Home and away at the Archers

Rosalind Adams is on the move on-air and off.
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The Independent Online
The lowing of 40 Friesians isn't a sound commonly heard across the soot capped peaks of north London. Unless, of course, it comes from the radios of Archers fans tuning in for the next fix.

Swapping a terraced house with hankie-sized garden in the city for an old farmhouse in the country is an enduring fantasy. Eavesdropping on the village gossip in The Archers provides only a vicarious thrill. Many of the actors who appear in the long-running radio soap - it's 46 years old this month - actually live the life, in pretty cottages around Stratford within easy reach of the BBC's Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham.

Not Rosalind Adams. As Clarrie Grundy, she faces the threat of eviction from Grange Farm, Ambridge, along with husband Eddie, and being cruelly parted from her old Rayburn. As herself, she lives in London but would dearly like to move to the country. She's just not sure which country. With her Highgate house on the market at pounds 212,500 through the local agent, Benham and Reeves, and a buyer interested, deciding on where to live next has become pressing.

"You get such a lot more for your money in France," says Rosalind. "I fancied buying a house in Normandy, though it would make it more difficult to get to Birmingham for the six-days-a-month recording of The Archers."

Normandy is a good bet. Prices there have dropped 30 per cent since 1990, says Miles Barber, of Barbers Estate Agency, which specialises in French property.

"There aren't masses of little cottages around," he warns, "but pounds 100,000 will buy a beautiful, four-bedroom farmhouse with an acre of land. If you can afford pounds 200,000 upwards, you can get a baby chateau." One of the prettiest regions, says Miles, is Calvados country, an hour's drive from either Le Havre or Caen. Unlike other areas in winter, it has no boring brown ploughed fields. The meadows and apple orchards are always green, dotted with creamy Charolais cows.

Fraser Blake, who runs the Normandy-based property agency Splendid Isolation, near Bagnoles-de-l'Orne, claims the region is like Britain used to be in the Fifties.

"It's still possible to leave your car unlocked, travel for days without encountering yob behaviour and, frankly, to live in peace and harmony with everyone you meet."

He adds that at least 60 per cent of British clients mention aggressive attitudes in the UK as one of their reasons for moving across the Channel. This is true for Rosalind Adams.

"I get fed up with London and I'm worried about crime, although nothing has ever happened to me," she says. "I never go out by myself at night unless it's in a taxi. I need to be somewhere I can leave the back door open and not worry about someone coming in; where I can have a cup of tea in the garden in my nightie without neighbours seeing me; where I can hear the birds."

So far she hasn't swapped her Grange Farm Friesians for Charolais, despite having got as far as making lots of appointments with French estate agents.

"On the morning we were to go, we woke up, turned on the news and heard the Channel Tunnel was on fire. So we went to Majorca instead."

Hampshire is plan B. "I used to live near Winchester in a sweet little cottage opposite a mill at the end of a lane. I had a friend nearby who ran a watercress farm. My chap came down to visit and was horrified to find ice on the inside of the windows, as you do in the country. Where he comes from, in Romania, they might have the odd dictator, but they do have efficient central heating."

Hampshire is not cheap. Prices in favoured towns and villages such as Chawton, Odiham, Selborne and Alresford held stubbornly steady during the recession. However, for the price of a smart, three-bedroom London terrace, you can still buy a teacosy cottage with a thatched roof and a sizeable garden. A typical two-bedroom thatched cottage will cost from pounds 185,000. And you can go shopping by steam train. The Watercress line still runs between Alresford and Alton.

Rosalind Adams is wavering. She'd like her chap, to keep on his London flat, but to come round to the idea of living partly in the country. An impressive linguist, she can even try persuading him in his own language.

"I do speak Romanian; it's not difficult like Slav. Thank God I didn't fall in love with a Bulgarian."

Barbers Estate Agents 0171-221 0555; Splendid Isolation 00-33-2-43 03 09 21; In Hampshire, local agents Hill & Morrison 01256 702892