Once best known for its rolling hills and honey-coloured stone, the Cotswolds has become the manicured, eye-wateringly expensive country playground of the famous and seriously rich. 

This world of posh farm shops, multi-million-pound mansions and whippet-thin women is satirised in Wives Like Us, a new novel out this month by Plum Sykes.

The newest resident is Taylor Swift, the billionaire popstar, who is reportedly staying in a cottage near Chipping Norton while she performs in her Eras tour across the UK this summer.

Mark Hedges, the editor of Country Life magazine, grew up near Chipping Norton in a farmhouse that his family sold to Jeremy Clarkson and his ex-wife, Frances. Demand for the Cotswolds is such that his magazine now produces two special editions about the area each year. “Without doubt it’s the hottest place in Britain at the moment,” he says.

“When I lived there in the 70s, it was pretty quiet and full of tea shops, but now it’s incredibly manicured, you can eat like a god or goddess the same way as you can in London, and everyone has an electric gate on their house.”

But it’s more “intense” now, he adds. “I went to Daylesford [Organic] and the competitiveness in the car park for spaces was astonishing. I don’t think many places have gone through such an extraordinary evolution in such a short space of time.”

‘Destroying the nature of our village’

Are there signs that the Cotswolds love affair is over? Sam Butler, of Butler Sherborn estate agency, says: “The roads are busier, and with very large vulgar cars; the verges are trashed; the station car parks are fuller; the farmers markets offer local produce at increased prices, and locals feel that this part of the sceptred isle is quite crowded now.”

Locals are getting tired of their honey-coloured stone streets being overwhelmed with tourists seeking its gorgeous scenery – and a peek at the rich and famous. Bourton-on-the-Water, a village of just over 3,000 residents, attracts 238,000 visitors every year; it has set out a de facto ban on coaches of tourists from parking because of concerns of overtourism, creating divisions between locals. 

In Bibury, nicknamed ‘England’s most beautiful village’, residents complained in a public meeting they had to wait until 5.30pm to “get their village back” when the tourists leave, with traffic chaos causing tension. One resident described how the busloads of tourists were “destroying the nature” of the rural village; another said they had been physically assaulted by a visitor.

And while Clarkson’s Farm may have attracted rave reviews, the farm itself, famously, is not appreciated by locals. Residents of the nearby village of Chadlington have been less than glowing about the traffic and disruption caused by fans flocking to buy “cow juice” and lion’s mane mushroom powder from the Diddly Squat farm shop.

“The Nextdoor app [the social network for neighbours] often has people complaining about the road going up to Diddly Squat,” says one nearby resident. “Yet, while the practical things annoy them, the fact is that some people have seen their house prices go up to London levels.”

A chunky discount

The Covid pandemic and with it the acceptability of working from home turbo-charged the Cotswolds and sent the prices of its honey-hued properties soaring. In 2021, at the height of the race for space, Hamptons estate agency says a record 14pc of buyers in the area came from London. 

Now, the average house price rivals that of the capital, at £500,000, a whisker away from London at £503,000, according to the Office for National Statistics. In West Oxfordshire, home to many of the north Cotswolds celebrity magnets, house prices are now 25pc higher than they were in 2019, Hamptons says.

And, while you can get a cottage for £300,000 in, say, Chipping Norton, a large village house in the best areas will be £1.5m to £2.5m, while estates go for tens of millions. 

It currently takes an average of 84 days between a home going on the market and the seller accepting an offer, more than triple the 24-day average in 2021, Hamptons says.

Properties that changed hands in Chipping Norton this year sold for £78,700 less than the initial asking figure, according to analysis by the property analytics company TwentyCi. This discount is far higher than in previous years: in 2023 homes sold for £34,000 less than asking, and in 2022 that number was just £4,000.

If a house is on the market for too much money, it’s simply not selling, says Lindsay Cuthill, of Blue Book agency. “Buyers won’t overpay – even if it means being David Beckham’s neighbour.”

The majority of buyers are British, says Giles Lawton, of Strutt & Parker. “It’s typically someone working in finance but we have had some Americans.”

Buying a lifestyle

Being an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a big part of the Cotswolds’ charm, and the designation ensures its architectural integrity and stunning landscapes won’t be spoiled, according to Claire Whisker, of property adviser platform First In The Door. However, lifestyle appeal is now as much of a draw as looks.

The glitzy metamorphosis began in 2002, with the opening of the Daylesford Organic farm shop and café by Lady Bamford, wife of the billionaire JCB industrialist Lord Bamford, on the estate of their Grade I listed mansion, Daylesford House (where Boris and Carrie Johnson held their wedding party in 2022). Lady Bamford’s empire now extends to four Cotswold pubs, including the latest glitterati hangout, the The Bell in Charlbury, and the ‘temple of wellness’ the Club by Bamford.

Soho Farmhouse opened its trendy doors in Great Tew in 2015 and, a year later, the Beckhams bought a £12m converted barn nearby. 

Now everyone from Claudia Winkleman to Joe Wicks has homes in the area, while the latest buzz centres round Estelle Manor and its vast Roman-inspired spa, and Bull Burford, a coach house hotel owned by Matthew Freud. 

Ben Bentley, of The Country House Department estate agency, says: “The Cotswolds is very much a brand and if someone is considering moving here, they think: if it’s good enough for these high-profile people, it’s good enough for me.”

Behind those doors – if you ever make it past the electric gates – you’ll find some astonishing homes. The finest examples have two kitchens: a smaller one for staff and a larger, showy one for eating and entertaining. Many people will also want two home offices; Harry Gladwin, of buying agency The Buying Solution, says: “Having just one certainly doesn’t cut the mustard these days.” 

Outside, there will likely be an outdoor kitchen as well as a natural swimming pond and ice bath. Party barns are popular, while padel tennis courts are increasingly springing up. 

Some of the finest pads are second homes. The Lakes by Yoo, an 850-acre estate, offers the wealthy the chance to rent or buy an exclusive holiday home; demand is such that it is now extending into a further 110 neighbouring acres to create Cotswold Waters, which will have 77 lakeside homes and 63 lake fronted apartments, with prices on request.

Oxbarns, another developer, is creating six high-end holiday properties near Whichford; according to Emma Barkes, of Stacks Property Search, they cost £4m-£5m and are fully furnished by RH, the American luxury homewares company which recently opened a lifestyle shop at Aynhoe Park. 

“They also offer a concierge service – picking you up from the station, lighting your woodburner in advance of your arrival, taking in the Ocado delivery and maintaining the garden,” says Barkes. 

This takes care of one of the main problems currently faced by the wealthy in the Cotswolds: finding staff. 

“It can take three months to find a housekeeper, poaching is rife and trying to find a groom is impossible,” says Jess Simpson, a buying agent. 

“I had a client who had a row with their neighbour because they inadvertently poached their groom.” Finding experienced gardeners and tradespeople such as roofers is also a struggle, according to Jerome Lartaud, of Domus Holmes Property Finder.

The ‘real’ Cotswolds

Of course, there’s plenty of normal life here too and pandemic movers have, in some places, boosted local schools and shops. Diana Findlay, who moved last summer to a rented flat in Stow-on-the-Wold and is part of the team running atelier8, a creative workshop and event space in the town, says there’s a great community “of interesting and creative people”.

However, the extreme gentrification of parts of the Cotswolds has led to a backlash from locals being priced out of an area where holiday homes can earn more than they do. Here, the average two-bedroom holiday property makes an average income of £24,700 a year, rising to £46,300 for a four-bedroom holiday let, according to a new report by Sykes Holiday Cottages. 

Not all of the Cotswolds are the same – this is, after all, a huge area of almost 800 square miles that runs through five counties: Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire. 

Areas north of the A40 generally command much higher prices – in part due to accessibility to London by road and from Charlbury, Kingham and Moreton-in-Marsh railway stations. 

Tom Mayfield, from Winkworth estate agency, says: “The north Cotswolds are bearing the brunt of the influx, but areas like Cirencester, Cheltenham and Tetbury remain popular and, in comparison, much cheaper and more like the Cotswolds used to be.” 

The south offers more authentic country living, says Emma Frampton, who last year moved with her partner, James Lowsley-Williams, to Chavenage, an Elizabethan manor house near Tetbury which has been in the Lowsley-Williams family since 1891. 

Poldark and Lark Rise to Candleford were filmed there and it was recently a backdrop for the upcoming Rivals series, based on the Dame Jilly Cooper novel.

“It’s more rough and ready, with locals and families that have been here for a really long time; we don’t have so many of the glossy pubs or tourists,” says Frampton, who recently opened a café, The Barn at Chavenage, with Lowsley-Williams.

“Winters aren’t the easiest and looking after the land and the animals is tough.”

That’s not to say there’s a complete lack of glamour around Cirencester – especially since the Pig hotel group bought the Barnsley House hotel, points out Samantha Scott-White, of Cotswold Buying Agent. 

“This is due to open this summer and they are also reopening the village pub, which will be a big draw.” 


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