FROME has been named the best place to live in the South West in the annual Sunday Times Best Places to Live guide.
The eight other locations shortlisted for the region, named in alphabetical order, were: Bradford-upon-Avon (Wiltshire), Bristol, Chagford (Devon), Kingsbridge (Devon), Lizard Peninsula (Cornwall), Swanage and the Purbecks (Dorset), Tisbury and the Nadder Valley (Wiltshire), Topsham (Devon) and Wadebridge (Cornwall).
The national winner was Stroud in Gloucestershire, topping a list of 78 locations.
The expert judges behind the guide assess a wide range of factors, from schools, air quality, transport and broadband speeds to culture, green spaces and the health of the High Street.
They look for improving towns, villages or city centres, for attractive, well-designed homes and locations bursting with community spirit – which the pandemic has shown to be the most vital quality of all.
Helen Davies, The Times and Sunday Times Property Editor said: “This guide has never been so important. The pandemic has taught us just how much we rely on our homes, our communities and our surroundings. With working from home now common, it’s no surprise that many of us are reassessing our priorities and thinking hard about where we really want to live.
“Our focus for this year has been community, countryside and convenience. It hasn’t been a year for big cities or small villages. Instead it is small towns that have shone: big enough to have everything you need within walking distance and small enough for everyone to feel connected.
“Stroud has been chosen as our national winner because it has all the basics covered in perfect style: it has excellent schools, convenient transport links and easy access to lots of glorious green space.
“Best of all it has a unique independent spirit that comes to the fore in its impressive local food scene and at the brilliant weekly farmers’ market that brings the town and surrounding countryside together.”
“Frome has been named our regional winner because of its attractive, creative and energetic community. It is a town where everybody is keen to get involved.
“The Compassionate Frome project shows a caring side that has really come to the fore during the pandemic and sets an example that many towns should follow.”
The farmers’ market was praised by the Sunday Times judges as “one of the best in the country”, with stalls selling everything from outstanding bread from Salt Bakehouse and luxurious doughnuts from Poppin to local meat, cheese and organic veg. And thanks to expert social distancing and local support, it has continued to thrive during lockdown.
The big event of the year is the Stroud Wassail, when Morris dancers and mummers gather to see in the new year in semi-pagan style. The local football team, Forest Green Rovers, in Nailsworth, is vegan, sustainable and currently building a wooden stadium.
Other highlights in the town include the beautifully restored canal, the walks on Rodborough, Minchinhampton and Selsley Commons and a creative arts scene.
Average house sale price: £265,000 Average rental: £700 pcm
Frome has long been one of the judges’ favourite locations, for its pretty cobbled streets, interesting shops, lively markets and for the creative energy on display at venues such as the Black Swan Arts Centre.
They said: “This town is all about doing, with a huge number of local groups from ladies cycling and inland diving to Nifty Needles sewing. Politics isn’t left to the politicians, with the town council run entirely by independents. And health isn’t left to the doctors, thanks to the Compassionate Frome project – one of the best things here.”
This scheme, launched by the town’s GP surgery, has dramatically reduced hospital admission numbers by providing community support for patients. It now has more than 700 volunteer ‘community connectors’ on its books and has – according to oneheadline – ‘banished loneliness’.
Average sale price: £300,000 Average rental: £750 pcm
Bradford-upon-Avon: “Better than Bath”, was the Sunday Times judges’ verdict. “It’s cheaper, less touristy and has a lot less traffic than its famous neighbour, as well as a historic charm of its own. It’s impressively arty, too, and the river, canal and surrounding countryside are great places to walk,” they said. They also admired the Lockdown Window Exhibition Challenge, started by award-winning artist Tanya Achilleos Lock. Favourite pit-stops included: Ravello, a sophisticated Italian restaurant with a courtyard garden and Gilou’s cafe The Shambles for coffee and pastries.
Average sale price: £395,000 Average rental: £895 pcm
Bristol Harbourside: The judges love the way the revamped Harbourside has filled in some of Bristol’s gaps. “During lockdown, the revitalised harbour has given Bristol a new heart, a place for people to gather – at a safe social distance of course – and relax with a takeaway coffee, ice-cream or meal from one of the many excellent cafes and restaurants,” they said.
They particularly like the independent businesses – many housed in shipping containers – around Wapping Wharf, including Little Victories for its impeccable coffee or Oliver’s gelateria for its excellent ice cream, as well as the fact that Temple Meads Station and the rest of the city are easily reached on foot or by bike. Although houses in Bristol are expensive, the judges also highlighted improving areas with some good-value homes, including Bedminster, Easton and Totterdown.
Average sale price: £300,000 Average rental: £1,050 pcm
Chagford: “Arty, environmentally minded and hospitable, historic Chagford is the perfect place to immerse yourself in the magical scenery of Dartmoor while keeping conveniently close to Exeter,” was the judges’ verdict here.
Their favourite things include the beautiful outdoor lido (and the campaigners who raised funds to maintain it with an exhausting sponsored swim), and an impressive collection of local shops; greengrocer, newsagent, chemist, superior wine shop, convenience store and a brilliant Delicatessen in Blacks, where nearly everything is home-made. The real star here, though is the Dartmoor landscape: “a bewitching patchwork of craggy tors, steep valleys, pretty villages and ancient thatched cottages.”
Average sale price: £365,000 Average rental: £735 pcm
Kingsbridge was the judges’ favourite spot in the lovely South Hams. “The down-to-earth neighbour of high-falutin’ Dartmouth and Salcombe is just as well placed to enjoy the beautiful coast and countryside, but unlike them it has a year-round sense of community as well as a gem of an independent cinema,” they said.
Their other highlights include an appealingly practical town centre with butchers, greengrocers and in H Luscombe and Son — a five-generation family business — a dream of a DIY store, as well as the Trading Post, a long-standing toyshop that went click-and collect during lockdowns and was named the toy industry’s independent retailer of the year. Community spirit is strong, with Kingsbridge In Bloom volunteers picking up litter and weeds and dead-heading the hanging baskets.
Average sale price: £262,000 Average rental: £750 pcm
Lizard Peninsula: The judges described this as “England’s greatest escape, with all that’s best about Cornwall right on the doorstep: surfing at Poldhu Cove, sailing at Helford and the spectacle of Kynance Cove, with its turquoise waters and dramatic rock formations – and it’s not (quite) as crowded in summer as the county’s other holiday hotspots.”
There was particular praise for the welcoming Poldhu Beach Cafe, the delicious takeaways from the Cornish Curry Company in Mullion and Ann’s pasties, which they rated as Cornwall’s best. They highlighted the choice of pretty places to live, from Porthleven, a smart foodie hub, to atmospheric Cadgwith Cove, one of Cornwall’s last fishing coves where the community has launched an inspiring campaign to buy the old fishing lofts that are vital to preserving the industry.
Average sale price: £360,000 Average rental: £765 pcm
Swanage “An all-too-rare example of an old-fashioned seaside resort that’s happy all year round,” was the judges’ verdict here. “It has a magnificent Victorian pier as well as active clubs and community groups. And some of Dorset’s finest scenery is right on the doorstep.” They picked out the range of sports clubs, led by the sailing club and including tennis, cricket, football and croquet, and the regular beach cleans, litter picks and tree-plantings, as well as the award-winning chocolate gelato from Fortes ice-cream parlour.
Average sale price: £375,000 Average rental: £765 pcm
Tisbury and the Nadder Valley: Tisbury is a long-standing fixture on the Sunday Times Best Places to Live list for its sophisticated take on country life. The judges admired the high street, which is full of stylish independent shops cafes as well as the Beckford Arms, one of the smartest country gastropubs around. They were also impressed by Messums Wiltshire, the high-class arts centre in a beautiful old Tithe Barn.
“Tisbury proves that country living can be smart enough to appeal to city slickers. The station makes travelling to London and Salisbury a doddle. If you want less bustle, the chalk streams and pretty villages in the surrounding countryside are a delight,” they said.
Average sale price: £299,950 Average rental: £825 pcm
Topsham “An old favourite on the Exe Estuary, Topsham has a fun independent, community and beautiful houses conveniently close to Exeter,” said the judges.
They praised the efforts of two volunteer groups: the Estuary League of Friends, a charity, which already runs the town’s Post Office and library and co-ordinated Topsham’s Covid fightback, and Love Topsham, a voluntary group cheerleading for local businesses and residents, which provided outdoor eating and drinking tables to help during Covid and plans a programme of street musicians over the coming summer.
Average sale price: £485,000 Average rental: £925 pcm
Wadebridge “It’s a cliche but it’s true: live in Wadebridge and you really do have it all. You’re on the edge of an area of outstanding natural beauty, Cornwall’s top surfing beaches are nearby as are the county’s wild moorlands,” was the judges’ verdict here. They were also impressed with the range of shops in the understated centre: Baker Tom’s for Saffron Buns; while interiors store Scandi Coastal for candles and tableware, family-owned Wadebridge Wines, and the glorious Regal Cinema.
Average sale price: £350,000 Average rental: £800 pcm
Click here for the Sunday Times Best Places to Live.