The great and the good are due to descend on the pretty Chalke Valley next week for the annual history festival. Arabella Youens finds out what the fuss is about.

Anyone travelling in a hot-air balloon—and who wouldn’t be?—over the Cranborne Chase AONB to the south-west of Salisbury over the next 10 days will notice a large gathering of tents, tepees and musket-wielding men in uniform forming on the gentle downland that covers this unspoilt countryside on the Wiltshire/Dorset border. No, your eyes won’t be deceiving you—it’s not Glastonbury gone wrong, it’s the Chalke Valley History Festival, the largest gathering in Britain
dedicated to history. During the week-long event (June 22–28, 01722 781133; www.cvhf.org.uk), this normally sleepy valley, which is protected from the blight of any main roads, comes alive to the sound of Merlin engines, cannonfire and music and, ambling around the encampment is a cocktail of eminent historians and writers, including Antony Beevor, Lady Antonia Fraser, Sebastian Faulks and the clan Snow (Dan, Jon and Peter), as well as some more surprising history fans (David Beckham was spotted the year before last).

‘It’s fan-bloody-tastic,’ enthuses David Cross, head of Savills Salisbury office (01722 426800), which is sponsoring an event. ‘It’s a young festival— only four years old—and was co-founded by my friend and Chalke Valley cricketer Jamie Holland. It attracts some major names, it’s brilliant for children—there’s a whole section dedicated to schools—and just gets better and better each year.’
In addition, bookending the summer months are two music festivals, held at the Victorian pleasure gardens on the Rushmore estate (visit www. larmertreefestival.co.uk and www.endoftheroadfestival.com).

The success of these festivals has raised awareness of this spectacularly pretty area for would-be house hunters, too. The valley, which takes in the villages of Charlton in the west through Alvediston, Ebbesbourne Wake, Bowerchalke, Broad Chalke, Bishopstone and Coombe Bissett in the east, is formed, somewhat confusingly, by the River Ebble, one of the five rivers—the others being the Nadder, Wylye, Avon and Bourne— that converge in Salisbury.

However, this valley is blessed by being one of the least accessible due to its lack of main roads or railway line. ‘That means it hasn’t been on the radar of people who need to commute to London every day,’ explains Robin Gould of buying agents Prime Purchase (01962 795035), ‘but the history festival is rapidly putting it on the map of those buyers who are looking to commute on a weekly basis or those who can work from home a few days a week and I’m now getting clients who will specifically ask me to find something in the Chalke Valley’.

He adds: ‘Heading south into Dorset, there’s a lot of fresh air between the chimneypots, but the Chalke Valley has enough villages and settlements to mean it’s a nice compromise—a gateway to beautiful countryside with enough going on.’

Broad Chalke is probably the liveliest village: it has an excellent primary school and the community-run village store, which also acts as a cafe, post office, police station and working chapel, was named best village shop by the Countryside Alliance last year.

‘We’re about to exchange on Barn Orchard in Broad Chalke,’ explains Fred Cook from Strutt & Parker in Salisbury (01722 328741). ‘It’s a classic five-bedroom village house with a tennis court and a stream running through the garden—just the sort of house that appeals to families leaving London and looking to put their children into one of the many good schools in Salisbury and dotted around Dorset.’

He continues: ‘We’ve recently seen a resurgence of London buyers looking to make the move. To buy a family house with some land, possibly a cottage and a good garden, you’ll need to spend between £800,000 and £1.2 million in the Chalke Valley.’

The wider area isn’t short on amenities either. The ‘best butcher in the world’ (according to Mr Cross) is W. S. Clarke & Sons in Sixpenny Handley (01725 552328), what you can’t find in Broad Chalke’s shop, you might find in the Ludwell Stores—this year declared village shop Champion of Champions by the Countryside Alliance—and the artisan bakery in Long Crichel is ‘worth the drive’, according to Mr Gould.

Need to know

Pubs: The Talbot Inn, Berwick St John, The Crown Inn, Alvediston
Shooting pubs: King John Inn, Tollard Royal, Museum Inn, Farnham
Prep schools: Sandroyd, Port Regis, Clayesmore, Salisbury Cathedral School
Public and independent schools: Goldolphin School, Bryanston, St Mary’s Shaftesbury
Trains: Salisbury to Waterloo trains run every half an hour and take about 90 minutes