Henley has its regatta. The pre-eminent Grand Slam tennis tournament pays homage to Wimbledon. The equine event of the year is Royal Ascot. But credit for the internationally renowned pop festival at Shepton Mallet goes elsewhere. "The famous Glastonbury Festival is held closer to Shepton Mallet than Glastonbury," says Matthew McKaig, who lives near Pilton with his wife and three children. "This world-class event is on our doorstep, and rock is only half of it. There's also theatre, cabaret, a circus, and all kinds of displays. We take part in the festival, and our children love it."
McKaig, a regional director for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, grew up in various Navy towns and attended Millfield School in Street. "I returned to this area because I liked it from my school days. First we rented in Wells and then bought a lovely Georgian house in a conservation area in Shepton Mallet, near the prison. We got more bang for our buck in Shepton Mallet. We moved first to North Wootton and then to our current house, which we bought 10 years ago. I hope to stay here until I am carried out in a box."
Andrew Edwards of Chamberlaine-Brothers & Edwards says: "Our register of buyers and potential sellers is strong, and there are no signs of prices dropping. We have seen three years of steady increases and it would be good to see prices plateau. Two-bed terraces start between £105,000 and £117,000. For our market, that is high, and first-time buyers are having problems."
A market town of just under 7,000, the town is home to Babycham, several brand-name ciders, Mulberry Design and the annual Royal Bath and West agricultural show. "Shepton Mallet offers a country environment but is close to Bath, Bristol and Yeovil," Edwards adds. "Outsiders like it, and we get many buyers from London and the South-east, but locals have a perverse attitude and put it down. Maybe they don't travel enough."
Improved housing stock is boosting the family-home sector, he adds. "Bloor Homes and the Duchy of Cornwall are recreating a village along the lines of Poundbury, the Prince of Wales development in Dorchester. They are providing better-quality housing which attracts a new group of buyers who previously could not find the type of property that interested them."
Shepton Mallet is nine miles from Castle Cary, which is on the London Paddington to Plymouth line.
Amenities and attractions
Shepton Mallet has a leisure centre and a summertime outdoor swimming pool. The Royal Bath Showground hosts concerts as well as craft, antique and trade shows throughout the year. Clarks Village factory outlet sells discount shoes and many other items at more than 50 shops.
In addition to Millfield, some highly regarded schools in the area include Wells Cathedral, Kings Bruton, Sherborne and Sunny Hill. Bishops Sexey state boarding school and some state comprehensives are also popular.
Shepton Mallet prison dates to 1610 and claims to be Britain's oldest prison in full occupation on its original site. The Domesday Book and a copy of the Magna Carta sought refuge here during the Second World War.
Taste of his own medicine
Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys (1644-1689), aka the Hanging Judge, earned his nickname in part at Shepton Mallet's Market Place. His "bloody assizes" following the Duke of Monmouth's Pitchfork Rebellion resulted in more than 300 executions and numerous floggings, prison sentences and transportation. After the Glorious Revolution, he was himself transported to the Tower of London.
Today we do it with leylandii
The former manor house on Leg Square overlooks a brick wall that current owner David Gardiner estimates to be between 30 and 40 feet tall. Gardiner believes it resulted from a neighbours' feud in the 19th century, and he assumes that, as his house is listed, so too is the wall. Spite Walls were also erected in a cemetery (to punish churches for refusing to pay for road upkeep) and American baseball parks (to prevent non-paying spectators from spectating).
Properties around £100,000
Chamberlaine-Brothers is selling a two-bed, second-floor flat with shared parking and communal garden, £79,950, and a one-bed ground-floor flat in Leg Square with attached garage in a conservation area, £84,950. Bradford & Bingley has a modern, two-bed terrace for £103,950.
A two,-bed three-storey modernised stone townhouse with fitted furniture is £109,500 at Palmer Snell. B&B is selling two-bed modern terraces and stone cottages for between £115,000 and £120,000. Fourfoot Cottage in Hornblotton outside Shepton Mallet has five bedrooms, a Dutch barn, stabling/garaging and paddock; £500,000 at Knight Frank.
Three-bed penthouse (in the country)
Top floor is third floor but this former cheese warehouse has yielded a heavily beamed 33-foot living room with oak flooring; £235,000 at Palmer Snell.
The current release at Tadley Acres, the joint venture between Bloor Homes and the Duchy of Cornwall, has houses ranging from £149,995 for two-bedders up to £289,000 for five (01749 344231).
Bradford & Bingley Alder King, 01749 342351; Chamberlaine-Brothers & Edwards, 01749 342357; Knight Frank, 01935 812236; Palmer Snell, 01749 342896.