Finding out what it’s like to live in Stockbridge and surrounding villages
- Credit: Emma Caulton
Whether you consider the countryside around Stockbridge classic or chichi, lifestyles in this stretch of the Test Valley are certainly covetable
Floating on the River Test with Stockbridge Downs as a backdrop, Stockbridge is one of the smallest towns in the country and (cliché alert) a hidden gem. This is country life at its Dubarry wellie-booted smartest – all fly-fishing on the Test and posh country pubs, with top notch wine merchant, delicious deli, stylish boutiques and swanky galleries on the High Street. It’s slightly eccentric. Ducks are as likely as not to be waddling among the shoppers, while families pause to peer into the clear waters of the Test, running alongside and under the pavement, to spot shadowy trout.
I have often imagined moving here to live the country lifestyle dream. It appears that perfect, that glamorous. Lanes are prettily edged with hedgerow and the countryside seems more parkland than muddy field (thanks in part to Waitrose, but more of that later). There are views across water meadows where willows trail long fronds in the Test.
Stockbridge doesn’t actually have a huge amount of property; however surrounding villages are a picture postcard perfection of thatch, cob, flint and timber-frame. Honeysuckle and roses ramble over porches while gardens overflow with hollyhocks and lavender. These villages include, to the south, King’s Somborne, a lively hub of a village with primary school, traditional thatched pub and an array of activities from amateur dramatics to yoga.
There’s Houghton, an elegant village stretched alongside the banks of the Test with a good pub, the Boot Inn, known for its riverside gardens, and Houghton Lodge, a darling of a 19th century fishing lodge in the cottage orné style with gardens and tearooms open end of March to end of September.
West of Houghton is Broughton, a desirable village with school, surgery, excellent community store and two good pubs - The Tally Ho, a friendly local with well-kept real ales, and The Greyhound, incorporating, unexpectedly, a highly rated Thai restaurant (not to be confused with The Good Food Guide-recommended The Greyhound on the Test in Stockbridge itself).
To the north of Stockbridge, both Nether Wallop and Longstock vie for the title of prettiest Hampshire village. Nether Wallop has starred as St Mary Mead in TV adaptations of Agatha Christie novels. Meanwhile chocolate boxy Longstock is home to art dealer’s Josie Eastwood’s new gallery in a converted barn, The Peat Spade Inn, a charming gastropub, and part of the Leckford Estate (aka The Waitrose Farm). As such it benefits from Waitrose’s own stylish farm shop and café, plus very good plant nursery and gardens, found down a long, long, wooded driveway. Could countryside living be more perfectly presented than this?
As for the homes, the choice encompasses impressive country houses, conversions of barns, chapels, coach houses and water mills, 17th century village houses, timber-framed rectories and quaint cottages with steep thatch sweeping low over windows and entrances. There is little that’s typical about houses in the area, and that is one of its delights.
For families, local schools tick the box. They’re all ‘good’ according to Ofsted, including primaries at Broughton, King’s Somborne, Stockbridge and the Wallops and Test Valley Secondary in Stockbridge. Youngsters can also can enjoy an old-fashioned, outdoorsy, country childhood exploring riverbank and cross-country paths (such as the Test Way and Clarendon Way), downland and windswept Danebury Iron Age hill fort.
As for commuters, rail and road connections are decent. Stockbridge sits on the A30, providing good access to road networks, plus there are mainline services at Grateley, a village seven miles north of Stockbridge, with a journey time to London Waterloo of around 80 minutes. Otherwise nearby Romsey offers a train service into Southampton that takes as little as 10 minutes.
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If it all seems too good to be true; it is. First, a lack of housing stock keeps prices keen. Second, there is a dependency on the car with mums and dads providing taxi services as rural bus services have been cut in these parts. However, sitting over cake and coffee in Coffee Lab (above Woodfire) or Thyme & Tides bistro-deli before picking up pheasant and sausages from John Robinson Butcher’s, fresh veggies from the quaintest greengrocers and Christmas gifts from browsable stores such as Broughton Crafts on Stockbridge’s High Street, I would not be tempted to travel further afield.
Agent talk - Adrian Geary, Jackson Stops & Staff, Winchester
“People tend to move here for lifestyle choices. Typically, they are people well into their careers, 50 and 60 somethings, maybe moving out of London, with family getting to university age; although some are younger families drawn into the area by Farleigh School, a popular school with a good reputation.
Stockbridge has beautiful countryside, is just over an hour from London and slap bang between two cathedral cities. It is a nice place for those looking to escape without committing themselves to a huge commute. It’s not too difficult a journey back to London with local railway services and the M3 accessible (at junction eight) via the A30, which runs through Stockbridge, linking with the A303 and motorway. There are those who commute daily from here. Otherwise there are many who need to go to London occasionally who move to the Stockbridge area because the countryside is beautiful, but they haven’t quite thrown themselves off the end of the world!
Stockbridge has reinvented itself in recent years with lovely events like Trout ‘n’ About, a wonderful summer fair, nice little delis and boutique shops. It has become the place to meet up to do lunch. For a long time, although it had a few shops, it was all about the fishing, as the River Test is a world class chalk stream. There is still a small group who buy here purely for the fishing, but its appeal has broadened. Now there’s more interest in getting onto the Test Way to go for walks or mountain biking cross-country. I’ve done the stretch from Fullerton to Romsey and it’s a lovely level route running alongside the river and through adjacent countryside.
Most of the surrounding villages started out as farms and working villages with a manor house, rectory and cottages. Over the years a lot of those cottages have ended up being extended and then there is infilling, but the villages are still comparatively small. Because life works so well here, we find that many of our clients have put down roots for a long time. Some have lived here 25… 35 years or longer. So, there are only going to be a handful of properties for sale at any one time and that’s why you find that buyers have to look at quite a wide area.
We were one of those families who moved out of London. My father originally worked in the city and when he was given a region to run in Hampshire my parents chose to come here. It was only supposed to be for a few years; 42 years later the family still live in the area. It does get under your skin.”
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