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  1. Property
August 21, 2023

Up-and-coming Somerset is stealing the Cotswolds’ thunder

The appeal of the Cotswolds is fading as HNWs look for cheaper properties with a more rural charm

By Alec Marsh

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a country house… in the Cotswolds. Yes, there are many lovely corners of England, but for years now – two decades or more – there’s only really been one place to have a bucolic bolthole if you’re part of a certain elite milieu.

What started with the Chipping Norton Set evolved with the arrival of chi-chi members’ clubs such as Soho Farmhouse and, more recently, the Bamford Wellness Spa and a rustic outpost of Mayfair members’ club Maison Estelle.

Even the Americans have got in on the act, with the likes of Charles Noell (the billionaire founder of JMI Equity) and Peter Mullin (founder of M Financial Group) buying up land and homes in the ‘golden triange’ located between Stow-on-the-Wold, Chipping Norton and Burford.

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But if you get the feeling that the Cotswolds has happened, it’s only logical to ask where is happening?

[See also: Why Canary Wharf faces its toughest challenges yet?]

Where are high-profile figures purchasing countryside properties?

Increasingly, the answer seems to be Somerset, the English county formerly best known for cider and dairy farms – and, of course, being on the way to Cornwall.

Take Johnny Depp, who gave an interview and photoshoot at his £13 million, 12-bedroom Somerset mansion set in 850 acres earlier this year. He praised the landscape and the fact that he ‘can go to the shops without being surrounded by people wanting selfies’.

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Then there’s Benedict Cumberbatch, who last year bought an £8.1 million mansion in south Somerset with 355 acres, including an organic farm and cider orchard. Completing the high-profile trio is the former chancellor and now Robey Warshaw partner George Osborne, who bought a £1.6 million house in the market town of Bruton, fast emerging as Somerset’s own Chipping Norton, in 2020.

A house in Somerset
Houses in the emerging town of Bruton are being snapped up by celebrities / Image: Ben Bender

And these are just the latest: other Somerset arrivals include TV presenters Sarah Beeny, who snapped up a £3 million mansion and 220-acre estate in 2018, and Mariella Frostrup, who bought in the county more than a decade ago but has since made it her permanent home.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, notably, also had a substantial house there, although it’s in the north of the county in his constituency, not in the fashionable part in the south around Bruton.

All in all, Somerset is going places, confirms property consultant Philip Eddell of Eddell & Co, who is based over the border in Wiltshire. ‘It’s definitely a real thing,’ he says. ‘There’s a bit of a bubble going on down there.’

Keeping pace with the wealthy: The evolution of Somerset

Jo Henry, a Somerset-based buying agent at Jess Simpson Property Search, says: ‘It’s been evolving since 2014, when Hauser and Wirth got here,’ namechecking the international art group which opened a strikingly modern contemporary gallery in a converted dairy farm outside Bruton.

‘I would say that in 10 years’ time it will look completely different. It’s completely different now from how it was a decade ago.’ Already, she says, the expensive cars on the roads and the opening of the Newt – an elite hotel/private members’ club with gardens — plus the arrival of a Michelin-starred restaurant, Osip, and local villages boasting pubs serving food cooked by ‘hip London chefs’, all speak of a place on the move.

[See also: Mauricio Umansky: The new titan of luxury property]

‘There are loads of celebrities around but you don’t really see them,’ adds Henry. ‘I think the joy of this part of the world is that they can just carve out a little corner.’ And they won’t pay over the odds for the pleasure, because compared to the Cotswolds, Somerset is cheap.

How much does it cost to buy property in Somerset?

Henry says a 10,000 sq ft house with 100 acres of land, plus cottages, a swimming pool and tennis court that would set you back £12 million in the Cotswolds can be had for £8-10 million in Somerset’s golden zone around Bruton.

Seasoned country property man Rupert Sweeting of Knight Frank confirms these Somerset postcodes are trading at a 10-20 per cent discount to the Cotswolds. Among the reasons for its emergence, he says, are the rise of remote and hybrid working, meaning the extra distance from London (relative to the Cotswolds) makes Somerset less of a barrier than it once was. (Trains from Castle Cary to Paddington take 1 hour 45 minutes.)

Somerset
Properties in Somerset are significantly cheaper than the Cotswolds but more appealing for their rural charm / Image: Shutterstock

‘It’s proper countryside with great views,’ adds Sweeting, ‘possibly like the Cotswolds was 20-30 years ago.’

Does he think smart parts of Somerset will reach the dizzying heights of the Cotswolds? ‘It’s gathering momentum,’ he confirms. He sees parallels, for instance, in what drove the Cotswolds’ success – not least the arrival of a string of notable new residents.

The fall of the mighty Cotswolds

Over the past decades the Cotswolds has become home to the Murdochs, the Freuds, the Camerons, as well as media figures such as Jeremy Clarkson and Rebekah Brooks.

The Bamfords, too, have put the area on the map with their Daylesford farm shop, which opened in 2004.

But down the road, momentum is building. ‘Somerset is drawing in people who are definitely younger – a generation below,’ says Philip Eddell. ‘They don’t want to be hobnobbing with Jeremy Clarkson or David Cameron because they’re of a different age group and have got a different sensibility. You want to be with people of your own tribe, who are like-minded.’

Not only that, says Eddell, there’s a slight sense that the Cotswolds are ‘full up’. ‘There’s only so many farmhouses, old rectories and manor houses that were built. It’s also full of Range Rovers and white vans and every house gets ripped apart and rebuilt, whereas Somerset’s a bit sleepier, quieter, more rural, more off the beaten path.’ For now.

Somerset countryside homes
Young HNWs are displaying a preference for properties more off the beaten path / Image: Shutterstock

So far, those making Somerset their home tend to be creative and entrepreneurial, says Jo Henry. These are people who love food or art and make their living at it, and who are making this their home – not just their second home. But the weekenders are coming.

‘The fact that those people are visiting means it’s only a matter of time before they start to buy here in more volume,’ says Henry. Unsurprisingly, her phone is ringing off the hook.

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