If a league table were to be produced of England’s most fashionable counties based on homes owned by A-list celebrities, then Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire would take the high score, and Warwickshire, which borders these headline-grabbing locations, would struggle to impress.
But fashion is not everything, and the smart money knows that the south of Warwickshire — an area known as Shakespeare country and which centres on the lovely town of Stratford-upon-Avon — is equal to its neighbours and is far better value for money.
Virginia Gilmore, an associate in Savills’ country department, says homes are ten to 20 per cent cheaper. She says: “Those in the know realise quickly that you can get to London more easily, you get more for your money and there are some very good schools. You don’t get as many Cotswolds weekenders, and therefore you have a more established community.”
The trains from Stratford to London take more than two hours on a stopping service, so locals simply drive to Warwick Parkway to pick up a service to Marylebone, or head for Moreton-in-Marsh for trains to Paddington. Both journeys take just over an hour-and-a half, and annual season tickets cost just over £6,000.
Paul Houghton-Brown, a broker at Sotheby’s International Realty, has worked both the Cotswolds and south Warwickshire patches, and believes the former generally attracts second-home-owners and retirees, while south Warwickshire is a better choice for parents thanks to its accessibility, quality property and high-performing schools.
Best for: Cotswold wannabes who like the quiet life (and can afford to pay for it).
Only a few miles from the Gloucestershire border, this is an exquisite, traditional village that is just as pretty as anything the Cotswolds have to offer.
It even has a celebrity resident, the pleasingly eccentric publishing millionaire Felix Dennis. He owns Dorsington Manor and opens parts of the 730-acre estate each year so visitors can marvel at his tropical pool and Art Deco-style cinema.
One of the great appeals of the village is its housing stock. “Dorsington is absolutely immaculate — it is one of those villages where the properties are all period, there are no nasty Fifties and Sixties council housing, and some of the houses date back to the 16th century,” says Houghton-Brown.
Of course, all this loveliness doesn’t come cheap. The entry price in this upmarket village is about £500,000, for which you could buy a two- bedroom character cottage.
A period family house — detached, four bedrooms and with a good-sized garden — would cost around the £1 million mark. At the top end, a manor house with a staff annexe, outbuildings and about five acres will set you back in the region of £5 million.
The village is a handy seven miles to the shops and restaurants of Stratford, and about 17 miles to either Moreton-in-Marsh or Warwick Parkway stations. This proximity is a good thing since there are no facilities in the village, although the primary school in the neighbouring village, Welford-on-Avon, is rated “outstanding” by Ofsted.
Best for: sociable young families.
If you want picture-postcard looks but need a bit more in the way of community spirit (and a bit more bang for your buck), then Ilmington, on the northern fringes of the Cotswolds, could be just the thing with a shop, a couple of pubs (one traditional, one gastro), playing fields with an active football club, a village hall and a highly rated primary school.
Ilmington Downs, said to be the highest point in Warwickshire, is a spectacular spot for a country walk.
You could pick up an 18th-century period terrace cottage in the heart of the village with two bedrooms for about £300,000, a four-bedroom barn conversion for between £500,000 and £600,000, or a full-on country pile for around £4 million.
Ilmington is only eight miles from Stratford and nine miles from Moreton-in-Marsh, so it is well connected. Some great market towns, such as Shipston-on-Stour and Chipping Campden, are even closer, at just four miles away, despite its middle-of-nowhere feel.
Best for: ambitious parents on a budget.
As a rule of thumb, villages to the north of Stratford are deep in farming country and tend to be a little less cutesy than their southern counterparts, but they are also better value and have a charm of their own.
Snitterfield, four miles from Stratford and just six miles from Warwick Parkway, is famous as the birthplace of John Shakespeare, father of the Bard.
It is centred on a village green, with a pub, shop and yet another popular primary school, rated “good” by the Government’s schools inspector. For the actively inclined there is a sports club, a golf club, a glider club and a riding school nearby. For wine buffs there is also an award-winning local vineyard, Welcombe Hills.
The village is nestled in a valley and there is plenty of red-brick Victorian housing to choose from. Gabrielle Mallard, director of residential sales at Sheldon Bosley, says you could buy a two-up, two-down house for about £250,000, or a good Victorian three-bedroom terrace for £350,000.
Families with slightly larger budgets could buy a detached Victorian villa with four or five bedrooms and a big garden for £600,000. According to Mallard, it is these prices that draw in many up-and- coming thirty-somethings, either those with children or those planning to have them.