Austenland: West Wycombe and High Wycombe

West Wycombe Park has become a star in its own right after featuring in Cranford, Downton Abbey, and latest film, Austenland. Ruth Bloomfield discovers commuter homes among the Wycombe hills
Wycombe Park
© Alamy
Palladian beauty West Wycombe Park, the country house estate owned by the National Trust in Buckinghamshire, will lend Palladian elegance to new romantic comedy, Austenland

Fancy following in her footsteps? Starting this weekend, Bath's streets will be filled with Mr Darcys celebrating the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice as part of the nine-day Jane Austen Festival.

Austenland is the latest film to be shot at West Wycombe Park, the country house estate owned by the National Trust in Buckinghamshire, which has become a star in its own right as the backdrop for an extraordinary roll-call of movies and television series.

The Palladian beauty has become the go-to location for everything from The Duchess to I Capture the Castle, Cranford and, of course, Downton Abbey.

Austenland
JJ Feild, Bret McKenzie and Keri Russell in the new film Austenland
The latest addition to this list, Austenland, is a romantic comedy starring Keri Russell (recently in The Americans) and JJ Feild, about an American woman obsessed with the writings of Jane Austen and with Mr Darcy — as played by Colin Firth in particular.

The film, which is released on September 27, follows our heroine as she travels to a Pride and Prejudice theme park in the English countryside. The movie shows off the Grade I-listed house and its sweeping parklands to perfection, as well as the village of West Wycombe, which is something of a secret gem in the Chiltern Hills — not just as perfect backdrop for a romcom but also as a wonderful place for a commuter to live.

West Wycombe


The village is largely owned by the National Trust and it has worked hard to preserve its old-fashioned charm. Most of the property there is leased by the trust, which is currently offering a one-bedroom cottage just off the high street for rent at £875 a month (visit nationaltrust.org.uk/lettings).

“There is also a precious handful of houses in the village which are freehold and can be bought and sold, although they are very rare,” said Graeme Pierce, a director at JNP Partnership. He is selling a traditional brick-and-flint two-bedroom cottage for £325,000 — only the third time in his 30-year career that a village-centre home is for sale.



Barn
Offers over £1 million: a 4,000sq ft barn conversion with four bedrooms in West Wycombe
A more likely, and spacious, option would be a house on the outskirts. Substantial detached houses and barns range from £750,000 to £2 million and often come with a parcel of land.

On the downside, the quaintness of the village is slightly marred when juggernauts come roaring through it down the A40. And while West Wycombe Park is enough of a tourist attraction with three pubs and a handful of shops, locals might find the weekend influx of day-trippers trying.

But if you have a family, the village school, West Wycombe Combined School, is rated “good” by Ofsted, and seniors can go on to one of High Wycombe’s highly rated grammars.

The other key advantage of West Wycombe is its commutability. Trains from High Wycombe station, three miles away, take 31 minutes to Marylebone thanks to an upgraded line, and an annual season ticket costs £3,940.

High Wycombe


For commuters who like to have things right on their doorstep and might find West Wycombe too much of a one-horse town, High Wycombe is itself worth consideration despite its rather tarnished reputation.

On the face of it, High Wycombe should be more popular than it is. As well as its transport links, its three single-sex grammar schools — The Royal Grammar School (chef Heston Blumenthal is an old boy), John Hampden Grammar School, and the High School for Girls — are among the best in the country.



The town centre has a pedestrianised area around the Guildhall and plenty of shops, a cinema and restaurants in the smart, newly opened Eden centre. The presence of Buckinghamshire New University gives the town a bit of buzz.

Damage was done in the Sixties, however, when a hideously complex road network was installed, and the high street went downhill. Happily, there are plans to rejig the roads, including potentially removing a flyover known as the Berlin Wall of Wycombe.

There is tremendous variety in the quality of houses across High Wycombe. Some areas are extremely run down. Giles Davidson, of Hamptons International, tips the Daws Hill Lane area to the south of town, close to the famous Wycombe Abbey School, as the best place for family homes.

High Wycombe
£500,000: a five-bedroom Thirties house in Totteridge Lane, High Wycombe, with three reception rooms
A four-bedroom, detached house built in the Eighties would cost from about £500,000, while for £1.5 million you could secure a six- to seven-bedroom Thirties home, fully renovated and extended, and with a sizeable garden.

Peter Reilly, branch manager of The Frost Partnership, recommends the Twenties and Thirties homes in the Bassetsbury Lane conservation area. For £350,000 you could buy a three-bedroom semi-detached house there, while £700,000 will secure a four-bedroom detached house with a good garden.

Bassetsbury Lane is on the Beaconsfield side of town and the price differential between Wycombe and its more affluent neighbour five miles away is substantial.

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