Scouting around the countryside to the south of Bath, you come across several market towns with handsome houses and proud histories. One of the largest, oldest, prettiest and best value is Frome.
Pronounced "Froom", this town has more listed buildings than any other town in Somerset – 357 at the last count, including the exquisite grade I-listed Blue House – so there's always a decent selection of prime period homes for sale. The central streets are steep and winding, with a healthy mix of local shops injecting some buzz into the relaxed atmosphere of the town.
Frome's housing stock offers plenty of variety, too. Here you can find early weavers' cottages (this area was built on with wool-industry money), Georgian terraces, Victorian villas and more modern developments at the fringes of the town. And they are all relatively cheap.
The average price of a home in Frome is £25,000 less than the national average, and £100,000 cheaper than in nearby Bath. Detached houses offer the best value of all, tracking a sizeable £160,000 below its more famous Georgian neighbour. There's always been a gap between the chi-chi urbanity of Bath and it's country cousins, but Frome has managed to remain something of a secret, close kept by those who have discovered its charms and affordability.
That's enough of Frome's history and present – the future also looks good. There are murmurings in the town of the waterside area near M&S being considered for regeneration, bringing the already rich mix of property firmly into the 21st century and with it, a new generation of residents and businesses.
Investment has been injected into the town's historic buildings over the years, and more cash should be forthcoming from the Market & Coastal Towns Initiative for the council's Urban Design Strategy. This will see the town become even more pedestrian- and cycle-friendly, and should attract tourism.
Frome's online community (www.frome.towntalk.co.uk) is already debating how this money should be spent, and judging by the lively chat generated around these mooted plans, it's clear that the residents want to keep their town's pulse throbbing – but not at the cost of Frome's character.
Your kind of people?
Frome's population is under 25,000 but they don't allow Bath to hog the local culture. They support a thriving arts community and arts centre as well as two theatres and the independent Westway cinema. The 800-capacity Cheese and Grain is an important music venue and doubles up as the site of the market. The Frome Arts Festival offers an eclectic 10 days in July, with this year's programme ranging from Shakespeare and Gilbert and Sullivan, to appearances by Germaine Greer and Quentin Tarantino.
Can you shop till you drop?
Frome is still a proper market town with regular markets every Wednesday and Saturday, with a farmers' market held in the Cheese and Grain on the second Saturday of the month. A handful of cute boutiques offers designer one-offs and vintage buys, while Catherine Hill is a fantastic milliner. Good grub can be had at either The Garden Cafe or La Strada wine bar, while more rarefied cuisine awaits you at The Bath Arms. Frome still has an old-fashioned butcher, Cayfords, and there's an M&S food hall near the river.
Green and pleasant?
The town centre never feels too austere. Some areas retain medieval layouts – particularly around Cheap Street. There are plenty of artisan shops and bustling cafés and the atmosphere is enhanced by a stream trickling down its centre to the River Frome. The Medieval Street Fair gives the town a village atmosphere, and you can escape the traffic by heading out past the five arches of the old stone bridge, along the Frome Valley walks.
Do the schools make the grade?
The local St Louis Primary and Selwood Middle School punch above the national average, and at secondary level, Frome Community College holds its own, scoring a 51 per cent pass rate at GCSEs in 2006. The independent options are excellent with nearby Downside School, King's School and Bruton School for Girls all achieving very high marks.
Frome sits between the Mendip Hills and Salisbury Plain, so dramatic scenery and walks are on your doorstep. The stately piles of Longleat and Stourhead are less than a 30-minute drive away and Bath is 13 miles away. Get the train there in 40 minutes or keep going up to London in under two hours.
What can you buy?
This cute-as-they-come terraced cottage is hidden away close to the main streets in Frome. It's light and airy inside with two bedrooms, two receptions and a kitchen with french doors out to a pretty garden.
Cooper & Tanner (01373 455 060, www.cooperandtanner.co.uk)
This substantial, five-bedroom listed townhouse radiates elegance and charm. There are two receptions, a kitchen and three useful cellar rooms, all with period details, as well as a decent-sized side garden.
Cooper & Tanner, as before
The Limes is a detached, five-bedroom house with over 2,500sq ft of space. Beautifully finished and packed with period touches it has delightful gardens and a large, two-storey coach house.
Savills (01225 474 550, www.savills.com)Reuse content