I asked all over the place for suggestions and was given a fair number that sounded good on paper. But from checking them out online, nothing felt quite right. The houses were either too far away or too manicured, too big or not big enough. Sometimes they were just wrong even though I couldn’t describe why.
I spent a lot of time looking through Google images and then one day I came across a picture of a house that immediately felt like ‘the one’. There was no name. The website it appeared on turned out to belong to a location company. So I got in touch and explained that no, I wasn’t a television company and no, I couldn’t afford to pay, but was there any chance they could let me know where the house was located? Better still, was there any chance I could pitch up and have a wander round?
They told me that if I put my request in writing, they would pass it on to the owners, who, they said, were lovely people. I sent off my email and crossed my fingers. Very quicky I was told that I could come and visit the house.
Last Friday I set off for the Southeast and was greeted by one of the owners. She was indeed a lovely person who, along with her husband, has raised a family in this amazing house. Over thirty years the couple - along with their sons - have been gradually restoring the property to its former glory. It's a full time job. When they moved in, some rooms were literally only held up by their plumbing. Pot shots with air rifles had been taken at windows and one whole room, once grand, was filled with rotting mattresses.
Built in the late 1700s the house was originally a hunting lodge; a party house for a rich man and his friends. Over the years it has been through many different owners, including the Army, who requisitioned it for use by soldiers in WW11 ( just like in Downton Abbey). The current owners have done an amazing job. Most rooms have been restored but more than anything else, it now feels loved.
They like to keep a low profile so I hope you’ll forgive me for not giving the name of the property here. But my day there really was the best and most enjoyable kind of book research.
So if there’s a location you’re writing about but don’t feel you can justify a trip to check it out in person, do think again. It's really a worthwhile exercise. (And it makes you feel like A Proper Writer too...)