Alex James: The Great Escape

'Round here, a farm is way down the housing scale'
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The Independent Online

Life in the Cotswolds is enhanced no end by the presence of the fantastically rich. Exotic creatures that live in secret under big stones, normally only visible when on the move. Too many helicopters to count pass overhead each morning. It's astonishing. There has always been wealth to stagger and stretch one's eyes in this neck of the woods – and neither my rock'n'roll dollars nor my cheese farthings can compete with the dynastic splendour or hedge-fund wealth. We live on a farm, as you well know, and I love it to bits – I'm not going anywhere – but we languish way down the housing scale.

One rung up the property ladder from farms come manor houses. Where farms might have something ugly and useful – a nice big shed with a weathered-in asbestos roof – a manor house would have something nice to look at: a well-trimmed parterre, possibly, or an orangery. Where farms are utilitarian and a bit higgledy-piggledy by their nature, these cribs are supposed to be neat and tidy.

After living on a farm I think it would be difficult to make the transition up the yew-lined drive. Personally, I don't see the attraction. Manor houses are easier to run than farms, and that's probably why they cost more. Buying a farm is like buying an old Bentley. You think: "Wow, that's cheap!" Then the bills start arriving. Like farms, old Bentleys are big and comfortable, but ever so slightly down-at-heel, and there's always something that needs fixing. Manor houses are more self-contained. They are usually the second homes of the medium-rich and are best avoided in my experience. If they've been in the family for years, they tend to be draughty and dull, and anyone who buys one these days is probably a conspicuous consumer with a ghastly red Ferrari and no idea about anything.

One notch above manor houses come monasteries and prebendal houses. These look like the smaller Oxford colleges and, unlike manors, they tend to be owned by people of exquisite taste. One changed hands near us for £7m. I think that what you're paying for with something that was built by the Church, is somewhere constructed to suggest eternity, that brings inner peace and quiet, and God for a neighbour. You just can't buy that sense of holy harmony. Well, not for less than seven million. We're talking posh, but still nowhere to land the chopper.

It is striking, driving around, how pretty this area is and how many lovely houses there are, but you never get to see the really nice ones from the road. They're all crouched behind those endless stone walls. Anything with a name ending in "Park" is always rather nice. These stonking piles are generally one of many houses in the property portfolio of their globetrotting owners. When one is invited, one goes along happily, with cheese.

We were at Cornbury Park this weekend. It's big enough to have its own music festival. Everyone was there to watch the Bangles. It's lovely, but still just as stupid as anywhere else. Claire overheard someone who has been living in LA ask David Cameron if he worked in the cake shop in Burford. And he was standing next to the editor of The Sun at the time. Big gaffs. Big gaffes. God bless the rich.

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