A romantic cottage with ageless, timeless appeal goes straight to the heart. All caution is thrown to the wind as you arrive at the roses around the door. The wobbly brick floors, smoke-charred beams and cosy inglenook fireplace are the vital ingredients that clinch the deal.
No one stops to think about carbon footprints, sensible storage or daylight issues. In fact, it is easy to convince yourself that every mile you put between yourself and traffic-choked, Tube-packed London is an extra mile of happiness. So, if on your weekend wanderings you find yourself irresistibly drawn to the dream, read on.
Matthew Slocombe, of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the conservation organisation that runs courses on the repair of old buildings, says there are a surprising number of country cottages in places not that far from London.
'Our village is gorgeous and it is amazing to find something so rural so close to Heathrow and London'
“Timber frame is the predominant medieval building method in the belt around London. They may be clad with tiles or weather boarding, or have a later Georgian façade, but underneath there is still the old timber structure. Originally, most will have been thatched with a slate or tile roof added later. There are many pockets of really old cottages in once isolated rural communities that have survived the encroachment of London’s suburbs."
Many of these ancient cottages, some with histories stretching back 500 years or more, will be listed. Listing protects the country’s historic buildings and owners need permission from their local council before doing any building work.
© John Lawrence
Slocombe says this shouldn’t be too onerous. "Most people who buy old buildings are keen to look after them, and my best tip is to make friends with the council’s conservation officer, who will be a source of good advice."
Delights of Denham
Adam Cook, 39, who works in IT, and his wife Michelle, 36, and their two children (Charlie, two, and Monty, one) live in the quaintly named The Spinning Wheel, a traditional cottage overlooking the green and the pretty church in Denham, Buckinghamshire. This stunning village with a river is close to Heathrow, all the motorways and London.
The country pubs are sophisticated and popular (maybe too popular at the weekends) and the golf club is around the corner. For a townie not wanting to be too deprived of urban life, Denham is a good place to settle.
The cottage was once the village teashop, where the late actor John Mills used to take tea with stars who were working at the nearby film studios. Outside, the brick cottage, which is believed to date from the 17th century, is covered in ivy but the ancient tile roof has all the uneven beauty of a building of great age. Inside there are exposed beams and a brick inglenook fireplace with a wood-burning stove.
“The village is gorgeous and it is amazing to find something so rural so close to Heathrow and London. My train journey to Marylebone takes only 28 minutes," says Adam. The Spinning Wheel is on the market for £585,000 through Knight Frank on 01494 675368.
On the list
Haslemere, south of Guildford, sits in the Surrey hills surrounded by heath and woodland, much owned by the National Trust. It takes its name from hazel trees that grew around a lake. The town is historic, with many buildings dating from the 14th and 15th centuries.
Lee Hollyer, 39, who works in advertising, and his wife Sally, 38, a teacher, have so enjoyed living in their country cottage in Haslemere that they would now find it difficult to live in a modern house. "We are house-hunting at the moment because Sally wants a big garden to grow vegetables," says Lee.
The couple, who have two children - Fleur, five, and Lucy, three - bought their home seven years ago. It is typical of the cottages found in the towns and villages around Guildford. (Other idyllic villages are Shere, Holmbury St Mary, Abinger Hammer and Gomshall.)
It was built from brick and local stone and a section of the upper half is hung with deep-red clay tiles. Inside, the original timber frame construction can be seen in the many exposed timbers.
© Peter Langdown
The cottage is listed. "We can’t alter the cottage without listed building consent but the local council is helpful about changes. For example, we have opened up an inglenook fireplace and we have planning permission to turn an outhouse into an en-suite shower room," says Lee.
The Hollyers’ three-bedroom cottage is on the market for £415,000 through Hamptons (01428 642307).