?
They're called Belted Galloways, they're a breed that
originate from Dumfries and Galloway in south-west Scotland.
-So why did you choose this breed, then?
One, because they're an upland hill breed,
they're tough and hardy, they can live outside all winter.
They have got short legs,
-so they can cope with these steep slopes...
..of which we're on one of them. And also their distinctiveness.
Obviously you noticed their belt, their big white belt.
-They stand out, they really do.
I see you've got some recent additions. How old are those calves?
They're just a week old.
So we've got 20 cows calving each year.
I wish you the best of luck with all the calving you're going to have
over the next couple of days. And I'll pop by next time I'm down.
-Thanks very much.
-See you again.
Some of the cows are sold for beef, which helps finance
the grazing project.
It's a fascinating, self-sufficient model of land management
in the heart of the Cotswold hills.
For our second property,
we're travelling 27 miles to the southern tip of the Cotswolds
and the hamlet of Nettleton Shrub in the county of Wiltshire.
It's a five minute drive from the heritage village of Castle Combe,
which is often ranked as one of the prettiest in Britain.
It's also where you'll find the nearest golf club.
So, property number two is a bigger affair.
-That's good news.
-What do we think?
-It looks really nice.
-Now, do you know where you are?
Exactly, so you're just over the motorway, which makes property
-a little bit more affordable yet we are still within the Cotswolds.
I think it's great. And quite close to the village.
-We came through a nice village.
-Good news. Let's go inside.
A more upbeat reaction to our second property, a stone cottage
which the current owners have completely remodelled inside.
So just as you come in there's a downstairs cloakroom.
-Kitchen-wise, very different to the first place, isn't it?
A lot more cupboards, a lot more work space. Nice size.
-Room for a table.
-I really like it.
This is the old part of the building.
It would've been a worker's cottage for someone that
-worked on the Castle Combe estate.
Your entertainment's going to take place through here.
Just mind the step.
-Light-filled rooms, you said you wanted.
I think this is a bit of a winter room.
You'll have the sun room there which would be beautiful.
-Yes, very light and airy.
-Very nicely done, isn't it?
-So is this the old house?
-The very old part is there.
The extension that was completed back in 2004 starts at that wall
and it's a green extension.
You can see those lovely timber joints there.
So, good reactions so far.
There's some interesting bits and bobs
just through there which we'll look at later on.
Let me first show you the master bedroom just up here.
There are three bedrooms in the original part of the house.
Two of those are doubles and overlook the back of the property.
There's also a fully tiled family bathroom.
The largest bedroom is dual-aspect with views over the front.
This is your master.
Room to move about in this one.
-Is it big enough?
Let me show you the other end of the house which I think gives
this place a pretty different kind of option.
As well as the bedrooms in the older wing of the house,
there's a further room upstairs in the modern extension, which is
accessed via the garden room.
So this is an added extra, I think.
You could have it as a guest room
because it's great to have separation.
-That's an en-suite shower room.
-What a lovely library, or...
And south-facing, with that lovely glass gable.
Is this the sort of place you think you'd go for, so far?
Oh, definitely, yes. It's got the three bedrooms. This is extra.
-And the living space. Yeah.
-It's got it all.
Below the office there's a garage
with plenty of space to store the golf clubs.
Outside, the garden is compact
and low-maintenance with views over open countryside.
On the surface David and Jane appear to like our second property
but I have a feeling something is holding them back.
The price guess is often a true reflection
of how people really feel.
So, how much do you think this house is on the market for?
-I'll go first, then.
-OK, you go first.
-I'll go 400. I'll go below you again.
You're getting worse at this game.
-This place is on the market for offers around £495,000.
We're still within the Cotswolds.
-It's a three to four bedroom detached house...
..with a proper village nearby with a shop and a pub.
-It's all right. It's a good price.
I think that's a fair price for it.
Just £5,000 under budget, our second property,
an extended stone cottage, offers up three bedrooms,
a large reception area and it's just five minutes' drive
from the golf club and the busy village.
Now then, have you come to a solution,
or fought over who uses that first floor sun room?
-No decision yet.
-No. Decision pending.
Well, it's good that it's still a decision, I suppose.
-Maybe something to talk about over dinner.
On reflection I think yesterday's property number two,
we got everything pretty much spot on.
It's certainly what they asked for.
But I'm not convinced it's a house that David and Jane
want to move to and maybe that's because they're getting
cold feet about moving from London to a much more rural location.
So in order to remedy that, today's mystery house is slap bang
in the heart of a village.
But as you might expect, it does come with a couple of compromises.
Firstly, it's just outside their ideal search area,
and it's also close to a river and after recent events in this country,
that could well put some people off.
For our mystery house we're heading north back into Gloucestershire
and to Frampton-on-Severn, which as the name implies,
sits on the River Severn's eastern bank.
Welcome, both of you, to Frampton-on-Severn.
-Have you been here before?
-No, not at all.
-Do you know anything about it?
-Nothing at all.
Now, the village itself has your Post Office and store,
two pubs, coffee shop.
It's almost like London, isn't it?
-It's like being home.
-Yes. What's going through your minds? Tell me.
Well, we thought when we came across the M5 that we're in an area
-we hadn't looked at at all.
But now we're here, it's really nice, there's a nice feel to it.
Now, this is a part of the world, it's Frampton-on-Severn.
-So might we need a boat?
-You don't need a boat.
-Are we on the flood plains?
-Well, it's a good point you make.
Areas around here have flooded in the past
but there is a canal in between this village
-and the Severn which actually serves as a flood defence.
The mystery property,
the first thing it's pushing you on is location.
It's further away from London.
But it's closer to Wales.
-Come with me, let's see what you think of it.
Well, the location hasn't put them off, even though
the nearest golf club is a 20-minute drive away.
The house itself is located just beyond the village green,
a stone's throw from the Gloucester and Sharpness canal,
and has an industrial heritage of its own.
This is the mystery house, the mystery malt house.
-Right. Nice court out here, isn't it?
-This is your outside space.
-The only outside space.
Now, you don't get much less maintenance than this, do you?
-Even we could do this.
-I love the fact you like it small. Now...
-Reports of this building date back as far as 1724.
-It's good history then.
-Yeah, it is. I cannot wait to show you.
'As well as the lack of garden, this historical gem is
'Grade II listed, and has an unusual layout inside.
'I just hope that David and Jane don't mind upside-down living.'
Come on in.
Quite some entrance hall, isn't it?
Oh, so what's behind the curtain, then?
Yeah, it does beg a question as soon as you walk in, doesn't it?
-A stage or something like that?
Pretty good guess.
I think I'll show you before I get myself into hot water. Come with me.
'Not a stage as such but the master bedroom.
-I wasn't expecting that to be a bedroom.
-A big bedroom.
-Huge, isn't it?
Now, it's Grade II listed
but because it's an historic building,
it came with a few stipulations,
and one of those at the time, ten years ago,
when it was converted, was they couldn't put a partition
in between this room and the entrance hall, hence the curtain.
Now, I think it works absolutely fine, that curtain's so heavy.
-It's certainly different, isn't it?
-Something to get used to.
It's almost as thick as some walls anyway, isn't it?
As well as the master bedroom, the ground floor also features
an additional guest bedroom with en-suite.
And one of the most impressive family bathrooms I've ever seen.
This fabulous brick-vaulted room would've contained
the kiln for the malting.
Now I just want to pause here momentarily, minding my head.
Now, you mentioned you wanted different areas,
almost like break-out rooms.
Lovely little reading room, with that light coming in.
That's really good.
And just through there, you see the canal
and then the Severn beyond there as well.
Yep. Very nice.
David and Jane could also use this mezzanine floor as another
sleeping area for guests,
as there are only two bedrooms in this property as it stands.
There is one other bedroom option,
a TV room with a see-through viewing platform of the malting kiln below.
It's on the first floor, which is where we're heading now.
Now, what do you make of this?
That's a lovely room, isn't it?
-Kitchen, dining, living, all in one but divided.
It's very nice.
You've got no problem with it being open-plan?
No. The beams are lovely.
The skylight... Plenty of light in here, isn't there?
And then, this is true entertaining, people are sat down at the table...
That's a nice size, not too big,
but a lot of work spaces for you to prepare your food. It's really nice.
I think it's great and it's...
I love the house, it's whether I see myself living here day to day.
At the moment, there isn't a great deal of storage space in this house.
However, the current owners have sought planning permission to build
a garage on the gravel driveway, so that's something to bear in mind.
Lovely house. Your reactions have been quite different.
I can see you falling in love with the place but then
the practicalities going through your mind especially, Jane.
-So how much do you think this house is on the market for?
-I'm going first today.
-Yeah, I was thinking round that mark, I'll go down to 525.
This place is on the market for offers around
-Yes, well, there we are.
-You guessed over, which is good.
Just under budget, our mystery property is
an 18th century malt house.
While the layout is unconventional,
it does give David and Jane
the huge reception area they wanted.
But only two bedrooms.
It's located in the centre
of a thriving village
although the golf club is
a 20-minute drive away.
-Very much so.
-I was worried this house would get you falling out.
-It has split the camp though, hasn't it?
-It definitely has, yes.
Well, I think now's a good time to find somewhere for you guys
to have a chat and then we'll meet up and talk everything through.
So, an interesting couple of days. Three houses. What's your favourite?
I think the second house we saw is our favourite,
although the third one was very attractive and very lovely.
I think, on reflection, Jane was right that the difficulties
and the practicalities of it would make it difficult to live in.
-But the second one was lovely.
-You've talked him down, have you, Jane?
-Head over heart...
-..has made the decision.
I think that that really isn't a house that you
can live in on a day-to-day basis, day in, day out, year in, year out.
You're moving out of London.
We've shown you three rural properties.
The last one, the mystery house, was in a village,
but the second house is rural, still.
It's in a scattering of houses within a village, if you like.
Big leap for you. How do you feel about it now?
It's made us realise that we are social animals
and we need to be closer to activities and so on.
So whilst the second property is your favourite,
it doesn't sound like you're going to pursue it.
No, I'd say that's probably true.
Maybe because of what you don't need,
you don't need a big sprawling house,
you certainly don't need or want the outside space,
that lends itself, in my opinion, to maybe a lovely country town,
a market town, perhaps.
Yes, I think that's definitely brought that into focus for us.
Well, it's going to be a very active retirement for you, isn't it?
-And that fully starts once you've found a house,
-so I wish you both the very best of luck.
-BOTH: Thank you.
Well, let's face it. An escape to the country in its truest form
isn't always for everyone.
And it certainly seems like the big city of London
has its claws in David and Jane,
but I think these past couple of days has been
a bit of a journey for both of them.
I think they've come to realise that whilst a truly rural
environment isn't for them,
maybe a smaller step to perhaps a market town
somewhere in the Cotswolds would be the ideal move,
and let's face it, this beautiful region certainly has
plenty of these beautiful towns to choose from.
See you next time.
If you'd like to escape to the country in England,
Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland and need our help,
you can apply online at...
Jonnie Irwin is helping a couple of golf fanatics to find a slice of rural heaven in the Cotswolds. With a budget of £500,000 they are ready to leave the urban bustle of London.
Away from the house hunt, Jonnie meets the bovine lawnmowers restoring a precious Cotswold habitat.