Why you should move to Romsey

The Red Cottage, Braishfield
OIEO 1,000,000
Delightful 17th century thatched cottage with swimming

The Red Cottage, Braishfield OIEO 1,000,000 Delightful 17th century thatched cottage with swimming pool, separate annexe and country views Charles Powell, West Wellow, 01794 322999 - Credit: Charles Powell

The enduring charm of a traditional market town – Emma Caulton praises Romsey

Winchester Road, Romsey
Well-presented charming Victorian home - features include open fir

Winchester Road, Romsey 315,000 Well-presented charming Victorian home - features include open fireplace Henshaw Fox, Romsey, 01794 521339 - Credit: Henshaw Fox

For decades Romsey has successfully turned its back on the modern world. The lack of a big hurrah of an entrance has helped keep Romsey as a destination for the discerning. It doesn't invite you in. You have to take the trouble to discover Romsey's charming higgledy streets lined with a hotch-potch of period buildings.

The intact historic centre is largely due to the efforts of the Romsey Preservation Trust, who have fought to retain the built heritage of this gentle market town since the 1970s. Its successes range from its award-winning involvement with Cherville Street to Romsey's Signal Box.

However Romsey's character has also been protected by location and infrastructure. At the southern end of the lush Test Valley, there isn't a straightforward commute to London. Romsey station is not on the mainline, instead providing a good service to Southampton in one direction and Salisbury in the other. Neither is Romsey right on top of the motorway network with the M27 some three miles away.

Romsey entered the 21st century still, at heart, a quiet, quintessentially English market town watched over by the immense bulk of a Norman Abbey - used by the locals as a parish church since the mid-16th century. For a small town it is chock-a-block with reflections on times past. Opposite the abbey a complex of historic buildings includes a medieval house complete with 14th century graffiti, Tudor cottage and recreated Victorian shop. Round the corner, a statue of past resident and Prime Minister Palmerston gazes across the Market Place. Stroll through an archway and down The Abbey lane to Memorial Park, a delightful retreat bounded on three sides by the waters of the Test. Here's another statue, this one commemorating the role of the war horse in World War I.

Orchard Hill, Braishfield
Village home with scope to improve and extend, plus gardens appr

Orchard Hill, Braishfield 850,000 Village home with scope to improve and extend, plus gardens approaching one acre and rural views Woolley & Wallis, Romsey, 01794 512129 ) - Credit: Woolley & Wallis

Romsey is certainly not edgy or lively enough to attract trendy urbanites. However, there's a sociable vibe - helped by a great selection of cafés, inns and restaurants (the likes of established favourites such as Dish Deli, La Parisienne and Old House at Home), and an events calendar that includes Romsey Festival (4-19 July) and the Beggar's Fair (11 July), an eclectic live music mash-up played in pubs, clubs, churches and courtyards across town.

On the whole its charms are gentle. There are still weekly street markets (every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday) in the Cornmarket, monthly farmers' market (near Waitrose) and regular makers' markets in the Town Hall. It doesn't feel too smart for comfort - despite designer boutiques along recently revamped Bell Street. Its high street experience is more robust than many towns. Gems include Bradbeers, a proper family-run department store featuring lingerie, haberdashery, and a perfumerie, and Consortium for stylish homeware and vintage pieces such as industrial lockers and school desks.

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Round and about Romsey are grand homes, splendid gardens and impressive landscapes. There's the New Forest to the west. The Test Valley stretches north with the National Trust's Mottisfont Abbey on the Test's banks. Broadlands, home of the Romsey Show, is south of the town centre, with Southampton just beyond the M27. Meanwhile one of Hampshire's treasures, award-winning Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, lies to the east, off the road to Winchester.

For families, the attractions continue with the schooling. Halterworth Community Primary is Outstanding says Ofsted, while Romsey, Romsey Abbey, Ampfield, Awbridge and Braishfield Primaries and Cupernham and Wellow Juniors are all Good. At secondary level both The Romsey School and The Mountbatten School are also Good. Independents include Stroud, King Edward VI Preparatory School, rated Excellent by the ISI, and what was Hampshire Collegiate - now renamed and rebranded as Embley School - based in what was once Florence Nightingale's home.

As for properties, there's something for everyone, from thatched country cottages in surrounding picturesque villages to modern family homes on new developments on the outskirts of town. In Romsey itself pick from Victorian townhouses, 20th century homes on pleasant leafy closes and apartments converted from Strong's Brewery.

All in all, Romsey feels comfortable and timeless. Inevitably modern life and encroaching development can't be held off forever. To the north and east of the town centre, approaching the village of Braishfield (although admittedly handy for access to Winchester) is Abbotswood village and Kings Chase. The latter is a new development of some 275 homes, opposite Sir Harold Hillier Gardens. In spring the gardens become a glorious showstopper of colour as azaleas, magnolias and rhododendrons burst into exuberant bloom spilling out along Jermyns Lane; I do hope development doesn't diminish the display. This has always been one of the areas' hidden joys. Long may Romsey remain discerning, discrete (and discreet), and on the old-fashioned side of idiosyncratic; just as a proper old market town should be.

Agent talk

Tom Henshaw, director, Henshaw Fox

"A mixture of people move to the Romsey area. We have young families attracted by the excellent schooling. There are young professionals, drawn by the great employment opportunities around Winchester and Southampton and Romsey's access to the motorway network. We see people downsizing from local villages into the town centre so they can walk to the shops… Some move here just because they love the feel of Romsey as a market town.

"Romsey's town centre is incredibly desirable and has become more and more sought after in the last three or four years. Other popular areas include Halterworth and Whitenap as they're in Halterworth Primary School's catchment. But everywhere in and around Romsey is popular!

"January was not only the busiest start to a year we've ever had, but the busiest month we've ever had for new enquiries for people wanting to sell. I think this was a result of the election; people who had been sitting on the fence have decided it is time to get on with things.

"As a business we cover everything from the lower end of the market at £100,000 to a £1m plus. The choice of properties in and around Romsey is very diverse. Towards the upper end you can buy an executive modern detached house for £700,000 upwards, or something more traditional with a big plot of land in one of the villages for a similar amount.

"I am born-and-bred Romsey. I grew up here and I've spent most of my career in residential sales working in Romsey and Chandler's Ford. Now my own children go to school here and as a family we live in Timsbury. We consider ourselves very lucky to live here. We love Romsey and the surrounding area; we enjoy going for walks, bike rides and runs. I'm a keen runner and I think there are few things better than going for a long run up the Test Way."

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