It’s hard to know what’s most attractive about the Cotswolds-the grand houses of honey-coloured stone, the miniature cottages topped with oversized thatched roofs, the emerald hills dotted with sturdy sheep, or the graceful churches funded by centuries of wool trade. The countryside here is so glorious, it’s almost twee. Almost-but not quite.
‘The Cotswolds is not a theme park,’ says Jeremy Briggs of RA Bennett. At the region’s core still lies a healthy community of landowning and farming families who shop at the village deli and the butcher, go shooting or fly-fishing at the weekend, and hunt with the North Cotswold, the Heythrop, the Cotswold, the Beaufort or the Berkeley. However, as David Froggatt of Jackson-Stops & Staff says, the local society is ‘much enlivened by the influx of lawyers, bankers, entrepreneurs and celebrities’.
This social mix also ensures a steady appetite for local property. Mr Froggatt explains that, at a time when the limited availability of credit has dampened upsizing by Cotswolds residents, two other groups of buyers are underpinning demand-Londoners looking for second homes and a ‘national retirement market attracted by the central location within easy reach of often dispersed families’.
Perhaps surprisingly, buyers also include a crop of daily and weekly commuters-families where a parent stays and works in London on weekdays-who are drawn to the excellent local schools, very low crime rates and good family houses set in England’s largest AONB.
These families, together with second-home buyers, ensure that the Cotswold villages within easiest reach of London are the most popular. Rupert Sweeting of Knight Frank reckons that ‘the really popular areas are around Stow-on-the-Wold, Burford and Bibury. These are the honeypot villages’.
However, he adds, if you’re prepared to go a bit further away towards Cheltenham or Chipping Norton, to places such as Hook Norton, Great and Little Wolford and Stanton, where longer journey times into London often deter commuters and second-home buyers, you’ll still find beautiful countryside at more competitive prices.
‘If you’re looking at buying an old rectory with 10 acres and a cottage in prime areas, it can cost you £5 million to £8 million. If you take that and plonk it in what I call better-value areas, you’re looking at spending £3 million to £6 million. It’s a significant difference.’ Tom Hayman-Joyce of Hayman-Joyce also suggests looking at the Stanton area for value, and particularly at Saintbury and Condicote, which he calls ‘little gems off the beaten track’. Rob Jones-Davies of Middleton Advisors believes all the Cotswold ‘extremities’ offer better value. He and Sam Trounson, from Strutt & Parker, both recommend the western edge of the region, towards Wotton-under-Edge, especially the countryside around Hillesley, Hawkesbury and Alderley.
Mr Froggatt also points to the west, but slightly further north than Hillesley. ‘If there’s an unsung area of the Cotswolds, it’s the steep valleys to the west of Cirencester, on the way to Stroud. Minchinhampton, Bisley, Painswick, Sheepscombe and Nailsworth all have wonderful countryside, and are perhaps 15% less expensive than areas north and west.’ These lesser-known villages have another advantage, says Luke Morgan of The Buying Solution-away from the tourist spots, they’re ideal for those who want privacy. He recommends looking at Guiting Power and Temple Guiting in the north Cotswolds, as well as Barford St John in north Oxfordshire. ‘Each of these villages offers a variety of houses, from a three-bedroom cottage at approximately £400,000 to a seven-
bedroom manor house at about £5 million.’
Or they would offer them, if supply weren’t so tight across the entire region. ‘Supply levels have become worse each year, particularly in the £3 million-plus bracket,’ says James Mackenzie of Savills. But buyers are keen to make a purchase now, and not only because of the Cotswolds’ obvious attractions. Although the market stepped up last year, average prices remain about 15% down from their 2007 peak, according to Sam Butler of Butler Sherborn.
This is drawing in cash buyers, particularly from London. ‘Prices in the capital are 30% higher than in March 2009, but in the Cotswolds, they are only up 10%,’ explains Liam Bailey of Knight Frank. ‘It would seem fair to assume that the best country houses in the Cotswolds will see further rises over the next few months.’