Pop idyll: What’s so special about Britain’s most-wanted village?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Never mind urban cool – Cerne Abbas in Dorset has the countryside's hottest properties. City-dweller Rhodri Marsden peers over the fences to find out why

The Dorset village of Cerne Abbas, picturesque and tranquil as it may be, isn't the best place for your car's engine to start misfiring. After experiencing a catastrophic loss of power on Piddle Lane and rolling down the hill into the village, my attempts to call the RAC are thwarted by a complete lack of mobile phone reception.

As I, the panicking boy from the city, desperately hold my phone aloft in an attempt to get a signal, a gentleman greets me as he saunters past. "You'll not be getting anything on that unless you're with T-Mobile," he says, smiling sympathetically.

As I lift the bonnet in a pointless attempt to diagnose the fault, a nearby front door opens, and I'm offered a cup of tea. The citizens of Cerne Abbas are giving me plenty of moral support.

According to a survey conducted by the estate agent Savills, village life is hot property. And this particular village is the ideal idyll. Despite our supposed desire for all things "urban", the survey found that 35 per cent of us would love to live in a village.

So Savills' number crunchers ran some complicated maths (the average price of property compared with broader county; the percentage of home sales that top the £500,000 mark). Then they took into account factors people seek (good schools, countryside, stonking great houses, good pubs, cute village greens). And the winner was Cerne Abbas. So, here I am, a city-dweller seeking the heart and soul of village life.

If you're thinking the survey may be a stunt designed to clear the agency's backlog of houses in this village, think again – Savills doesn't have a single house for sale here. In fact, you won't find many on the market. Ever. Once they've sampled the delights, Cerne Abassinians don't often move out. Local agencies reports huge numbers of buyers for each property that comes on the market.

"While much of Dorset was bombarded with ugly bungalows during the 1970s," says Savills' Antony Lumby, who was born and bred in the county, "Cerne Abbas has remained strikingly beautiful." It grew up around a Benedictine abbey founded in the 10th century, and while little of the abbey remains, a full tour of the village reveals a rich diversity of historic architecture – and, of course, the village's most famous attraction, the Cerne Abbas giant. The origins of this 55-metre chalk figure on a nearby hillside are still shrouded in mystery, making it a much-gazed upon attraction – and establishing Cerne Abbas as the only British village that's associated with an image of a naked man boasting an enormous erect penis.

The only small grumble that you might hear from Cerne Abbas' 732 residents is about their particularly hard water; to that end, a water main is currently being replaced on Long Street. Is there a conspiracy to make these people happy? But in the short term, a couple of JCBs are noisily hacking at the tarmac, shattering the peace. "You've not really caught us on the best day," laughs Andrew Farrow, the owner of the village shop, Cerne Stores.

The work is set to continue for another four weeks, but the locals are taking the barriers that now line their main thoroughfare in their stride; I hear regular exchanges along the lines of "excuse me" – "no, excuse me!" – "after you" – "no, after you!" as people negotiate their way to and fro.

Wendy Charman, who is carrying a rather attractive pot plant past a workman with a pneumatic drill, moved here just two years ago, and counts herself very lucky to have snapped up a home. "I was just in the right place at the right time," she says. "People have been known to buy any property they can in Cerne Abbas while they wait for the right one to come along." I ask Antony Lumby what kind of price I might be looking at if Savills had a property in the village. "Well... £600,000 isn't going to get you an awful lot," he replies.

So, aside from an historic property and newly softened water in your pipes, what else awaits a first-time resident of Cerne Abbas? Along with Cerne Stores, Long Street offers a tea room, a craft shop, an antiques shop selling furnishings, fine art and footstools, and three pubs – one of which boasts "a traditional warm and friendly welcome, subject to availability". Compared with where I live, in south-west London, this represents an almost frighteningly limited range of services, but the villagers stress that they have all they need.

Indeed, Wendy Charman, describes the amenities as "substantial". The shop, which is open seven days a week, has a post office in one corner and sells fresh bread and locally produced meat. Charman also informs me that the village has a "fantastic" local doctor and regular bus service. I need only look at the flyers pinned up inside the village bus stop to discover thriving community activity: you can see the film Atonement in the village hall on Monday for a fiver; an all-weather wicket has just been installed at the village cricket club; the dramatic society is busy constructing evenings of entertainment, and an appeal for shrubs for a local garden is hitting its targets, thanks to, among others, "Ghislaine & Anthony", who have just donated a mulberry bush.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Savills survey revealed that, of all the delights a village can offer would-be residents, a close-knit community carries the least appeal, but Andrew Farrow believes that attitudes can change rapidly. "You quickly find that community is what you value in life – to live in a place where people look out for each other, and where your children are safe."

Farrow has felt the benefit of that support more than most; when his wife died shortly after they moved to Cerne Abbas in 1984, the village paid for him to take a much-needed holiday, and when Cerne Stores was nearly facing bankruptcy in 1992, £12,000 was raised by local residents – in two days – to help him out. "I paid everyone back in two years," he recalls, "and these days, although the hours are long, things are much better."

While having a top-notch roast beef sandwich for lunch at the New Inn, I have a perfect vantage point to observe the comings and goings at Farrow's shop. It's the hub of village life – dog walkers stopping off for a newspaper, writers taking a break for a chinwag and a cake, and – incredibly – a slouching teenager with a back-to-front baseball cap. "Keeping young people in our villages is a problem," admits Antony Lumby, "because even if they want to stay here, they can't get on the housing ladder."

The few dozen children of Cerne Abbas have a highly regarded primary school and active youth club to keep them busy and, while they're probably destined for a life outside the village, many will be lured back in the future.

Dave Fox, who can trace his Cerne Abbas antecedents back 400 years, found himself back in the village of his birth after several years away in first the RAF, and then the building trade. "I've worked on several properties here since I came back – one of them is even named after me," he says, proudly.

My visit is over, but my car is still being uncooperative, and the man from the RAC – whom I manage to contact on my mobile after staggering up a hill – doesn't have the right spare parts.

While I loiter, facing a long wait for a recovery truck, Andrew Farrow pops out of his shop. "Maybe this breakdown is fate," he grins. "I only meant to come here for a short time – and I ended up staying for 25 years." With the lights of the pubs illuminated, and a rubbish-strewn street awaiting me in Tooting, I have to admit that it's pretty tempting.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Apprenticeship Tutor Assessors and Verifiers

£24000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprenticeship Tutor Assessors ...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This organization has been a trusted partner t...

Recruitment Genius: Buyer / Planner

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity has ar...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Manager

£40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity working ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks