LIFE IN THE SLOW LANE

Former racing driver Mark Webber talks to James Fisher about going with his instincts, and why leaving his family’s perfect spot in the English countryside will be the hardest manoeuvre yet

LIFE IN THE SLOW LANE

Former racing driver Mark Webber talks to James Fisher about going with his instincts, and why leaving his family’s perfect spot in the English countryside will be the hardest manoeuvre yet

You expect the sound of a motor race, especially the ear-splitting decibels of Formula One, but you don’t expect the smell. Petrol hangs in the air, and when combined with the sound and the thousands and thousands of people, a day at the motor-races is as about intense as they come.

So perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that those involved seek some kind of solace, some kind of peace, where the only sounds are birdsong and a babbling brook, the only smell is cut grass, and the only people are friends and family. Well that’s what Mark Webber wanted, anyway, and it’s what he found in Rookery House and Home Farm in Buckinghamshire.

Mark is no stranger to making a quick decision – driving a Formula One car doesn’t often leave a lot of time to overthink things. The same instinct is what led him to purchase the property some 16 years ago. “Rookery House was definitely a bit intimidating, the size and acreage of the property wasn’t really what I was looking for,” he says. “But in the end, I took a bit of a risk. I was reasonably established in my career and I thought just the location was a total slam dunk. It’s close to Heathrow, it’s perfect for mountain biking and outdoor activities, and I love the stream that runs through the property. There were just so many things that got me over the line. It was one of the best decisions I ever made and my gut feeling was right at the time, and there’s been so many great experiences here. It’s definitely a home and it’s worked out brilliantly for us.”

The Grade II-Listed Queen Anne House dates back to the 17th century and was one of the original settlements in the hamlet of Aston Clinton, in which it sits. The motorsport pedigree exists not only by the presence of Mr Webber, but also from the fact that the village and its hill-climb course inspired the Aston Martin brand (the Martin coming from co-founder Lionel Martin). However, as Mark reminds me, the reasons behind 16 joyful years at Rookery House aren’t speed, but rather, taking things slowly. “It’s private and it’s quiet. Extremely quiet, even though you have access to Heathrow Airport, which is 30 minutes away,” he says. “It’s only when you spend time here with the fire pit and a little glass of whisky that you realise that you are so close to lots of things, but could be a long, long way from anything – it’s really cool.”

Inside, the home has been perfect for Mark and his wife, Ann. With five bedrooms, four reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, study, gym and original wine cellar, the property is perfect for entertaining. Modern touches, such as spotlights in the ceiling, a beautiful en-suite bathroom and a contemporary kitchen, are complemented by gorgeous period features such as exposed wooden beams, open fire places, wooden and stone floors, and delicate plasterwork in places like the dining room and staircase hall. There’s also a hidden priest’s hole which leads into the roof of the house.

Indeed, the house has been through various and extensive stages of redecoration and modernisation over the years (“birthdays”, as Mark calls them), but always in line with its history and Grade II listed status. “Every family who has lived here leaves their legacy which is why it’s such a fascinating property. It’s a piece of living history. While it’s your home, you’re also looking after it for the next generation and ensuring it’s future.” he tells me.

It’s only when you spend time here with the fire pit and a little glass of whisky that you realise that you are so close to lots of things, but could be a long, long way from anything – it’s really cool.

However, it’s the gardens and grounds (of which there are some eight acres) that really steal the show, according to Mark. “There’s a lot of mature timber on the property, and the hedgerows are magnificent,” he says. “It blows people away when they come here. It just keeps giving, you walk around every corner and it’s just like ‘wow’. You can see the history, how long the grounds have been established for, and these things just don’t happen overnight.” And if that’s not enough, you can walk into the Chiltern Hills “right off the back of the property”. It’s as good at entertaining wildlife as it is people, says Mark, who describes his “menagerie” of animals, which includes donkeys, alpacas and German shorthaired pointers – “they have big engines and they need lots of exercise. All the acreage is fenced in so it’s totally secure and they love blasting around. The grounds belong to them,” he laughs.

As important as the home and its garden are, so too is the location and the community in which they sit, and nowhere could be more perfect than Aston Clinton and its environs, Mark says. Over the years he’s been a keen visitor to the local pubs and enjoys the coffee shops and brunches available in the neighbouring villages. One of his favourites is a coffee shop in the village of Tring, where “the banter is legendary”.

“When I’m home, most mornings we go in there and rip into every single person,” he says with a laugh. “It’s great, it’s just fun. It’s that ideal community spirit – people here take an interest in each other’s life and how they’re going, and share some common values of the journey we’re going on – dogs, babies, whatever floats your boat.” He also warns that good times in the coffee shop “can spill over into the evenings quite quickly”!

There’s a tinge of sadness when I ask Mark why the family are leaving Rookery House. The answer is that, post Mark’s racing career, they are spending considerably more time overseas and believe that such are the special qualities of Rookery House that it deserves to be loved and lived in all year round. He is adamant though that there’s nowhere else in the UK he would want to live. He says it’s got everything: space for the family, space for children, space for nature, and it caters perfectly for those looking for adventure (he is effusive about his love for mountain biking, running and motorbikes). He tells me that he even wants to keep in touch with the new owners, if possible, saying that Rookery House is something he’s very proud of, and he would love to make any new owners proud of it, too. “Sadly, we just don’t need this magnificent property anymore,” he concludes. “And the final drive out of here is going to be one of the most brutal trips down the driveway ever.”


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