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What it's like living in the North Hampshire Downs

PUBLISHED: 15:33 15 May 2019 | UPDATED: 15:33 15 May 2019

View over Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey)

View over Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey)

Emma Caulton

Ever fancied living among Hampshire's highlands? We take a tour

For countryside with wow factor, what about the North Hampshire Downs? This sweeping expanse of chalk downland, lying west of Basingstoke and north of Andover, is part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Beauty. It is certainly beautiful. The northern edge of the Downs, in the north-western corner of the county hard up against the Berkshire and Wiltshire borders, is formed by a dramatic escarpment that rises to over 280 metres. These are Hampshire's highlands and include Pilot Hill, at 286m the highest hill in Hampshire, and Beacon Hill, 261m high, with views across Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey) and topped by an ancient hill fort and the grave of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. This is a popular climb. On a clear day you cannot quite see forever (as the song lyrics go), but there is a breathtaking panorama over the Thames Basin.

This is a landscape that features stunning views with sweeping hills dotted with unspoiled villages and crossed by numerous footpaths. It is popular with horse riders, walkers and cyclists. Two long distance paths start high on these chalk downs at Inkpen (just across the county boundary in Berkshire). There's the Test Way which continues through the Bourne Valley, following farm tracks through the charming hamlet of Ibthorpe and into the village of Hurstbourne Tarrant (a favourite with William Cobbett who chronicled this countryside in his book Rural Rides) and St Mary Bourne. Then there's the Wayfarer's Walk which skirts round Highclere Castle estate, past Watership Down which inspired Richard Adams' book of the same name and into Kingsclere.

The area is perfect for those who want to live deep in lush, peaceful countryside, but need good access via road and train to the likes of Basingstoke, Newbury and London. Train services from Newbury into Paddington often take less than an hour, and they are just over an hour from Whitchurch into Waterloo, while the A34 crosses through the area, providing access to the A303, M3 and M4.

Picturesque villages are strung out along river valleys while others are isolated, tucked into the folds of the Downs. Narrow country lanes twist and turn past meadows where ponies graze and forgotten churches, leading you astray and away from the pressures and stresses of modern life.

The large village of Kingsclere and small town of Whitchurch on the fringes of the North Hampshire Downs offer a selection of facilities, with nearby Andover (which has a Waitrose and The Lights "cultural centre") and busier Basingstoke providing everyday needs. Just over the county border into Berkshire, the quaint market town of Hungerford (described as the heart of the North Wessex Downs) is renowned for its antique shops while Newbury, whose town centre has had a revamp, is best known for its racecourse. For this is horse country. Things get more serious in Berkshire's "Valley of the Horse", as Nick Loweth of Knight Frank refers to the Lamborn Valley. However, it is serious enough here with both Highclere Stud (overseen by John Warren HM The Queen's Bloodstock and Racing Advisor) and Highclere Thoroughbred Racing (which specialises in racehorse ownership) on the Hampshire/Berkshire borders.

So equestrian and outdoorsy types will be more than happy. But where to buy? If you want remote and rural, look round the villages high in the Downs - however, opportunities to buy here are few and far between. Families may be better suited anyway to the villages in the Bourne Valley as many have strong communities and decent facilities. For example, Hurstborne Tarrant has a store (recently refurbished and reopened), very good pub (George & Dragon), tea room, veterinary practice and primary school. Vernham Dean has a village hall, playing fields, cosy pub (The George Inn), pre-school and primary school. Hatherden in Tangley Parish has yet another good country pub (The Old Bell & Crown) and primary school.

These village schools receive good reports from Ofsted. Hurstbourne Tarrant Primary and St Mary Bourne Primary are both rated 'outstanding', while Burghclere Primary, Ecchinswell and Sydmonton Primary, Hatherden Primary, Kingsclere Primary, Vernham Dean Gillum's Primary and Whitchurch Primary are all considered 'good' (among others). At secondary level, Testbourne Community School in Whitchurch is 'outstanding'.

With so many boxes ticked for the house hunter, it makes the North Hampshire Downs a bit of a high spot in more ways than one.

Agent talk - Nick Loweth, Knight Frank

"People move to the area for a combination of factors: the beautiful countryside, the very good communications and the schooling. You can walk on the Downs with unspoiled views, have lunch in a really good pub and be in central London an hour and a bit later; that has appeal.

This is proper countryside with an outdoor life. There's a very wide range of pastimes - walking, riding, hunting, shooting. Personally, I am a very keen cyclist and for me some of the most beautiful countryside around here is on the cusp of the three counties - the Berkshire, Hampshire and Wiltshire borders above the Bourne Valley and the Chutes - good high ground with quiet roads. It is cyclists' heaven.

There is farming and horses and there are still pubs where you can go and have a pint at the bar. Yet you can get to London in an hour or so direct by stations on the Paddington Line (running through Newbury) or the Waterloo Line (from Andover, Basingstoke and Overton stations) or by road, with the A34 connecting with the M3 and M4.

Schooling also has very strong appeal, both state and independent schools, with Cheam (Headley), Horris Hill (Newtown) and Farleigh (near Andover); the list goes on.

There isn't a typical property - it can be a thatched chocolate box cottage all the way through to a Queen Anne Manor House - and there isn't a particular style although brick and flint is a fairly common theme in the Bourne Valley, which is popular with purchasers as it is very pretty and there are a number of very good villages including Oxenwood, Vernham Dean, Hurstbourne Tarrant and St Mary Bourne. Then you've places like the Chutes (Upper Chute, Lower Chute, Chute Standen and Chute Cadley), and villages like Upton, Ashmansworth and Faccombe. These are all very, very popular villages but property doesn't come up very often."


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