Go West: the finest homes in southwestern counties
In parts wild and well connected, the West Country offers beaches, moors and tors alongside its small cities and prepossessing villages and towns. Here’s Inigo’s roundup of the best of the southwest’s treasures
The charm of the southwest of England lies largely in its contradictions: it’s both rugged and refined, as welcoming to artists, authors and aesthetes as it is to country bumpkins or gentlemen farmers, and it’s full of small towns brimming with big ideas. Whether it’s the pony-studded moors or mystical levels that draw you, or if you’re seeking scaled-down city life that doesn’t compromise on culture, we’ve sifted through our listings to find six rural refuges and elegant townhouses in Gloucestershire, Somerset and beyond.
There’s a room with a view – and then there’s a whole house: South Devon’s Lyme Bay and the dramatic Ness headland is visible from each of Ness Cottage’s four floors, across the grounds’ mature beds, veg patches and trees, so close to Shaldon’s Botanical Gardens so as to feel almost part of them. But while nature dominates the five-bedroom Georgian house’s southeastern outlook, those in search of seaside civilisation need not worry: the village – celebrated for its five pubs – sits just behind, where quaint cafes and independent suppliers are nestled on its narrow streets, while the resort of Teignmouth is just a ferry ride away, and half an hour in the car sees you in Dartmoor.
Jane Austen’s Bath is much heralded, but what about that of Dickens? In 1840, the great Victorian novelist was said to have been living at number 35 in St James’s Square – a quadrangle of 45 houses and the only in the city today that remains entirely residential. Chances are, it looks much the same as it did in his day (and indeed in Austen’s), as a result of its Grade I-listed status. This house, which has five bedrooms and is blessed with a private garden as well as access to the shared central green, is happily quieter than the touristy Royal Crescent directly below, but hardly less spectacular. You can walk to the train station – designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, engineering leviathan of the southwest – in under 20 minutes, from which the journey to London is less than an hour and a half.
Something special has happened in Somerset of late, as towns hitherto seen as unfashionably provincial – Frome and Bruton, to name two – have developed into cultural and culinary hotspots. On their heels (and less than 10 miles from each) is the market town Shepton Mallet and its lush environs stretching into the Mendips and Levels, such as the ancient village of Croscombe, where this house can be found. Exquisitely beautiful, with extraordinary vaulted ceilings and carved fireplaces, well situated – it’s half an hour from Bristol airport – and with distinguished heritage (the house is thought to have been built in 1460 for the treasurer of Wells Cathedral and was written about by Pevsner), the Old Manor is a rare jewel.
A paradigm of Regency Bathonian architecture hewn in local golden stone, this apartment sits within a house on Daniel Street designed by Thomas Pinch the Elder, a Cornishman who was among the most prolific and influential Neoclassicists working in the city in Georgian times. Soaring proportions, delicate mouldings, original sash windows – this is as Bath as Bath can be, not least given the two-bedroom flat’s central position – it’s just a few minutes’ walk from the Holburne Museum, chock-a-block with Northern Renaissance paintings and important English furniture.
While the Cotswolds as a whole – spanning six counties – aren’t strictly deserving of southwestern classification, the verdant valleys of Gloucestershire’s portion are among the West Country’s greatest riches, thanks to the beauty of villages such as Buckland – a reminder that there’s more to this part of the world than the blue-blooded polo-playing ‘Glossy posse’. A mosey round Brookside Cottage is proof. Romantic without being twee, thanks to its cool flagstones underfoot, dark oak beams overhead and exposed stone walls, the cottage is perfectly placed for ticking off some of the finest walks in this part of the world, among them the Cotswold Way. One would hardly know that London was just 80 minutes away by train…
The third Bath residence in this series, Sion Hill Place is set a little further from the centre than the others, in Lansdown (still reachable by foot), on one of the seven hills that jostle around the fringes of the city and have historically saved it from excessive urban sprawl. This Grade I-listed home, split into a main five-bedroom house and two-bedroom basement apartment, shares an architect with Daniel Street, though Sion Hill Place (1818) is widely regarded as Pinch the Elder’s finest residential project. A proper period piece, the house’s original features, such as an original Georgian dresser and, in particular, its plasterwork – like icing in gesso on a very pretty cake indeed – are a sheer delight. Mod cons and decorative touches bring things up to date: a Gaggenau kitchen, for instance, and marble splashbacks. This is a house very much of its place and time, sensitively refashioned for contemporary living.
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