SALISBURY The city of Salisbury is full of visual treats, architectural nooks and crannies, gabled houses, half-timbering and Chilmark stone. Unlike Winchester, which grew out of medieval clutter, it was built on a grid pattern and so has a greater sense of space and order. At the heart of it is the confluence of the rivers Avon and Nadder, spanned by medieval bridges. Another remnant of medieval life is the open-air market on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Shops in the city centre tend to be small and specialised, with Waitrose and Tesco kept out of sight on the edge of town. The Salisbury Playhouse is the main theatrical venue, with the City Hall next door hosting a mix of touring artists and tribute bands. The Salberg provides productions on the fringe and the Arts Centre offers lectures, theatre and film screenings.
The top of the property pyramid in Salisbury is Cathedral Close, once home to the novelist Henry Fielding and the late Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath. It is regarded as one of the most beautiful closes in England, dating from the late 18th century when graves were pushed to one side and houses built for the city’s more important residents. The close is perfectly quiet, shut away behind locked gates at night and as expensive as Chelsea or Westminster. A 48-year lease can cost £750,000; a rare freehold could well top £1.5m. There are some good streets near the cathedral, overlooking Queen Elizabeth Gardens, where you might pick up a four-bedroom late-Victorian terraced house with a 60ft garden for £425,000 upwards. A short distance away is Fisherton Island, a small group of detached houses built in the Sixties commanding around £425,000 for four bedrooms. It is also possible to buy into one of the oldest streets in Salisbury, Guilder Lane, where a brick-and-timber cottage with two bedrooms might cost £185,000. Popular schools include Cathedral School, The Godolphin, Bishop Wordsworth’s for boys and South Wilts Girls’.
At the lower end of the market are hundreds of late-Victorian terraces fronting directly on to pavements, but beware the parking problem. You might get a two-bedroom terraced house for just over £160,000. In the gentrified streets – identifiable by the hanging baskets – you could pay £170,000, and in St Anne’s Street over £300,000. On the city outskirts, areas such as Shady Bower offer flats at around £170,000 and modern four-bedroom houses at £275,000. For a more villagey feel, look to the leafy lanes of Milford, where four-bedroom detached houses fetch around £290,000.
Outside Salisbury, the Wiltshire chalk downlands and the five valleys of the Avon, Wylye, Nadder, Ebble/Chalke and Bourne provide the setting for some very attractive, unspoilt villages. Some are subject to flooding in bad weather. Those to the south tend to be more popular. Those to the north are on the edge of Salisbury Plain, where there is a massive military presence and the magic of a country walk might be exploded by a training exercise.
Penetrating deeply into the south you come to Fordingbridge. This is rather far for regular London commuters, but people’s fondness for it is such that it acts as a magnet for the villages between it and Salisbury. Its best asset is the River Avon, crossed by a seven-arched medieval bridge and overlooked by a statue of Augustus John, who once lived here. It has shops good enough to meet day-to-day needs, as well as a bookshop, antiques shop and china shop. It is ideally placed for people who like to hack across the New Forest and for anglers with rods on the Avon. There is a real mix of housing, from the often flimsily built, but sought-after houses of the New Forest, for which you could pay £190,000 for two bedrooms, to huge Twenties’ set-pieces in 20 acres from £1.2m. Pony paddocks are expensive here. On one of the several modern developments you would pay £230,000 for a three-bedroom detached house; up to £350,000 for four bedrooms.
Nearby is Breamore, pronounced ‘Bremmer’, a typical Wiltshire brick village. ‘It’s a horsey, hunting, shooting village. Brilliant,’ said one happy local. Breamore House, home of the Hulse family, is an Elizabethan manor overlooking the Avon valley, open to the public. There is a good choice of period houses, but catching one as it comes on the market is like finding a hen’s tooth. Villages slightly to the west within this group – Rockbourne and Martin, for example – are also very rural and pretty, and a two-bedroom period thatched cottage here will cost £300,000. Rockbourne and Damerham operate one of the first federated primary schools in the country, sharing teachers and facilities. Its reputation is good.
Closer to Salisbury’s southern edge, yet with the advantage of being close to Fordingbridge, is Downton, a village that once depended on lace-making, flour-milling and paper-making. It has an authentically ancient atmosphere, especially in the lovely main street, The Borough. A two-bedroom semi-detached period house in the village will cost £225,000. It is a large village, with a population of 2,500, so it has better amenities than most, including shops, a medical centre, a bank and a library. Villagers usher in the spring with the annual May Cuckoo fair. There is a country market every Friday where local cheeses can be bought.
Even closer in beside the city’s watermeadows is Britford, a sleepy collection of brick cottages and farmhouses on the River Avon. It has a school and a common, but there are no shops and it has to share its vicar with other villages. Residents have a reputation for being rather reclusive and rarefied, particularly those who occupy the large houses on the lower road along the river bank. A good period house with four bedrooms would cost well over £500,000. Nearby are Odstock and its neighbours Nunton and Bodenham, where the social life is rather more robust. People who have moved away find themselves drawn back for the annual fête, to join in the river raft races and dance the night away. Odstock has a school and a pub popular with doctors from the nearby hospital. Prices are similar to Britford’s.
The Chalke Valley is also a good hunting ground. Bowerchalke, though very much a one-road village, occupies a beautiful position in an Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty surrounded by the Downs, just before the countryside tips over into Dorset. It has a mix of brick-and flint, cob and green sandstone, with some modern houses. Everyone knows everyone else. There is no pub and it has lost its battle to keep its shop, but there is a playgroup. Incomers are not always a bad thing, as one villager recalls. ‘Everyone used to inter-marry. The IQ of the village was saved by the arrival of the bicycle.’ There is a trout farm and a small stream running through, and endless walks. Houses here and in the neighbouring village of Broad Chalke are usually easy to sell. A 19th-century two-bedroom cottage will fetch £275,000; a modern four-bedroom house in vernacular style £400,000. Broad Chalke is right on the Ebble where it meets the Chalke, and it regards itself as the capital of the Chalke valley. It lies between two chalk ridges, Here Path and Ox Drove Road, which both provide challenging walks. There is an ancient pub, and shops include a butcher who makes his own faggots. The village school is still going strong, and there is a doctor’s surgery. One of the most successful of its many clubs and societies is the Wilton and District Youth Band. Owners of some swimming pools in the village allow their neighbours to use them. South Street is particularly pretty because of its thatched cottages.
The town of Wilton, three miles west of Salisbury, is spoilt by its position on the A30 and A36, though it has a good market square, peppered with antique shops, and some nice old houses. A two-bedroom cottage could be picked up for around £225,000. This is where the Wilton Carpets are made. Much of the town is owned by the Pembroke estate. The nearby Wilton House, built by the Earl of Pembroke, is open to the public.
The next spoke in the wheel of valleys around Salisbury is the Wylye Valley. The villages here both retain their sense of rural remoteness and yet have easy access to the city along the A36. Codford St Mary and Codford St Peter are rather strung out along the road and have plenty of modern houses. They have one of the only village theatres in the country. A four-bedroom house would cost between £300,000 and £350,000; a three-bedroom Thirties’ semi around £145,000.
To the north of Salisbury, the Woodford Valley is given particular charm by the River Avon. There is a dearth of smaller cottages so this is not first-timer country. A four-bedroom period family house, possibly with a paddock, is likely to fetch over £600,000. There are people here whose families have lived in the area for centuries; many of the newer arrivals have military connections. Lower Woodford, Middle Woodford and Upper Woodford are all strung out along the river, so there is no strong sense of community. There is a pub and they share a primary school. Heal House, where Charles II sheltered after the Battle of Worcester in 1651, opens its gardens to the public. Lower Woodford has a pub, beside some old thatched chalk cottages. Great Durnford also lies in this exclusive belt and is similarly expensive.
Further north, a couple of miles from Stonehenge, is Amesbury. This is in the neighbourhood of three army camps – Larkhill, Tidworth and Bulford – and the army personnel help to keep the first-time-buyer market ticking over. A mass of new developments has sprung up alongside the older brick-and-flint cottages, and more growth is likely. The new Solstice Park business development has brought employment to the area. On the modern estates you would pay around £130,000 for a two-bedroom house, £170,000 for a three-bedroom semi, £235,000 for a four-bedroom house. Older three-bedroom cottages fetch around £225,000. There are a handful of select roads, such as Countess and Stonehenge, where large detached houses built in the early part of the 20th century sell for £300,000 to £400,000.
Just to the east of Salisbury is Laverstock, separated by the River Bourne. Large riverside houses appeal to the local bank-manager class, and there is a primary and three secondary schools, which have good reputations. A modern detached house with four bedrooms will cost around £300,000.