Few know the area sometimes known as the ‘Downland Triangle’, the patch of country that lies roughly between the towns of Marlborough in Wiltshire, Newbury in West Berkshire and Andover in Hampshire, better than Bobby Hall, our head of the Southern Region. Having been brought up around Marlborough, today he lives with his family on the edge of the West Berkshire village of Lambourn. He has used his granular knowledge of the area and widespread network of contacts based locally to buy some of the finest country houses for clients over the past fifteen years.
Q: What makes this area so desirable for country-house buyers?
BH: We don’t have a single stand out reason that draws in buyers to this patch, in essence it’s the sum of the parts. When you examine the key drivers for country house buyers such as beautiful countryside, strong community, good schools and fast links back to London, the Venn diagram overlaps on this area which takes in the Marlborough, Berkshire and North Hampshire Downs.
Q: What can a buyer expect in terms of property stock?
BH: In the Downland Triangle, brick and flint houses are almost exclusively found in West Berkshire and north Hampshire, while in Wiltshire one often finds thatch on both cottages and houses. In today’s market there’s a lack of old rectories, manor houses, and glebe houses, in other words the classic period family house, being offered for sale so developers are building neo-Georgian houses to satisfy demand but this is only possible when they can find suitable plots. As much of the area in question is protected by its AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) classification there are much fewer houses than in the area closer to Basingstoke and Reading for example. This means that competition for “best in class” will always be tough. However, if a buyer is looking for a Georgian house with high ceilings there is a greater chance of finding it here than in other areas such as the Cotswolds where, thanks to the local stone being weaker, many of the period houses are smaller with lower ceiling heights.
Q: What are the nicest villages?
BH: The Downland Triangle boasts lots of villages that have a strong sense of community, an aspect that buyers find increasingly attractive. There are plenty but to single out a few of the best, I’d highlight: Ramsbury, Aldbourne, Lambourn, East Garston, Kintbury, Shalbourne, Vernham Dean, the Chutes, Woodborough and the Manningfords.
Q: And market towns?
BH: I often think that a barometer for what makes a good market town is whether it’s somewhere that you could manage to do all your last-minute Christmas shopping in one afternoon. Hungerford, Marlborough and Stockbridge are all strong contenders for that and have attractive high streets.
Q: What about the commute?
BH: With the (improved) M3 and A303 and the improving M4 we have good motorways to the north and south of the Triangle. The M4 is invaluable with Heathrow for those frequent business flyers. For trains mainline stations include Swindon, Newbury, Andover and Pewsey—all of which are between 60 and 70 minutes from London terminals. Additionally, the smaller stations of Hungerford, Kintbury and Great Bedwyn offer good services into London.
Q: What the options for schools?
BH: The area has a number of prep schools on its fringes including Pinewood at Bourton, Farleigh near Andover and St Francis in Pewsey. There are a clutch of schools in and around Newbury including Horris Hill, Brockhurst and Marlston House School, Cheam, Thorngrove and St Gabriel’s (which is mixed for prep and then girls for senior). Marlborough College is the only public school which falls within the Downland Triangle area and St John’s in Marlborough is widely regarded as one of the best State secondary schools in the country.
Q: What’s the countryside like?
BH: We are surrounded by beautiful and unspoilt countryside, much of which is protected by its AONB status. The importance of this is that the look and feel of the country won’t change enormously over the coming years, a huge comfort for country house buyers. In general terms whilst the Berkshire and Marlborough Downs are rolling and open, the North Hampshire Downs are more wooded. The River Kennet is popular for fishing and there are plenty of places where you can rent a rod relatively inexpensively. For those who aren’t interesting in fishing the tow paths of the Kennet and Avon Canal are excellent for cycling and walking.
Q: What about all matters equestrian?
BH: There’s a high proportion of top-end and international eventers around the Marlborough and West Berkshire area due to the terrain and infrastructure including vets, trainers, blacksmiths and feed experts. Obviously, there’s also the largest training centre in the south of England for National Hunt and Flat racehorses at Lambourn. Additionally, there are three hunts in the area, the Old Berks to the north east; the Vine & Craven in the north and centre; and the Tedworth to the south. Meanwhile, point-to-pointing takes place at Barbury Castle, near Marlborough and Lockinge, near Wantage and there is racing throughout the year at Newbury Racecourse.
Q: And, finally, can you recommend the best pubs?
BH: This list isn’t exhaustive but these are some of the nicest pubs in the Downland Triangle: The Blowing Stone, Kingston Lisle; The Star, Sparsholt; The Pheasant, Lambourn Woodlands; the Queens Arms, East Garston; the Hungerford Arms, Hungerford; the Dundas Arms, Kintbury; The Harrow, Great Bedwyn; the Yew Tree, Highclere; the Jack Russell Inn, Faccomb near Andover; The Fox, Tangley; The Red Lion, East Chisenbury; The Seven Stars, Woodborough; The Marlborough, Marlborough; and The Bell, Ramsbury.