Penny Churchill takes a look at some splendid country houses for sale in 'white horse' country

Historically, the counties of Wiltshire Dorset and Hampshire were the heart of the Saxon kingdom of Wessex, a prosperous farming region where today much of the land is still held by an exclusive club of big hereditary landowners. Wessex has its share of grand stately homes, but its greatest architectural wealth lies in its many delightful stone manor houses: nearly every village has one, as well as a church, a farm, a village green and pond, and rows of traditional thatched and lime-washed cottages. It is a rural idyll which outsiders dream of buying into, but rarely can, as the best houses in ‘white horse country’ rarely come on the open market, and when they do, tend to fetch the equivalent of a Saxon king’s ransom.

It is long odds against a classic small estate coming on the market within Dorset’s historic Cranborne Chase, say Strutt & Parker (01722 344041), who claim that elegant, 130-acre Ashmore Farm, on the tranquil southern edge of Ashmore Dorset’s highest village at 700ft above sea level was the first to be sold for more than a decade when it came to the market last year at £4.75 million. Unusually, having agreed a sale and exchanged contracts for more than the guide price, the buyer failed to complete the deal, so, reflecting the current strength of the market, the agents have re-launched the estate at the higher guide price of £5.25m.

Ashmore Farmhouse was built in 1925 by Lloyds underwriter Arthur Sturge on part of his well-known Ashmore sporting estate. Designed as a shooting lodge by William Curtis Green (designer of London’s Dorchester Hotel), the house was the family’s principal residence during the Second World War. For 40 years, from 1957, Ashmore Farm was owned by the Stoop family of rugby union fame, before its present owner, Dorset businessman Hutch Wright, bought it in 1996. Since then, the house has been redesigned and enlarged, with 8,826sq ft of living space on three floors, including four reception rooms, a billiard room, a kitchen/break-fast room, seven bedrooms, six bath/shower rooms, and an indoor swimming-pool complex. There is planning consent to demolish a cottage and rebuild it as a secondary farmhouse with a stable court-yard, offices and a holiday cottage.

Elegant Grade II-listed Sturford Mead at Corsley, Wiltshire, stands on the edge of the Longleat estate, ancestral home of the Marquess of Bath, but was, in fact, built, in 1820, for H. A. Fussell, a wealthy clothier who owned a dye-works nearby. Designed in the Greek Revival style typical of its architect, John Pinch the elder, whose best work can be seen in Bath, the house was bought by the Thynnes of Longleat in 1854, following the collapse of the local cloth trade.

In the 1930s, Sturford Mead was home to Lord Weymouth (later 6th Marquess of Bath) who refurbished and modernised the house, entertaining such distinguished guests as Evelyn Waugh, Lord Beaver-brook and Rex Whistler. Sold to pay death duties when the 5th Marquess died, the house was eventually bought by its present owners, who embarked on a gentle programme of renovation, slowly return-ing the 11,205sq ft house and its 6.9 acres of gardens and grounds to their former glory. Now for sale through Knight Frank (020?7629 8171) at a guide price of £2.75m, this ‘snapshot of a bygone era set in stone’ has four fine reception rooms, a superb Regency staircase, nine bedrooms, six bathrooms, extensive staff quarters and cellars, plus outbuildings, workshops and stores.

The Domesday Book of 1085 records the Wiltshire town of Chippenham as originally being held by the king, but later changed from hunting ground to farmland. Rowden Manor, on the southern outskirts of the town, was one of several small manors created by the division of the Royal Manor in the 12th and 13th centuries.

The present Grade II*-listed Rowden Manor, currently for sale through Woolley & Wallis (01672 515252) at a guide price of £1.4m, dates from about 1540 and comprises the original 16th-century five-bedroom stone farmhouse, plus a range of outbuildings, a dovecote, an orangery and a large stone barn, which could be incorporated into the main house, subject to planning permission. A further 16 acres of land, with fishing rights on the Avon, could be bought by separate negotiation.

For more on this subject, read our property guide to Wiltshire here.