Writing in Country Life in 1997, the magazine’s then-Architectural Editor the late Giles Worsley referred to stately Grade I-listed Trafalgar Park, near Salisbury, Wiltshire, as ‘the Flying Dutchman of the property world, endlessly seeking an owner and being sold on while the fabric slowly decayed’.
The fine country house built by John James of Greenwich in 1733 for City grandee Sir Peter Vandeput was nevertheless described as ‘an estate agent’s dream, a house that always seemed to come back on the market’.
These 18 rugged spikes of basalt half way between Shetland and Iceland are windy, wet and wild. The crew shooting aerial scenes for the upcoming James Bond film, No Time to Die (out September 30) had to bring in a small helicopter on the ferry from Denmark to film the sheer cliffs surrounding the deep road tunnels that link the four tiny villages on the island of Kalsoy (total population: 70).
In reality the Faroese are probably the people least likely to ever harbour a Bond villain—a tight-knit community of just 52,000 where most people can still name a common ancestor. Getting there is easier than many imagine, with twice weekly flights from Edinburgh (with Atlantic Airways) or twice daily from Copenhagen.
Walking down Mare Street, vibrant even in these days of restrictions, it’s hard to reconcile today’s Hackney with pictures from the past. Shop-lined roads were once babbling streams, pubs were market gardens and this bastion of hip, edgy, urban creativity was a remote village where people retreated for a taste of idyllic countryside. But then, few places have changed more over time than this corner of East London.
According to local lore, the small settlement that sprung up along the Roman roads to Lincoln and Colchester owes its name to a Danish chief called Hacon, whose eye — islet—this was. No trace remains of this early history, but some medieval records indicate that the Knights Templars owned about 110 acres in the Hackney Marshes and built some mills on the River Lea — hence today’s Temple Mills. The village’s first parish church, St Augustine, was named after the Templars’ patron saint.
Dartmoor’s Baskerville Hall is one of the most famous country houses in English fiction. The arrival at its doors of Dr Watson, in the company of Sir Henry Baskerville, is a vivid piece of cinematic direction, artfully combining the Gothic horror tale with the more modern taste for detective thrillers.
Passing a ruined black-granite lodge, Watson and Baskerville go through the gates that are ‘a maze of fantastic tracery in wrought iron’ before reaching an avenue where ‘old trees shot their branches in a sombre tunnel’. The hall is a ‘heavy block’, with a projecting porch, its façade ‘draped in ivy’ within which the odd window or heraldic display can be seen.
This lovely house — Grade II-listed — was built four centuries ago, when (no doubt) all around was rolling fields and endless Bedfordshire skies. Today, it’s a couple of hundred yards up a country lane, that comes straight off the main A505 heading from Hitchin to Luton, with a large cemetery just along the road.
So not quite a countryside idyll, then, but at least you know the neighbours will be dead quiet.
Balancing the house and the location is always part of the fun with any property, of course. And if you’re after a place truly in the country, then a thatched cottage such as this one at the other end of the county — a delightful two-bedroom beauty at £435,000 — is really in the middle of nowhere.
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