Property is the class act in Downton country

Highclere Castle is the star of the new series of Downton Abbey, but the surrounding villages play a leading role
Highclere Castle - Downton Abbey
The cast of Downton Abbey, aka Highclere Castle
The house is impressive, the family intrigue gripping and the dialogue snappy. Most important of all, the dresses are fabulous. Yes, Downton Abbey season is upon us once again. So you can close the curtains, light the fire and drool for weeks to come over Highclere Castle in Berkshire.

In reality, anyone with half a brain would not want the upkeep of a castle, but a romantic village cottage or a house in a pretty hamlet might have its appeal, and it's more than possible to buy a slice of Downton country. Homes in the green acres scattered around the castle are gorgeous, affordable - and only an hour's commute to London.


Thanks to its proximity to the castle, the most famous local village is Highclere. Ed Westmacott, associate director of agents Carter Jonas, says you can buy into village life with a two-bedroom thatched cottage from £300,000. In truth, this is a patchwork quilt of a village with every property style from four-bedroom Victorian cottages to chalet homes (both costing about £500,000); large, newly built executive homes (between £550,000 and £850,000 for five bedrooms), and spacious five-bedroom thatched cottages for up to £800,000.

£945,000: the Old Beer House, a five-bedroom cottage just outside Highclere (01488 682726)
£945,000: the Old Beer House, a five-bedroom cottage just outside Highclere (01488 682726)
The Red House is the popular local, and Marco Pierre White's Yew Tree Inn, where most of the cast stayed, is on the outskirts - though Dame Maggie Smith stayed in Newbury. It's an easy stroll over to Highclere Castle with its 1,000 breathtaking landscaped and rolling acres open to the public (as are parts of the house). The castle hosts a busy programme of events but the village is not much cop if you are looking for an English classic layout as it lacks a real centre, doesn't have much in the way of other facilities, and is built along the busy A343.


A quieter traffic option is neighbouring Burghclere (pronounce it Bur-clere). David Jones, of Jones Robinson estate agents, says Burghclere isn't quintessentially pretty but is good on community and location. "To the south you have the rolling hills of the North Wessex Downs, and the countryside around the village is just amazing." Parents love Burghclere's popular junior and senior schools. Burghclere Primary is rated "excellent" by Ofsted. The Clere School, for seniors, is rated "good" with some excellent features.

The Carpenter's Arms is in the village, and the popular Carnarvon Arms is half a mile away but there are no shops, and Burghclere's light on truly chocolate-box property. You can buy a three-bedroom Twenties semi from about £350,000, or a large, detached Seventies house for between £500,000 and £600,000. Large Georgian-period homes with an acre or two are a rarer find, and sell from about £800,000.

£575,000: four-bedroom detached house set in delightful gardens in Burghclere (01635 350010)
£575,000: four-bedroom detached house set in delightful gardens in Burghclere (01635 350010)

The Woodies

For a truly pretty village location go to East or West Woodhay - known locally as the Woodies, tiny villages with no facilities but fab property, charming ambience and real middle-of-nowhere feel. Most of the property in the Woodies is period - dating from the 1800s onwards - and a two-bedroom cottage goes for £400,000. Spacious family homes cost several million pounds.

Woolton Hill

For a doctor, shop or school, go to Woolton Hill, famous for Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the crown prince and ruler of Dubai and one of the world's richest men, who breeds thoroughbred racehorses at the Gainsborough Stud.

Woolton Hill Primary School can only manage a "satisfactory" Ofsted rating, and some observers say the village (pronounced with a silent L - say "Wooton") is becoming more like a suburb of Newbury than a country village, thanks to a number of newish developments. Executive homes with five bedrooms in Woolton Hill go for about £750,000.

Ball Hill

Ball Hill is pretty, has a village shop and a great mix of period property dating from the 17th century. A two- to three-bedroom chocolate-box cottage is about £350,000, or a four-bedroom detached Victorian house costs between £600,000 and £800,000, says Nick Loweth, a partner at Knight Frank. A spacious family house with great views and a couple of acres costs about £1.25 million. And the badge of middle-class approval - Waitrose - is 10 minutes' drive away.

£224,950: rarely available two-bedroom character cottage in Burghclere (01635 46666)
£224,950: rarely available two-bedroom character cottage in Burghclere (01635 46666)

A hamlet home

Discerning toffs head for the tiny hamlets on the Hampshire/Berkshire borders. Faccombe, about two miles from Highclere, has outstanding views and four- to five-bedroom former estate cottages for between £800,000 and £1 million. Smartest of all is Sydmonton, with views galore, a walker's paradise and the setting for Watership Down. It is close to Overton station with direct trains to Waterloo in an hour.

A smart barn conversion and an acre of Sydmonton comes in at around £2 million. Loweth warns that some of the homes there are blighted by the A34. The best view is into nearby Sydmonton Court Estate, home of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. With the wind in the right direction, you might even hear a song or two.

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