Let’s Move to… Axminster
Anna Tyzack falls under the spell of this West Country town
Let’s Move to… Axminster
It’s no wonder that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall fell in love with the East Devon town of Axminster. The pretty town, once famed for carpets, is just a few miles from the Jurassic Coast and has streets filled with shops and a vibrant weekly market.
River Cottage, Fearnley-Whittingstall’s cookery school and 100-acre farm just a few miles from the town, has helped inspire a whole generation of London leavers to consider this undiscovered corner of the West Country, explains Philip German-Ribon of Jackson-Stops. ‘It’s amazing how many young families are flocking this way,’ he says. ‘It’s a lifestyle move – there are beautiful beaches, dramatic countryside and proper pubs. And my wife doesn’t feel she has to put on make-up to go to the village shop.’
For all its rural charm, Axminster isn’t as remote as it might seem. This is the eastern extremity of Devon, a stone’s throw from the borders of Dorset and Somerset, with easy access to the A303 and M5. There’s a station in the town with regular trains to London Waterloo in two hours 40 minutes; by car the journey takes around three hours. ‘It’s too far for a daily commute but a lot of our buyers work from home and travel up to London once or twice a week,’ says German-Ribon, who moved down from London with his family several years ago.
According to Hamish Humfrey of Knight Frank, buyers appreciate the privacy that comes with living in East Devon. ‘You feel as if you’ve got away from it all and yet if you need to get to Exeter, Bristol or even London, it’s no trouble.’
While the area around Axminster is very much the countryside, with narrow lanes, high hedges and a lot of mud, there are still plenty of places to get a decent coffee or a meal out, adds German-Ribon. Along with River Cottage Kitchen, Fearnley-Whittingstall’s restaurant in Axminster, Brassica on the square in Beaminster appeals to Londoners, as does The Pig at Combe in Gittisham. A local brunch favourite, the Rousdon Village Bakery, suffered a fire earlier this year but should be open again for business within the next few months, while the Kings Arms Inn at Stockland, the Lord Poulett Arms at Hinton St George and the Crooked Swan in Crewkerne are popular local pubs. There’s also an increasing number of great places to eat out on the local beaches, including Hix Oyster & Fish House and Swim in Lyme Regis, the Watch House Cafe in West Bay and Hive Beach Cafe at Burton Bradstock.
The schools are another major lure for London parents. In the villages around Axminster there are several Ofsted ‘outstanding’ state primaries, including in Stockland and Kilmington. There are also two revered state secondary schools: the Woodroffe School in Lyme Regis and Colyton Grammar School, just outside the village of Colyton. Within striking distance there’s also a raft of good prep schools, including Perrott Hill near Crewkerne and Hazlegrove near Yeovil. Local public schools within easy reach include Sherborne Boys’ and Girls’, Bryanston, Blundell’s and King’s College Taunton.
No wonder, then, there’s a shortage of decent family homes on the market within a ten-mile radius of Axminster. Since the start of this year German-Ribon has seen more than ten houses go under offer and recently sold three rectories for the asking price before they’d even hit the open market. ‘If you’re spending more than a million it’s a good idea to instruct a buying agent,’ he says. ‘The best houses often change hands privately.’
In Axminster itself, a three- to four-bedroom period house on a prime street will cost anything from £500,000; Jackson-Stops is selling the principal wing of Chattan Hall, a Victorian mansion on the outskirts of town, for £900,000. In the surrounding villages prices are much the same – £500,000 for a cottage and around one million for a sizeable family home with a couple of acres.
Old rectories with a decent amount of land tend to sell for upwards of £1.5 million, while at the top end of the market a country estate could cost as much as £4 million. ‘Another attractive aspect of the area is that is has a stable market,’ Humfrey says. ‘You might not see dramatic increases but neither do you see dramatic decreases, which makes it a great place to buy a forever home.’
Over the past few years German-Ribon has noted a trend for more modern properties, particular around the coast. ‘People will buy up an old farmhouse for around £650,000, flatten it and then rebuild it in a more contemporary style. Old manor houses aren’t as popular these days – they’re costly to run and they don’t have big kitchens,’ he says.
German-Ribon is enjoying bringing up his children in this part of the West Country. It’s an outdoorsy way of life, he says, with dogs and riding and days on the beach. ‘My children made friends through the Pony Club and my wife and I find it incredibly social down here.’ In fact, the only downside of moving down to this part of the world, he claims, is that it’s not always good for your liver.
A weekend away
The Crooked Swan, Crewkerne, is an 18th-century coaching inn with open fires and a pretty garden. crookedswan.com
Miller’s Farm Shop sells Lyme Bay fish and meat, local cider and cheese, plus goodies from France. millersfarmshop.com
Collate Interiors curates new and vintage homewares, art and antiques. collateinteriors.com
Join Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for cocktails in the walled garden before dining in the 18th-century threshing barn at a River Cottage event. rivercottage.net
On a family camp at Trill Farm you can explore the woods, meet the wildlife, cook over fires and go wild swimming. trillfarm.co.uk
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