Amongst its great landed estates, which include Wilton and Longleat, Wiltshire has a proliferation of good family houses, although the finest ones seldom appear on the market. ‘Demand is far outstripping supply,’ says George Hyde from Knight Frank’s country house department, ‘But the market is strong ? up 5% since last year.’ Oliver Fursdon from Savills, Oxford forecasts further market improvement; ‘Quality supply has been outstripped by demand of late, and a gradual increase in prices can be expected over the coming year.’

Wiltshire is a haven of rural villages and small towns; Tisbury and East Knoyle in the west of the county and Newton Tony and Fisherton de la Mare in the south. A large part of central Wiltshire is taken up by Salisbury Plain, the largest expanse of chalk grassland in England and lovely villages are found around Pewsey, in the north of the county.

The eastern part of the county, near Andover, is a prime area for commuters and the Cotswolds part of the county between Swindon and Chippenham is increasingly popular with those after a rural retreat. Historically, the area around Devizes, which is slightly more built up has not been so popular. But lately buyers have been appreciating the slightly lower prices and have invested in the area. The Wylye Valley, with its access to the A303 is also extremely popular. Shaftesbury is a beautiful town and is surrounded by excellent schools, as is Marlborough, situated within easy reach of the A303 and M4.

According to Mr Hyde, classical red brick or brick and flint buildings are common throughout Wiltshire, with stone houses found in the south and west.

The county remains predominantly rural, Swindon is its only major town although there is a wealth of charming market towns. Agriculture is still important, but new, high-tech industries are now springing up along the M4 corridor. The county’s wide, open spaces, such as Salisbury Plain contrast with secluded river valleys; to the north-west of the county are hills overlaid with clay. Wiltshire also is rich in prehistoric sites, from Avebury and Silbury Hill in the north to Stonehenge in the south. Ease of access to London, scenic rolling countryside and pretty towns means that house prices remain strong.

Towns: Swindon, Salisbury, Calne, Chippenham, Devizes, Trowbridge, Malmesbury, Marlborough, Warminster and Westbury.

Transport links: Train: Paddington to Swindon 55min; Paddington to Chippenham, 1hr 10min; Waterloo to Salisbury 1hr 20min.Car: Swindon is 76 miles from central London and Chippenham 93 miles, via the M4. Salisbury is 85 miles, via the M3 and A30.

Public schools:

St Mary’s School, Calne (01249 815899). Girls only, age range 11-18. Day and boarding.

Dauntsey’s School, West Lavington (01380 812446). Co-educational, age range 11-18. Day and boarding.

Marlborough College(01672 892200). Co-educational, age range 11-18. Boarding.

The Godolphin School, Salisbury (01722 333059). Girls only, age range 7-18. Day and boarding.

Salisbury Cathedral School(01722 410910). Co-educational, age range 3-13. Day and boarding.

Stonar School, Melksham (01225 702309). Girls only, age range 4-18. Day and boarding.Warminster School(01985 213038). Co-educational, age range 4-18. Day and boarding.

Leisure:

Golfcourses: Marlborough (01672 512147); North Wiltshire, Bishops’ Cannings (01380 860257); Salisbury and South Wiltshire, Netherhampton (01722 742645).

Hunts: the Wilton, the South and West Wiltshire, the Avon Vale and the Tedworth.

Fishing: rivers Kennet, Avon, Wylye and Nadder.