In the movies — in your mind — this is what England looks like.
Sheep dot green hills. Pheasants hop across country lanes. Quaint cottages sit next to a tiny stone church. Neighbors who've known each other since birth greet strangers warmly. And for at least about $32 million, Linkenholt, a leafy, nostalgic slice of England, can be yours.
The village's 21 cottages, grand manor house, lush green cricket pitch and accompanying pavilion are part of an estate that also encompasses 1,500 acres of farmland and 425 more of woods. The whole estate is up for sale — as a whole — except for St. Peter's Church, which stands on the site of a 12th-century church.
"That," said real estate agent Tim Sherston, "is owned by God."
'Garden of Eden'
Having an entire estate become available is "very unusual indeed, particularly in the south of England," Sherston said. "I can't recall the last time a village came up for sale."
The 40 or so residents, many of whom have lived here all their lives, hope any new owner will keep the estate together and resist the urge to parcel off the land, which is just 75 miles southwest of London.
"The Garden of Eden, this is," said 84-year-old Alan Smith, who moved to the village in 1948 to work on the estate's farm and stayed on, marrying his wife, Betty — a local girl — after meeting her at a dance.
"I don't want anything else. I don't crave for anything," agreed 79-year-old Betty Smith, who was born in the village and who looks after the church, which has services once a month for about a dozen parishioners. "We're just happy."
Betty Smith was educated at the village school and started working as a 14-year-old scullery maid at the manor house, which was then owned by the Dudley family and was the centerpiece of a busy, working farm.
"You could walk through the village, and each and every one would be in their gardens. You could chat," Betty Smith recalled. "We were all just one big happy family."
Estate of Linkenholt
The Dudleys, who acquired the estate in the 1920s, lived at the manor house and owned all the land. In the cottages lived people like the Smiths, who worked on the farm harvesting wheat, barley and oats, tending vegetables, cattle and sheep.
The structure remains much the same today: The entire village is owned by the estate, which rents the cottages to residents. Rents range from $830 to $7,000 a month, Sherston said, adding that the leases have all been extended for at least two years.
The new owners will have the option of moving into the manor house, though they won't actually become lord of their manor, as there is no title attached to the estate.
Of course, it's not the first time the estate has gone up for sale. In 1629, it was bought for 2,000 pounds — and was sold about 60 years later for 12,000 pounds — a tidy profit.
The estate remained in the same family until the early 19th century. Roland Dudley bought it in the 1920s. In the 1960s, Herbert Blagrave took ownership of Linkenholt — and after he died without heirs, his charitable trust became the owners.
Sherston said the trust is trying to diversify its interests, which is why it has chosen to sell the estate. Despite the challenging economy, he said Linkenholt should still appeal to buyers because it is so unusual.
"There isn't really anything like this on the market," he said.
Pubs and pheasants
One of the estate's assets is its reputation as a fine pheasant shoot; pheasants pepper the fields and leafy lanes leading to the village. The shooting attracts people who are willing to pay thousands of pounds to participate. One asset missing from the village's balance sheet is a pub, as Linkenholt's local closed a few years ago. But those really in need of a drink can walk to one of the neighboring villages for a frothy pint.
Tina Abbott runs the village store — right next to the cricket ground and pavilion, which hosts lunches for the shoots during the season — and has lived in Linkenholt for 39 years. Her husband, Robin, was born in the village.
They've lived through two owners, and hope whoever takes on Linkenholt recognizes its special qualities and keeps it together.
"There's not a lot you can do about it," Abbott said, in between sharing gossip, waving to neighbors and sending meandering dogs back to their owners. "Unless you've got the money to buy it yourself."