As Jonathan Bramwell explains in this week’s Country Life magazine, a significant value gap has opened up between property prices in the north Cotswolds and the south Cotswolds—particularly at the top end of the market. Using the A40 as the dividing line separating the two regions, a classic, seven-bedroom country house with stables, ancillary accommodation set in 50 acres might cost between £4m and £6m in the south, but that price can rise to as much as £6m to £10m in the north.
The popularity of the north Cotswolds and upward pressure on house prices began to take off in earnest in the beginning of the 2000s when City financiers and hedgefunders ‘discovered’ Notting Hill. For them, the easy drive down the A40/M40 to Oxford, Chipping Norton and its environs encouraged those in search of a weekend retreat to settle there–especially after the opening of Lady Bamford’s upmarket farm shop, Daylesford Organic, in 2002.
Complimenting that was the soaring popularity of the Oxford schools as an alternative to educating children in the Capital—chief among them, the Dragon School. That coupled with the fall from fashion of full-boarding at prep school encouraged more buyers to find somewhere in the local vicinity. As a result, both the average age and profile of buyers changed and moved away from those interested in country sports and more towards families with young children wanting access to good schools, gastropubs, shops, music festivals and beautiful countryside.
Another key factor has been the improved train times along the Chiltern line which has considerably reduced travel times to London Marylebone from Banbury and Bicester. The fact that you can now do this journey in under an hour proves extremely attractive to City commuters. Added to that has been the opening of the spur line which connects Oxford (including the new Oxford Parkway station) and Bicester Village to the Chiltern mainline. This gives the added advantage of choice for commuters to travel either into Marylebone or Paddington via Oxford, Charlbury and Kingham.
As a result of this improved connectivity, the popularity of the north Cotswolds grows and it was given an extra boost by the opening of the private members’ club Soho Farmhouse at Great Tew in 2016. For many of our buyers it ticks all the boxes, but for others the high prices are making them consider other options.
Cheltenham, at the western edge of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is an excellent alternative schooling hub to Oxford. The attractive Regency town is currently undergoing a considerable transformation with the upcoming opening of the new John Lewis store, the new Ivy restaurant and several million being spent on improving the town centre. Additionally, the town has a packed annual calendar of sporting and cultural events and festivals, attractive housing stock and less exposure to tourism than Oxford.
Figures from the local Knight Frank office gathered by our Cheltenham specialist, Charlotte Dover, reveal that the average price in the town’s most desirable areas ranges from between £400 and £500 per sq ft. Equivalent prime areas of central north Oxford are twice as expensive. That means it is possible to trade a good-sized London house for a family house in Cheltenham and have a substantial amount of change to spend on other things such as the children’s education.
As regional cities and airports such as Bristol and Birmingham grow, we believe that Cheltenham will become even more attractive to buyers—especially those who don’t need to be in London five days a week. While its rail access to London is unlikely ever to radically improve (it’s a 2hr train journey to Paddington) it’s well located by road and rail to Gloucester, Bristol, Worcester and Birmingham.
For those looking for a more rural lifestyle, the southern region of the Cotswolds has tended to attract more buyers with equestrian or polo interests with Cirencester Polo Club and Beaufort Polo Club on the doorstep, as well eventing at Badminton and Gatcombe Park. It also has popular prep schools including Pinewood and Beaudesert as well as access to Marlborough College, Westonbirt, St Mary’s Calne and the Cheltenham schools (Cheltenham Ladies’ College, Cheltenham College and Dean Close). Tetbury is an attractive town for antique shops and Cirencester continues to expand. Meanwhile, for commuters, Kemble station is another big draw as fast trains are only 1h20mins to London Paddington. There are rumours that this will soon be closer to 1 hour following the electrification of this line.
Like the north, the south Cotswolds has beautiful countryside with the additional attraction of the Cotswold Water Park for those who interested in water sports. There are fewer gastropubs in this area but the likes of Calcot Manor, Barnsley House and Thyme at Southrop and Cowley Manor offer good alternatives to Daylesford and Soho Farmhouse.
What currently remains true of both Cotswolds regions is a long-term shortage of supply of houses coming to the market. Best in class continue to sell quickly and often off market: a recent sale of an edge-of-village house near Northleach has just gone under offer at over 25% of its guide price of £2.25m. Therefore, be prepared for competition if buying in either the north or the south.