We visited this village of Solihull to find out if it really was “the most desirable”
It’s about as pleasant as a winter’s day when I arrive in Barston – freezing but not unbearably cold with a bright low sun.
Driving through muddy single track roads, the first thing I notice are groups of hikers walking around early in the morning.
Parachuted in like the yellow man from Google Maps, you might think you’re deep in the English countryside.
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But you would be wrong.
Barston is a Hovis-like village offering residents the best of both worlds. The rural haven has great transport links and is minutes from the bustling center of Solihull.
A short drive from the M42, Birmingham Airport and the NEC, it’s also not difficult to find a train to London or Birmingham.
It is therefore not difficult to see why Barston has been named one of the most desirable villages in the West Midlands.
I stop at Bulls Head, a family-run gourmet country pub, wondering where I might have left my vehicle if there was no parking lot.
Other than the award-winning public house, church and village hall, there really isn’t much else here in Barston where the average house price is over £570,000.
Later, a local tells me that Barston is great – until you need gas or groceries.
Every Barston Lane property seems to come with a Range Rover or Jaguar. It’s the kind of place where houses have names rather than numbers.
I soon spot a woman taking out her trash, so I awkwardly approach and tell her who I am.
The lady appears in a hurry but kindly talks to me a bit about Barston. She says she has lived in the village for 25 years and it is a nice place to live.
Almost as if the townspeople are commissioned, she’s the first in a long line to point me in the direction of the “excellent” parish council, telling me I need to speak to President Jeremy Emmett.
So I do – and he tells me he’s flattered to hear the locals singing the local councilors’ praises.
“I do my best, I do my best,” he laughs when I tell him he’s a popular man.
“It’s a nice place. We have a nice community here.”
Jérémy, entrepreneur and triathlete, has lived in the village for 30 years and has sat on the parish council for 6 years.
He played a big part in the annual village fete which raises thousands of pounds for charity every year.
“Barston is definitely the right size,” he continues.
“It’s big enough that it’s okay if people don’t want to get involved and it’s small enough that the majority of people know each other. It’s an ideal size in my opinion.”
Jennifer Wilcox, another local resident, is kind enough to stop and chat. She reluctantly says I can use her name – but, again, on the strict condition that I praise the parish council.
Jennifer and her husband have lived in the village for three decades and love it.
When I grab it, the duo just “took the car for a ride because it hasn’t been out in a while.”
“It’s so convenient,” she says. “We’ve lived in this house for 30 years this month so obviously if we didn’t like it we wouldn’t have stayed.”
Both are Telegraph readers and say they saw the newspaper article which named Barston one of the “most desirable” villages in the area.
She describes the area as “so convenient to everything” due to its proximity to the airport, highway and surrounding areas such as Knowle and Balsall Common.
Her husband, whose name I don’t understand, joins us later and jokes that while Barston may only have a pub and a church, what more could you ask for?
“You can get anywhere very, very quickly and yet here you could be miles and miles from anywhere,” Jennifer continues.
She says there are many people in the village who have lived in the area for a long time. This is confirmed by other people I talk to (one lady says some have been here “always”).
When asked what people are currently talking about in Barston – there is a Whatsapp village – she says Covid is the most worrying thing.
For another piece, I recently spoke to Nick Johnson and Mark Caldicott, the highly respected co-owners of Bulls Head.
They had said that Bulls Head was starting to suffer during the Omicron crisis. The country pub serves a slightly older demographic, leading to cancellations “every five minutes”.
But when I get to the boozer – the beating heart of the community – it’s already busy around 1pm with locals coming in for a midday pint and something to eat.
The circa 15th century village pub has dining rooms and bedrooms, serving cocktails, liqueur coffee and even non-alcoholic gins.
Here I chat with another resident, who asked not to be named for fear of being “ribbed” for his contribution.
He says it’s a “lively little village” and also talks about the party.
“When you come here, you go from the city to the countryside,” he says. “It’s a nice place to get away from it all.”
But as pleasant as Barston is – and though I might envy those who live here – you get the distinct feeling that this is a place just begging to be left alone.
It’s a village that’s comfortable with its place in the world, happy with what it has, and doesn’t care to shout about its accomplishments and community spirit.
I ask Jeremy if he thought Barston was deliberately stepping away from the spotlight.
“We seem to land in the paper a lot,” he jokes. “I think people are proud of where they live because we have a good community, but there’s no benefit in singing it from the top of the hills.
“We are just happy where we are.”
He explains that Barston is really the kind of place where locals have fun and “do everything themselves”.
Examples include organizing their own road sweepers, ANPR camera system and liaising with rural police teams.
An uncharitable interpretation of this might be that they are trying to keep the scum out.
“We really wonder what we can do to help each other rather than what others can do for us,” adds Jeremy.
“I think it’s a very important thing in the community, that everyone helps each other.
“A lot of parish councils and a lot of other communities, certainly in terms of their relationship with the borough council, are asking for more and more services instead of saying ‘actually, what can we do? do it ourselves?’
“Instead of calling us [the council] and saying ‘where’s my sweeper?’ we’re actually going to go out and do it ourselves. And that helps create a sense of community.”
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