ANDOVER had the stuffing knocked out of it in the Sixties and is now a town of shopping malls and modern housing. It is well-placed for the M3/A303 magic carpet to the West Country and sits plum in the middle of some of Hampshire’s prettiest countryside. The new Lights Theatre has given the town a cultural identity, and the theatre at Cricklade College is home to drama and music societies. The arrival of Asda in 2008 brought with it a cinema. In the tapering old market place there is a street market on Thursdays and Saturdays and a farmers’ market once a month.
In the few Victorian streets that remain, you might buy a three-bedroom terraced house for around £150,000. Some of the most popular properties are the Twenties’ and Thirties’ semis, which sell from £180,000 for three bedrooms. The west of the town is where the newest housing is to be found. At Weyhill, for example, you could buy a four-bedroom detached family house for £240,000 to £280,000.
The chalk hills around Andover hold some of the loveliest villages in the country. All those along the Bourne Valley, from Hurstbourne Tarrant down to Longparish, have a definite social cachet. Hurstbourne Tarrant sits in the valley bottom with Hurstbourne Hill casting a steep green shadow in the background. Stagecoaches used to change horses here before tackling its merciless incline. William Cobbett visited on his Rural Rides – his initials are on a brick in the garden wall of Rookery Farm, where a former owner used to put out plates of food for hungry travellers. Jane Austen’s parson brother also lived here and she visited frequently. To move here now you have to pay through the nose: a two-bedroom period cottage could cost £250,000; a four-bedroom period house £400,000 to £500,000.
St Mary Bourne is further east along the sparkling chalk River Bourne, often called the Swift by locals, especially when it is in full spate. The village is a wonderful muddle of brick-and-flint, oak beams, wattle-and-daub and thatch. It has 15 listed buildings and a lovely Norman church. There is a thriving village primary school, five pubs, a village hall and shop, plus all the usual village societies. Some of the local families have lived here for centuries, as an 1842 tithe map has proved. ‘Our main worry,’ said the parish clerk, ‘is that new people moving in want to throw a glass dome over the place and don’t want it to change, even though the demands of the village are changing.’ A two-bedroom thatched cottage will cost from £220,000; a modern four-bedroom house £400,000 upwards.
Longparish, at the lower end of this exclusive corridor, is indeed a very long parish, threading along three-and-a-half miles of winding lane and the meandering River Test. Some of the field walls and thatched cottages are built of clunch (chalk stone), with modern estates sandwiched in between. The big flints in the fields are known as ‘Hampshire diamonds’; the other white specks are sheep. Property prices are higher than those in St Mary Bourne.
Ludgershall, to the north-west, offers housing even cheaper than Andover’s – if you can bear the development going on all around. ‘There are hundreds of houses going up. It’s out of control,’ said one villager. A three-bedroom terraced house built in the Twenties will cost around £140,000; a two-bedroom terraced house around £120,000. Further west are North Tidworth and South Tidworth, both of which offer outstanding value for money, but have rather transient populations. The army, which has a strong presence in the area, has been shedding staff, with the result that you might pick up a two-bedroom flat for £90,000, or a three-bedroom house for £150,000. Shipton Bellinger is very ordinary and again dominated by the army. Three-bedroom semis fetch around £170,000 to £180,000. Closer to Andover itself is the rather more cosy community of Penton Mewsey, where you might buy a four-bedroom period house for £400,000 to £480,000.
To the south-west is Monxton, with the Pill Hill brook gambolling through it under a small bridge. It is a very compact village with just 79 houses, 31 of which are thatched cottages, many over 300 years old, a small green along the river and a pub. Jujitsu, badminton, line dancing and drama classes take place in the village hall and incomers are welcomed. A small, thatched terraced cottage would cost from £230,000; a four-bedroom modern house over £325,000. Abbotts Ann, close by, is also pretty. Its status has risen to rival the villages of the Test or Bourne valleys and it has a village shop with a baker who produces fresh bread daily. You could buy a thatched cottage with three or four bedrooms for £375,000 to £475,000; a four-bedroom detached modern house for about the same.
Stockbridge, further south, has enormous cachet. It lies in breathtakingly lovely countryside and is a great angling centre for some of the best and most expensive fishing in England, along the River Test. The Grosvenor Hotel, with its huge overhanging porch, houses the exclusive Houghton Fishing Club. The wide main street, edged with Tudor and Georgian houses, a superb butcher and other good shops, belies the village’s size for there are very few back streets. Stockbridge Down, a mile away, is dotted with ancient earthworks, and up in the hills are the Iron Age forts of Woolbury Camp and Danebury Ring. A two-bedroom period terraced house with a small garden in Stockbridge will cost from £250,000; a more substantial Georgian terraced house around £400,000. Half a dozen new six-bedroom detached houses carry a value of £500,000 or more. An oddity close to Stockbridge is Leckford, an estate village of tied thatched cottages owned since 1928 by the John Lewis Partnership. The estate is a major local employer and the properties are occupied by working and retired staff. The cottages are painted in the John Lewis trademark green.