PETERSFIELD The countryside around Petersfield is largely a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that is often referred to as Little Switzerland or the Hampshire Alps. This area will make up the western end of the proposed South Downs National Park. A line of beech hangers follows a meandering escarpment from Binstead, just to the the west of Alton, to Petersfield, where it connects with the South Downs and rises to a 900ft peak at Butser Hill. Butser is within the Queen Elizabeth Country Park, four miles south of the town, which is the place for picnics, pony rides and grass skiing.
With this remarkable landscape to hand, and with Winchester and Chichester only half an hour by car, it is not surprising that Petersfield is a very desirable, and hence expensive, place to live. (Beyond Butser Hill to the south, property prices drop rapidly as you move outside commuting range.) Petersfield owed its initial prosperity to wool, leather and its usefulness as a coaching stop on the road to Portsmouth. Its charm comes from the grouping of ancient buildings around The Square, a former market place where a thrice-weekly market, a fortnightly farmers’ market and a French food market are held. Running off it is Sheep Street, lined with 16th- and 17th-century houses. A small two-bedroom house here would cost around £250,000. The Spain is a kind of unexplained opening in the original street plan, now containing some good Georgian houses. Petersfield was once a predominantly agricultural town, but is now popular with retired couples as well as with commuters to London and Portsmouth.
Just a short walk from the High Street is a pond and 69 acres of heath. Here there are boats for hire, a cricket pitch and golf course, as well as lonelier spots where you come across Bronze Age burial mounds. Every October The Heath is the scene of the Taro Fair – once a horse fair but now a throng of roundabouts and stalls. The best addresses in town are on The Heath. Imposing Victorian or Edwardian detached houses, with up to eight bedrooms, several reception rooms and a billiards room, sell from £750,000 to over £1m. Typical residents are successful local solicitors and retired naval officers.
On the outskirts are some substantial houses built in the Twenties. Four bedrooms will cost from £500,000. Major new developments have appeared, including town-centre flats which start at £180,000 for one bedroom. Herne Farm is still under construction and offers one-bedroom flats at £150,000, to five-bedroom detached houses at £550,000. The Village, built in the centre of the town, is of ‘olde worlde’ design and colourfully painted. A three-bedroom house here costs £400,000; four bedrooms £450,000 or more. Stoneham Park, built in the Seventies, has two-bedroom houses at £180,000; four bedrooms from £300,000. The Gallifords is similarly priced.
Surrounding Petersfield are some beautiful villages. Two miles north is Steep, a trickle of houses across a hillside, which they share with the co-educational private school Bedales. There are dramatic views of the beech woods, to which you can walk by taking a route across the common, past the primary school and up into the hangers. A notable feature of village life are the social events at Bedales, which include plays in the Olivier Theatre, concerts and talks. There is also an art gallery open to the public. You could buy a small period cottage in Steep for around £250,000; a three-bedroom Victorian semi for £400,000; a four- or five-bedroom detached Victorian house for up to £800,000. A one-off, five-bedroom detached modern house with an acre of garden could start at £800,000.
Sheet, one mile north-east of Petersfield, exudes an historic charm. An ancient horse chestnut stands on the village green close to the Queen’s Head pub, with the church and a terrace of old cottages nearby. Two former mills set off some of the larger houses very nicely. The small village sustains a large primary school, which serves its Thirties’ housing estate and the surrounding villages. Prices have risen since the bypass drained away the traffic. A two-bedroom period cottage will cost around £250,000; a three-bedroom Thirties’ detached bungalow £300,000 or more. A four-bedroom Georgian house might fetch around £600,000.
To the south-east of Petersfield is South Harting, recognisable from a distance by its octagonal copper church spire seen against the backdrop of Linch Down, and beneath it in the graveyard lies the novelist Anthony Trollope. The main street, running uphill to the church, has thatched and timber-frame cottages, hairdresser, post office and carpet shop. There is a primary school and villagers have secured the future of the village shop by owning it outright. A three-bedroom half-timbered cottage in South Harting will cost just over £280,000; a three-storey Georgian house with four bedrooms around £600,000. The village hall is the meeting place for all the local clubs and societies, including the Harting Society, a nursery school and a mothers-and-toddlers group. There is football and cricket on the recreation ground. Uppark, the house restored by the National Trust after it was burnt down, is a mile away up the hill.
To the west is West Meon, which suffers from traffic on the A32, and its quieter sister village East Meon, both lying in the shadow of the Downs. West Meon has a primary school, a post-office-cum-store, a butcher, clubs and societies. It is a popular paragliding area. A 16th-century, four-bedroom thatched cottage in need of modernisation might cost a little under £500,000; a Seventies-built three-bedroom semi around £275,000. East Meon is the prettier of the two, with the River Meon flowing beneath a sequence of little bridges. There are one or two 14th-century houses, plus some Tudor and Georgian, and a working forge. A four-bedroom Georgian house would cost over £650,000; a newly-built four-bedroom house in The Meadows £540,000. Leydene Park is a new development a few miles south with giddy views of the coast, tennis courts and five-bedroom detached houses for over £1m.