5 Top Tips For Being A Happier Renter

renting-tips, homes-in-hampshire, homes-to-rent

Nobody dreams of renting a house forever - but if this is the situation you're in, you may as well make the most of it, says Abi Jackson.

Whether you’re a fully-fledged member of Generation Rent, or a family for whom the property ladder is still a step out of reach, renting can sometimes feel frustrating.

It’s your home – except, well, it’s not really, is it? Somebody else is the boss of it, which – while there are some pros to this – means there are plenty of less than ideal cons, too.

But, as somebody who’s been renting for two decades, I’ve learnt (often the hard way) that there are certain things you can do to help make living as a rent-paying tenant the best it can possibly be.

Here are my five top tips…

  1. Be on good terms with your landlord/letting agent

When you’re looking for a place to rent, remember you’re vetting the people you’ll be renting with/from, as much as the property itself. Mutual trust and respect, and an ability to communicate, will count towards a lot.

There might be times when things go wrong and need to be fixed, fast. A broken toilet/tap/boiler, for instance. The good thing is, where a plumbing disaster due to wear-and-tear or technical issues is concerned (or any similar scenario), your landlord will be picking up the bill. The sometimes not so good thing is, you’ll be relying on a third party to sort things out. Now, this doesn’t automatically mean you’ve got a headache on your hands, but it might be a bit of a nuisance – and you’ll be doing yourself a big favour if you get on good communication terms with your landlord/letting agent from day one, rather than waiting until something ‘goes wrong’ to make contact.

  1. Streamline, streamline, streamline

It’s often said that our European cousins are much better at the whole renting game than us, being far more likely to rent their ‘forever home’, while us UK renters might find ourselves moving a lot (I stopped counting at 13), and it sucks. The good thing though? You’ll get so sick of packing and unpacking and losing money to removal vans (and cramming all your worldly belongings into one small bedroom, if you’re sharing a house), you’ll reach a point where you just don’t care for ‘stuff’ any more. Marie Kondo ain’t got nothing on me: I saw the light after move number 11 and waved goodbye to clutter for good. Do yourself a favour and get strict about the ‘stuff’ you let into your life. The next move will be a lot easier and, without even really trying, you’ll be living a less consumerist lifestyle – and will have more money to spend on experiences (tick, tick, tick).

renting-tips, homes-in-hampshire, homes-to-rent
  1. Give yourself reasons to get out of the house

Live in a shared house? No matter how great your housemates are, there will be times when you desperately wish you could afford your own place. Plus, self-comparison is part of the human condition, and if there are moments of mild (or severe) despair, when you’re wondering how you’ve not managed to bag that mortgage yet, while everyone around you is upgrading their kitchen – you’re not alone. Until that day comes for you, though, you need to make the best of the situation you’re in now – and embracing life outside your four walls can play a big part in this. Make dates with friends, join a club, go for walks, volunteer in your local community (no seriously, try it). Your life will be richer, your mental wellbeing will benefit, and you’ll find yourself seething about coming home to an already-occupied sofa a lot less.

  1. Make your bed king

You might not own the bed frame, or the walls around it – but that does not mean you don’t own the right to a decent night’s sleep. Good sleep is the foundation of so many thing (your health, your work performance, your overall zest for life and all the people in it) – so prioritise it and do your best to make it happen. Renting doesn’t have to mean putting up with a crap, wafer-thin mattress or not-quite-right bedding. If your landlord doesn’t feel the same way, save up and invest in the best mattress you can afford (it’ll be some of the best money you’ve ever spent), and a pillow you look forward to sinking your head into every night. Treat yourself to some fabulous bed linen too; as far as ‘home purchases’ go, you can pick up some great designs at reasonable prices, and you’ll get way more pleasure from it than a TV upgrade.

renting-tips, homes-in-hampshire, homes-to-rent
  1. Find ways to get personal

One of the most frequently-cited phrases among us long-term renters: ‘I just want to be able to hang whatever pictures I want on the walls!’ There’s a general assumption that landlords don’t want tenants to make their house too much of a home (by banging nails into walls, that sort of thing). Have you actually asked your landlord about this though? There’s no harm in asking.

Even if nails are out, there are lots of other ways you can personalise a space without permanently affecting the actual walls or structure. Get creative and remember that little touches can make a big difference. Everybody needs some home comforts, even if it’s just a throw from Matalan, a few coloured utensils in the kitchen that feel more like ‘you’, or a stack of books on the coffee table that light a spark every time your eye catches them. You may not be putting down permanent roots in this property, but right now, it’s home – so don’t underestimate the importance of making it feel that way.

If you want to find our more information about renting through McCarthy Holden, then call the lettings team on 01252 622550 or follow https://www.mccarthyholden.co.uk/letting/ 

Almost the price of a house

btw i8 photo

With the average house price in the UK being around £226,000, the luxury car market appears to be going in a similar upwards direction.

Jack Evans, Press Association motoring correspondent road tests the new BMW i8 Roadster, which is thought to have a guide price around £136,000.

The drop-top version of BMW’s instantly recognisable hybrid sports car is now on sale. Jack Evans heads out to Valencia to see what it’s like.

What is it?

That’s right, it’s finally here. After years of teasers, reveals and promises, we’re finally behind the wheel of the BMW i8 Roadster. A soft-top version of the iconic hybrid sports car, the Roadster is aimed at those who want the wind in their hair when piloting one of the most futuristic looking vehicles available.

It’s also able to offer genuinely low running costs and emits next to nothing, but can that help the i8 Roadster to top the bill when it comes to performance drop-tops? Let’s find out.

What’s new?

The biggest change here is, of course, the lack of a roof. BMW has whipped off the i8’s top and, because of its predominantly carbon-fibre underbody, it hasn’t had to laden the car down with additional strengthening.

That means the Roadster’s weight stays down, and as a result it’s just 60kg heavier than its hard-top brethren. The roof mechanism itself is clever too, taking just 15 seconds to raise or lower at speeds of up to 31mph. The exterior of the car has also been lightly breathed upon to freshen its looks, though we’ll come to those in more depth later.

What’s under the bonnet?

The i8 Roadster makes use of exactly the same powertrain as the regular i8, so you’ll find a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine linked to an electric motor. The combustion engine powers the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission, while the electric motor powers the front wheels through a two-speed automatic ‘box.

BMW has also increased the car’s battery cell capacity, so while you still get 369bhp and 570Nm of torque, the Roadster can still travel up to 33 miles on electric power alone. Both units combine to offer the best performance possible, with the electric motor filling in the gaps of the petrol’s power delivery. Thanks to this, 0-60mph takes just 4.4 seconds, and it can a top speed of 155mph too.

What’s it like to drive?

Usually when converting a regular hardtop into a convertible, you’d expect a significant penalty to the way the car drives. Lopping the roof off usually requires additional bracing to stop the car from flexing too much, and this adds weight, therefore blunting the vehicle’s performance. However, as we mentioned, the i8 Roadster hasn’t suffered too much with the conversion, with a negligible amount of weight added. This means that it steers just as keenly as the Coupe, and manages the weight it does have impressively well through the corners.

Push the i8 Roadster a little harder and it does fall into understeer, the front tyres scrubbing wide with little effort. We’d also like the brakes to be sharper; currently they feel underpowered and vague, leaving you guessing as to how much pedal force you need apply at any given moment.

btw i8 photo

How does it look?

The regular i8 still looks like nothing else on the road, despite having been around for some time now. The Roadster, in our eyes at least, looks even better – particularly in the ‘E-Copper’ colour our test car was finished in. The bubbles behind driver and passenger have been accentuated, giving it the look of a 1950’s racer, while the two-tone alloy wheels fitted to our test car stood out too.

The front of the car has benefited from some additional design touches too. There are revised air ducts finished in gloss black, while the headlight’s look has been updated as well. It’s still the i8 motoring fans know and love, just turned up a little bit more.

What’s it like inside?

The i8 Roadster’s interior remains largely unchanged over the Coupes, though it does benefit from the addition of a few new colour and material combinations. It’s still a well-made place to be, albeit one that is starting to feel its age a touch now; the screen, though clear, isn’t quite as pin-sharp as rival systems while the multifunction steering wheel hasn’t got the features you’ll find on other current BMWs.

The Roadster, does however, have practicality on its side. Though soft-tops are usually the less spacious option, this i8 packs more luggage space than its hard-top stablemate. In fact, you’ll find 188 litres of storage space in the Roadster – close to 35 litres more than the Coupe.

What’s the spec like?

Prices for the i8 Roadster start at £124,735, there’s plenty of equipment included as part of that base price. You get 20-inch alloy wheels, for instance, and full leather upholstery too, while a suite of safety assistance systems such as forward collision warning, city collision mitigation and high beam assistant all help to keep the Roadster as safe as possible.

It can be easy to ramp up the car’s price however. Apple CarPlay, for instance, is a £235 optional extra – which seems a little mean given it is standard on the majority of hatchbacks currently on sale today. Our test car weighed in at a hefty £135,075, with options such as LaserLight headlights (£5,100) contributing to its rather chunky price tag.

Verdict

BMW already claims that the Roadster will outsell the Coupe three to one – and we’d we can already see that being the case. There’s little reason why you wouldn’t go for the soft top; it’s quick, great to look at and its roof mechanism is simple and easy to use. The hybrid powertrain keeps running costs to a minimum, yet despite there’s a whole lot of performance accessible under your right foot. It’s an impressive car alright, and one you’d likely never tire of driving.

Facts at a glance

  • Model as tested: BMW i8 Roadster
  • Price: £135,810 (E171,390)
  • Engine: 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol linked to electric motor
  • Power: 369bhp
  • Torque (Nm): 570Nm
  • Max speed (mph): 155
  • 0-60mph: 4.4
  • MPG: 141.9
  • Emissions (g/km): 46

Footnote: Alternatively, at McCarthy Holden why not search for a fine property investment.

8 Reasons To Get Solar Panels On Your Home

house with solar panels

Could your property value be enhanced and the house become more saleable be with the benefit of solar panels and reduced energy bills? Putting property values top one side, in this article by Lisa Salmon (Press Association), she examines some good reasons to consider a solar panel installation.

Sunlight is free, so why not harness its energy through solar panels on your home?

Most people would love to save money on their domestic energy bills, and the summer is the ideal time to do it.

And that’s not just because you don’t need the heating on. It’s because all that sunlight is producing huge amounts of energy, which can be harnessed if you have solar panels on your home.

While a decade ago solar energy provided virtually no power, around 840,000 homes in the UK now have solar panels – also known as photovoltaics (PV) – and the renewable energy source regularly generates around a fifth of the country’s electricity for hours on summer days. The spell of hot, dry summer weather has helped break several solar power-generation records, and recently even very briefly eclipsed gas power stations, as the UK’s top source of electricity.

However, the solar energy boom may already have reached it’s peak, as solar panel installations have flatlined recently because financial incentives for householders to get them installed have been slashed dramatically, and will stop completely next year with no sign of a replacement scheme.

But green campaigners desperately want solar power to keep its foothold in the energy market, and point out there are still many reasons to consider installing solar panels on homes.

property roof with solar panel

1 Solar panels can save you money

The Energy Saving Trust (EST), an independent consumer body which helps householders and businesses save energy, says the amount saved depends on several factors – where your home is, what direction your roof faces, how big a system you install, when you install it, and how much of the energy produced you’re able to use yourself. For a typical 4kW system in the south of England, you could make around £275 a year in feed-in tariff generation payments and export payments.

Use the EST’s online Solar Energy Calculator (energysavingtrust.org.uk) to assess what financial benefits you may get from installing a solar PV system.

You’ll also save on electricity bills, says the EST. The amount you save depends on how much energy you use in a day when your solar panels are generating energy. If you’re usually out all day, you’ll only save around £90 a year on your bills. However, if you tend to be at home, you could save around £220 a year. Including the benefits from tariffs, this would give you a total saving of around £365-£495, depending on your lifestyle.

Caitlin Bent, home energy expert for the EST, says: “Solar panels are most suited to people who are at home a lot during the day, who can really take advantage of using free electricity when the sun is shining.”

2 You get paid for energy you produce

As well as saving on electricity bills, you can make money in two other ways with solar panels. Firstly, through the feed-in tariff, you’re paid for every unit of energy you generate. The feed-in tariff will close to new applicants in April 2019, although payments will continue for 20 years from the date of installation for those who invest in solar panels before April.

Secondly, you can make money via the export tariff, through which you’re paid for any energy you don’t use but send back to the grid. However, because export isn’t metered for domestic properties, the government assumes you’ll export 50% of the energy you produce. This means regardless of how much you use, you’ll be paid for 50% of your generation.

3 You’re helping to save the planet

Solar electricity is green renewable energy, meaning it doesn’t release any harmful carbon dioxide or other pollutants. A typical home solar PV system could save around 1.2 to 1.7 tonnes of carbon per year. The EST says: “By generating clean, green electricity you reduce your home’s carbon emissions. Plus, any solar energy you don’t use will be fed into the grid, so it can be used by someone else.”

4 Costs have fallen

A typical 4kW solar PV system now costs around £5,500 – £6,800 on average, according to government figures. When the feed-in tariffs began in 2010, costs were as high as £12,000-£14,000.

5 You can store solar energy on batteries

Batteries can now be purchased by householders to enable them to consume rather than export their solar electricity, which makes more financial sense.

6 It’s possible to use solar tiles if you prefer

Solar tiles are designed to be used in place of ordinary roof tiles. However, a system of solar tiles will typically cost about twice as much as an equivalent panel system. Therefore, solar tile systems aren’t normally as cost-effective as panel systems, and are usually only considered where panels aren’t appropriate for aesthetic or planning reasons.

7 They’re low maintenance

Solar panels require relatively little maintenance, but you may need to wash the surface occasionally, and make sure trees don’t begin to overshadow them, to make sure they continue working at their most efficient. Debris is more likely to accumulate on ground-mounted panels, and roof panels that are tilted at 15 degrees or more will be cleaned by rainfall. Panels should last 25 years or more, but their inverter is likely to need replacing at some point sooner, at a cost of about £800.

8 They come with a guarantee

“The performance of solar panels will degrade slightly over time,” says Bent, “but most come with a guarantee of at least 25 years.”

If you are a house buyer looking for a home with solar panels, why not undertake a property search from our home page

11 Ways To Give Your Garden a Burglar and Thief proof Makeover

curtain-planting-a-garden-property

Designers have teamed up with the police to create the ideal ‘crime prevention garden’. Hannah Stephenson finds out more.

You may have locked your doors and windows, installed a burglar alarm and prompted neighbours to keep a watch over your home while you’re on holiday – but have you considered how the style and design of your garden could help deter thieves too?

At this year’s RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show (on until July 8), designers Lucy Glover and Jacqueline Poll have a crime prevention garden that is both stunning and secure, a collaboration between crime prevention initiative Secured By Design with Capel Manor College and the Metropolitan Police.

The striking urban garden features green security measures, such as columnar trees and prickly plants, but also a calming atmosphere and soft relaxed planting, including beautiful perennials and grasses.

“Some 75% of all burglaries across the Met are via a rear garden. Those with criminal intention are looking for opportunity,” says PC Leslie Gipps, a Designing Out Crime Officer with the Metropolitan Police.

“What we do in Secured By Design is put in those layers which make it harder for the criminal to spend any real time trying to break in. They will just leave that garden and go for one that’s simpler.”

Want to add some crime-preventing layers to your garden? Here, the garden designers and Met officers recommend 11 ways to help deter criminals from targeting your property…

1 Prickly plants

Create a hedge of prickly plants, such as Osmanthus, pyracantha or berberis, next to boundary fencing, which can act as a layer to deter thieves.

In the crime prevention garden, the designers used Osmanthus heterophyllus, a shrub with sharply toothed leaves (similar to holly) under the windows, Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea, with stems that bear spiky spines, and pyracantha, a dense spiky shrub which is great grown as a hedge. Pyracantha will grow in any soil and is fast-growing.

2 Green screens

Boundary fences can be the first line of defence, and a good bet is a wire mesh which you can adorn with ivy or other ‘green screen’ – these look pretty but also act as a good deterrent. After all, a wire fence is unlikely to take someone’s weight.

Gipps explains: “By attempting the fence, thieves would draw attention to themselves and possibly leave their DNA behind. They know that, and can see it from the other side of the street. So it’s crime prevention through environmental design.”

burgular-proof-property-metal-fence-and-prickly-plant-in-hampshire

3 Dusk-’til-dawn lighting

Install dusk-’til-dawn low-voltage lights to ensure visibility in the garden at night. Stone effect solar lights will provide additional lighting and sculptural interest throughout the garden. “If your garden is lit through the hours of darkness, people with criminal intention don’t want to come into a lit environment,” says Gipps.

Householders often ignore sensor lights, thinking they’ve been set off by a fox or a cat. “Ten-watt LED lights are fine. We prefer white LED lighting, but you can choose a less bright option,” Gipps adds.

Gravel around the house

Gravel is noisy when walked on, so having it around your property means you can hear any uninvited visitors approaching the house. It also alerts dogs.

gravel-is-noisy-when-walked-on-so-a-good-property-burgular-deterrant

5 Curtain planting

“The aim is to have rich colour in the garden but not big solid shrubs that somebody can hide behind, so ideally grasses and other plants you can see through,” says Glover.

Light planting, such as grasses and ‘curtain planting’ with Verbena bonariensis and Sanguisorba canadensis, allows the homeowner to see through the planting.

6 Narrow trees

If you want to include architectural interest, use columnar-shaped trees, which are more difficult for intruders to hide behind and also difficult to climb.

7 Roses

Thorny roses can be used to great effect by training them over pergolas and other supports, which thieves might otherwise climb. The designers used rotating bars on their pergola to prevent thieves climbing. Roses will also give you scent and colour.

roses-burgular-deterrant-in-garedn-design

8 Green roof

Consider a green roof on your shed featuring spiky plants. The designers have planted a swathe of sedum on their shed roof, interplanted with aloe, a sharper specimen. Any intruder putting their hands on the shed roof would get a handful of prickles.

9 Shed security

Don’t leave tools outside, but also make it difficult for thieves to gain access to the shed, where you store them. Gipps explains: “The typical garden shed will come with a cheap padlock. We advocate that you have two locks – one a third up, the other a third down – with robust hinges and secure high-quality padlocks. You need robust hinges, coach-bolted through the fabric of the door.”

10 Secure garden pots

Thieves also use garden pots to break windows to gain entry. The best way to stop this is by using really heavy, large pots which are very difficult to lift. Keeping your plants well watered will help keep them heavy too.

11 Mark your property

Put your own forensic code on your garden items. Gipps recommends SmartWater (www.smartwater.com), a near-invisible, traceable liquid which gives your equipment its own unique forensic code, allowing items to be traced back to you, and the criminals back to the crime.

The code is registered to your home and stored on the SmartWater database. Once applied, it lasts for a minimum of five years, enabling stolen goods, if recovered, to be more easily identified and returned to the owner.

Diarmuid Gavin: 10 do’s and don’ts for designing gardens

diarmuid gavin 10 tips for designing gardens

The TV gardener talks to Hannah Stephenson about his own mistakes over the years, and how others can avoid pitfalls in their plots.

Diarmuid Gavin admits even he’s made some faux pas in his time – especially when he looks back at some of the dramatic changes he made to people’s plots in his early TV make-over shows.

“There were a couple of times when, with the exuberance of getting a chance to create a garden and being given a budget, you put everything in but the kitchen sink,” recalls the Irish Garden designer and TV presenter, 54. “Garden design and gardening is definitely a craft that you learn as you go along.”

So, what are the most common design mistakes people make?

“People are too fussy with line or shape, or it might be with using too many materials. Simplicity is often lost,” says Gavin. “People also tend to use too many plants. Why plant three trees, when one will do? There can be too much colour competing for attention.”

Here, Gavin, who is judging the Young Landscapers Award at this year’s BBC Gardeners’ World Live show, offers some top tips on the dos and don’ts of garden design..

1. Don’t leave plants in your car
“If you leave plants in the boot after a trip to the garden centre, you may find them wilted and light-starved a few days later. This is also true with packets of seeds. A huge percentage of those purchased remain in foil-wrapped comfort and don’t make it into the warming soil. So, prepare the ground before you shop and when you get home from a trip to the garden centre, don’t just reminisce about the tea and apple pie you had in the swish cafe – while your plants sweat in a sauna!”

2. Don’t upset the neighbours
“Check if you need planning permission for projects. I once I created a courtyard garden in Birmingham with an in-built lift. The terrace rose at the flick of a switch to reveal a subterranean room for evening entertainment. A neighbour complained, the council got involved, and the sleek paving was no longer permitted to rise.”

dont go ott on colour

3. Don’t go OTT on colour
“Be careful about the colours you choose when painting walls, fence panels or sheds. Cobalt blue may look good in an exotic garden in Marrakech but on the yard wall of a two-up-two-down with a distinct lack of warming sunshine, it may feel a little forlorn. I’m responsible for many awards of garish candy pink due to an obsession with the work of Mexican architect, Luis Barragan.”

4. Don’t use too many different stones
“If you’re planning on a hard landscaping project, keep in mind that less can be more. There’s so much choice of natural stone and paving products available in DIY stores and patio centres that temptation can lead you to purchase a few different styles of brick or slab. Combining a number of different colours and finishes can be tricky. For greater coherence with a design, stick to one product or theme.”

5. Do find out your soil type
“The most important thing about gardening is understanding your soil and putting plants where they are going to be happy. Most of us don’t do that. Digging and understanding what the soil needs to make it better is vital. There’s no point putting rodgersias or primulas in a dry part of the garden.”

6. Do pair up clashing colours
“I like clashing colours, and when we did that in my mechanical garden (Chelsea, 2016), I tried to go against the norm, so I’d have pastel pinks but then I’d also try a bomb of geums in tangerine, just to explode it. Whatever statement you’re making, make it! I don’t believe in the whole colour wheel thing or any of these rules. We’d all end up with gardens looking exactly the same if we follow them.”

do make use of green

7. Do make use of green
“If you are going for a bling garden in which you want every colour in the sun, you want the Smarties pack, absolutely fantastic, but we undervalue green. I find greenery really cooling and beautiful. Don’t underestimated the effects that you can get from the contrast of shades and the shape of leaves, because that can be beautiful too. Then work some colour in to highlight certain areas.”

do give yourself room on your patio

8. Do give yourself room on your patio
“Lay out a table and six chairs around it before you lay your patio, and understand the amount of circulation you’ll need. We are beginning to live outdoors on patios and decks, whenever the weather’s in our favour.”

9. Do try to hide paths
“You need good pathways, although I was always a devil for not putting in pathways and making people walk across lawns, because pathways always dominated my sight lines. I do have a path issue. In certain areas, where they create very strong lines, I don’t like them, so hide or disguise them if you can.”

10. Do plant next to the house
“Have a little bit of planting right next to the base of the house, taking into account your drainage and that you don’t want water seeping into the brickwork. But planting close to the house will soften the building. You can do it with contemporary architectural plants, using topiary such as buxus in a modernist house. In a suburban house, you can use something quite gentle, like billowing lavender, with climbers shooting up in-between. They soften the landscape and the view looking back to the house from the garden. If you can’t plant next to the house, use pots and containers and install an irrigation system.”

BBC Gardeners’ World Live takes place at the NEC Birmingham from June 14-17. For more information, see bbcgardenersworldlive.com

Petal Power: 3 Ways To Make Your Home Blooming Beautiful This Summer

3 Ways To Make Your Home Blooming Beautiful This Summer

No matter how your garden grows, anyone can enjoy an abundance of flowers indoors with this year’s stunning floral designs. Gabrielle Fagan picks the best of the bunch.

Nature’s best and brightest blooms inspire decor designs year after year, and the new-season ranges are blossoming with a fresh, contemporary take on the trend.

“Florals never lose their appeal, but this year, be brave and experiment with bold colours and eye-catching patterns to bring the outside in,” says Claire Hornby, creative stylist at Barker & Stonehouse. “It’s such an easy way to inject colour and pattern into your home. For a pared-back, summer-inspired space, opt for smaller floral accessories such as patterned chairs or cushions, which will pair well with neutral hues,” she adds.

Whether you’re looking to create an attention-grabbing feature wall in an all-over floral print, or add simple botanical-inspired accessories, you’ll be surprised by how easy it is to incorporate florals into a living space. Here are three ways to embrace petal-power right now…

Pick a posy of pinks for perennially pretty decor

“Spring’s all about embracing brighter colours and bolder prints, so naturally, florals are an absolute shoo-in for the season,” says Rebecca Snowden, interior style advisor at Furniture Choice.

“Florals or tropical prints, especially in bright pinks from rose to fuschia, are excellent statement-makers. They can be used for pops of colour in a smaller room, or will anchor a scheme if used to create a striking feature wall.

“For a major style boost, opt for larger botanical prints in the form of murals or wall art,” she suggests. “Experiment with light-coloured patterns for a relaxed natural look, or create a bold bohemian space with darker hues and busier motifs.”

Let blues blossom in serene scenes

“The trend for floral designs shows no signs of abating,” says Hannah Thistlethwaite, textiles buyer at Heal’s. “Opting for botanical-inspired homeware is an easy way to introduce invigorating touches of nature to enhance the atmosphere in any room.

For an understated theme, use soft floral prints in washed-out blue and white linens, to create a refreshingly laid-back effect,” she adds. “For an effortless update, look for cushions with a two-tone motif and pair with cool grey or blue fabrics to evoke a clean, Scandi-style aesthetic, which pays a subtle nod to the floral trend. Make a statement in a living room with bright pops of rich teal or blue blooms for fabrics or accessories contrasted with vibrant greenery, which will beautifully reflect nature’s palette.”

It would be hard to find a more eye-catching wallpaper than Giardino Segreto (Scene 1 Delft), £195 a roll, by Designers Guild, a company renowned for its stunning designs.

Bring a room to life with botanicals

“Botanical and floral prints continue to be top of the list for freshening up our decor,” says Yvonne Keal, head of product at curtain and blinds specialists, Hillarys. “They connect us to the outdoors, and if something works well in nature, it’ll work in a room. But just as we wouldn’t have a wilting bouquet in our homes, any floral look we introduce should feel fresh and new, and this season doesn’t disappoint.

“Botanical motifs on fabrics are subtle and hand-drawn – straight out of an artist’s sketchbook. Small-scale florals, watercolour washes and fade-out prints are blooming in gently joyful neutral grown-up shades, while soft greens, pale blues and lavender are replacing the rich jewel tones and clashing patterns of 2017, to help us create the more calm haven we crave this year.

Garden Style Can Bloom Indoors and Out

You may not be ready to get out the sun-loungers until that weather’s more settled, but there’s no reason you can’t enjoy the pleasures of the outdoors, by turning your home into a nature-inspired oasis.

Blurring the boundary between inside and out and playing with botanical effects is a passion for Selina Lake, who reveals her secrets in her new book, Garden Style: Inspirational Styling For Your Outside Space.

“I hope I can inspire people to make the most of any outside space, and create everything from an outdoor living space to a garden room or a hideaway, and bring nature into decor indoors,” she says.

Here, Lake shares three looks from the book…

1. Create a cosy hideaway

“More popular than ever, garden rooms are a useful addition to any space,” says Lake. “They can be used as office spaces, crafting rooms, yoga studios, or places to enjoy a million other activities.

“You can adapt an existing building, such as a large shed, garage or greenhouse, or commission a new pod, cabin or summer house. Perhaps you’d like the garden room to reflect the garden and have a verdant, naturalistic ‘potting shed’ vibe, or you could opt for something strikingly modern that contrasts with the garden that surrounds it.

“If it’s a contemporary structure – like a glass conservatory – a great way to bring the outside in is by using green, the colour of nature, for walls and skirting boards. Green glass-bottle vases and faux plants can bring a quirky botanical feel to a sleek modern space.”

Top Tip: “If you have a surplus of blooms from your garden, cut them and arrange in galvanized metal buckets filled with water. Arrange by a doorway or at the bottom of a staircase. It creates a sense of walking through a flower garden.”

2. Bring the outside in

“Bringing flowers and foliage in from your garden to enhance your home decor is a simple detail that makes a big impact, whether you’re in need of a table centrepiece for a special occasion, a welcoming display for a hallway table, or something just to bring a smile to your face,” Lake enthuses.

“Joyful pops of vibrant colour from flowering spring bulbs are really uplifting,” says Lake. “When it comes to arranging flowers, I don’t have any rules as such. I like loose, natural-looking posies and am drawn to colour palettes that I find uplifting and will sit well with my interior.”

Top Tip: “I make black and white copies of vintage botanical prints and use brass bulldog clips to display them on a line. I also love empty seed packets, which can be grouped and used in a decorative way.”

3. Perfect the patio

“I wanted to create a simple Scandinavian look, so opted for a clean, pared-down palette of black, grey and white, teaming it with natural materials such as wood, rattan and wicker,” explains Lake.

“Lush green wisteria foliage and leafy hydrangea, lavender and tobacco plants in zinc containers and dark grey stone pots add scent and interest to my outdoor living room. I gave our tired wooden decking a face-lift with black wood stain, and like to dress the sofa and chairs with comfy cushions and throws, just as I do inside.” Top Tip: “Be ready for when the sun goes down – an outdoor rug will make a space feel cosier – and hang a cluster of string lights overhead and group candle lanterns on a coffee table.”

Garden Style: Inspirational Styling For Your Outside Space by Selina Lake, photography by Rachel Whiting, is published by Ryland Peters & Small, priced £19.99. Available to readers for special price of £14.99, inc P&P: Call Macmillan Direct on 01256 302 699 and quote ref NT5.

Alan Titchmarsh Explains How To Create A Plot For Pollinators

Alan Titchmarsh Explains How To Create A Plot For Pollinators

Alan Titchmarsh is calling on gardeners to make a metre for wildlife this summer, by providing a refuge for struggling butterflies, moths and other pollinators.

Launching Butterfly Conservation’s ‘Plots for Pollinators’ campaign, Titchmarsh, the charity’s vice president, says: “The future of our butterflies, moths and other pollinating insects is under threat, as the places where they live are disappearing. The cold start to spring may affect how some butterflies fare this year, as they could experience a delayed emergence, meaning they’ll have less time to feed and breed – but you can help by creating some ‘plots for pollinators’.

“There are so many different flowers that are great nectar sources, like catmint, cosmos or calendula,” he adds. “See if you can find just one square metre and you could attract lots of butterflies this spring and summer, like my favourite – the red admiral. It doesn’t have to be on the lawn either – you could create a vertical garden on a bit of unused wall or fence and this would make a huge difference for pollinators.”

The project encourages people to set aside one square-metre of their garden or outdoor space to plant a nectar-rich flowerbed, or a colourful container garden. Previously widespread species, such as the small tortoiseshell and garden tiger moth, have seen their numbers plummet in recent years.

Here, Titchmarsh offers some top tips on creating plots for pollinators…

1. Select your space

Measure out one square-metre of outdoor space and fill it with open-flowered, nectar-rich plants. Choose a sunny, sheltered position and group pots together on a patio, grow plants up a fence or wall, or commit an area of a flowerbed.

2. Keep watering

Water your plot regularly – ideally from a water butt, as this is more environmentally friendly. Frequent watering prevents plants from drying out during a spell of hot weather, especially when in containers, and helps flowers to produce more nectar. Remember to water the soil not the plant, as larger leaves can act as an umbrella which prevents water getting to the roots. Remove the rose from your watering can to get nearer the plant base if necessary.

3. Lay a mulch

Put a layer of mulch on the surface of the soil around the plants, to help prevent water evaporation and suppress weed growth.

4. Use peat-free compost

Always choose peat-free compost and cut down on your use of plastic. Use recyclable and recycled containers or be creative and turn tins and tubs into plant pots. Remember to drill drainage holes in the bottom to prevent water logging.

5. Dead-head blooms

Dead-heading after flowering keeps plants looking attractive and encourages more blooms.

6. Get neighbours involved

Inspire your neighbours to plant a plot for pollinators to create a flowery ‘super highway’ for the pollinating insects where you live.

7. Avoid chemicals

Avoid using harmful pesticides, by removing slugs and snails by hand instead. Night is the best time to catch these marauding molluscs in action. Once caught, release them at a safe distance from your plot.

The Plots for Pollinators project will run throughout spring and summer. To take part, visit butterfly-conservation.org/PlantPlots

5 Fabulous Places To See Bluebells In The UK This Spring

A short burst of sunshine, a gentle rise in temperature… it doesn’t take much for Britain’s wildflowers to bloom.

But no display is more eagerly anticipated than the eruption of bluebells. Covering fields and woodlands across the UK, these delicate carpets of colour captivate photographers and nature enthusiasts year after year.

The season is short – lasting from April until May – so you’ll need to plan visits. These are some of the spectacular spots we recommend you try.

1. Brean Down, Somerset

Although normally associated with woodland enclaves, it’s possible to find bluebells by the sea too. Overlooking the Bristol Channel, the north side of this down is covered in flowers from May.

How: The area is free to explore. Visit nationaltrust.org.uk

2. Foxley Wood, Norfolk

Supposedly visible from space, Norfolk’s largest ancient woodland was once packed with light-blocking conifers, meaning very little grew on the forest floor. Due to the work of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, many of those trees have been cut back and carpets of bluebells have returned.

How: The forest is free to explore. Visit norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk

3. Hardcastle Crags, Yorkshire

With a renovated mill as its centrepiece, this wooded valley is characterised by ravines and waterfalls. In spring, bluebells burst from the forest floor, providing an additional attraction. It’s possible to explore independently, but on April 28 free guided walks will run through the Lower Crimsworth Valleys, where the main displays can be found.

How: It’s free to visit, although Gibson Mill has opening times. Visit nationaltrust.org.uk/hardcastle-crags

4. Heartwood Forest, Sandridge

Thanks to the planting of 600,000 saplings, this ancient forest has become a source of pride and joy for the Woodland Trust. Bluebell fields regularly draw visitors, although the Trust warns people to stick to paths; in the past, more than an acre of flowers has been accidentally trampled underfoot.

How: Visit heartwood.woodlandtrust.org.uk

5. Godolphin, Cornwall

In April and May, the 16th century gardens of this historic home put on one of the best bluebell displays – with a footpath allowing easy viewing access. A popular spot, it does attract crowds – but in such a romantic setting it’s easy to forget other people are around. From April 16 – May 20, a Bluebell Festival will be held, giving visitors an opportunity to learn more about the flowers.

How: Adults, £9.50; children, £4.80. Visit nationaltrust.org.uk/godolphin

The Fascinating History Of 7 Iconic Winter Olympic Sports

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Some of the world’s top athletes have descended upon PyeongChang in a bid for gold medal glory in sub-zero temperatures, but have you ever wondered how these snowy sports began?

Here, we look back at the origins of some of the most iconic Olympic Winter Games events…

1. Figure skating

olympics-4.jpgBefore the Winter Games were established as their own separate event, the London Summer Games in 1908 actually included figure skating, making it the oldest official Olympic sport and the only event in which women could participate from the very beginning.

At the first Winter Games at Chamonix in 1924, 11-year-old Sonja Henie represented Norway in the figure skating. She came last – but went on to take gold at the next three consecutive Games.

2. Cross-country skiing

As a mode of transport, cross-country skiing dates back as far as 8000 BC in Russia, but it officially became an Olympic sport for men in 1924,when Norwegian master skier Thorleif Haug took home gold for all three distance events (18km, 50km and combined).

It wasn’t until 1952 and the Oslo Games that women were allowed to participate, and even then, only in the 10km event. But nowadays, male and female athletes can both compete in six different cross-country distances.

3. Curling

Introduced during the 1912 Olympics in Sweden, demonstration sports were a typical feature of the Summer and Winter Games alike, designed to allow countries to showcase their national sports on the world stage. Competitors in these events would still receive medals, but they were smaller and not counted in the total count for each nation.

Curling – in which teams compete to get their ‘stones’ as close to the centre of a target as possible, by sliding and guiding them across the ice – was one such demonstration sport in the inaugural Winter Olympiad, but was dropped for the second Games at St Moritz, Switzerland. After decades of being a demonstration sport thereafter, it joined the official Olympic programme in 1998.

4. Biathlon

The Biathlon, which has its roots in Scandinavian hunting practises, combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. It also started out as a demonstration sport, in St Moritz, before being officially added to the men’s Olympic roster at the 1960 Games in Squaw Valley, California. It took another 32 years before women could compete in individual, sprint and relay biathlon events, at the 1992 Games in Albertville, France. More recently, pursuit and mass-start events have been added to the biathlon line-up.

5. Luge

olympics-3.jpgOne of the oldest Olympic sports, Luge, which comes from the French word for sledge, sees athletes lying on their backs on a very small sled, and zipping down an icy track at around 140kmph – without brakes!

This mind-boggling – and terrifying-looking – pursuit started out as a tourist attraction for adrenaline junkies back in the 1870s and eventually became an Olympic sport in 1964 at the Innsbruck Games, with men’s, women’s and mixed events. The programme hasn’t changed since.

6. Freestyle skiing

In contrast, freestyle skiing is one of the youngest Winter Olympic sports. It originates from the 1920s, when skiers in the US started to experiment with acrobatic flips and tricks on the slops, which came to be known as ‘hotdogging’.

In the late Seventies, the International Ski Federation brought in regulations to curb some of the more dangerous elements of the sport, paving the way for the official introduction of the ‘mogul’ event at the Albertville Games. Since that year, several other events have been added, most recently the ‘slopestyle’ and ‘halfpipe’ at Sochi in 2014.

7. Snowboarding

Even more modern than freestyle skiing, snowboarding also has its origins in America, where it began life as a sort of hybrid of skateboarding, surfing and skiing.

Initially greeted with hostility by skiers, who saw the slopes as ‘their’ domain, the sport gained global popularity by the Nineties and made its Olympic debut at the 1998 Nagano Games. Initially, athletes competed individually but at the Turin Games in 2006, a Cross event was added, which sees four or six snowboarders race down a course.

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Calling all wildlife fans – here’s your chance to vote for your winner

If you love the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards, then now is your chance to get involved and vote for your favourite for the People’s Choice winner.

Nature fans can choose from 24 images selected from almost 50,000 submissions from 92 countries. The shortlisted images are on display at the Natural History Museum in London until the vote closes, and the winner of the People’s Choice Award will be showcased until the whole exhibition closes on May 28.

And it’s a big deal – Wildlife Photographer of the Year is the longest-running and most prestigious competition of its kind. It’s part of the museum’s mission to inspire curiosity about the natural world through the power of photography, and look for answers to issues facing the planet.

From birds bathing to a too-close-for-comfort leopard, here’s our pick of the images you can vote for.

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1. Roller Rider: by Lakshitha Karunarathna, Sri Lanka

Lakshitha was on safari at Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya, when he saw a lilac-breasted roller hitching a ride on the back of a zebra. These little birds usually prefer to perch high up in the foliage, but this maverick roller spent an hour or more on the zebra.

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2. Leopard Gaze: by Martin Van Lokven, Netherlands

During a three-week stay in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, Martin encountered the same female leopard several times – called Fundi by local guides. Leopards are nocturnal and solitary, usually hunting at night, but one afternoon Fundi left the tree she was resting in and approached Martin’s car, fixing his camera lens with her gaze.

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3. Pool Party: by Luke Massey, UK

This photograph was taken during the drought in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. As waterholes dwindled in numbers and size, flocks of Lilian’s lovebirds, a small African parrot species, congregated together and when the coast was clear, have a drink and bath. Luke watched as they each shuffled forward, taking it in turns, as if on a conveyor belt.

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4. Warm Embrace: by Debra Garside, Canada

Polar bears are the largest land carnivores in the world and you wouldn’t want to get too close to one, but this touching image of a polar bear and her cubs shows their softer side. When polar bear mothers and cubs emerge from their dens in the early spring, the cubs stay close for warmth and protection before they’re strong enough to trek across the sea ice with their mothers. Debra braved challenging conditions for six days with temperatures from -35 to -55 degrees Celcius and high winds, to catch this shot.

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5. Warning Wings: by Mike Harterink, Netherlands

Mike was diving off Blue Bead Hole in St Eustatius, in the Caribbean, when he spotted this ‘flying’ gurnard. These fish have shorter forward fins with spines which they use to poke around for food, as well as larger wing-like fins. The fins are usually held against its body but when threatened, the gurnard expands them to scare away predators – which Mike used a slow shutter speed to capture.

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6. Dark Side of the Plains: by Uri Golman, Denmark

Black and white might be an unusual choice for safari photography, but Uri spent a whole week just taking pictures in monochrome on the plains of the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya, and spent most of it taking pictures of big cats. But it was a group of giraffes that stuck with him in the end. After following them for a while, three broke off and headed into the shadows, creating this amazing shot.

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7. Reach for the Sky: by Steven Blandin, USA

If you ever wondered what a bird looks like landing right in front of you, this is it. Steven was photographing a group of Roseate spoonbills, which have distinctive pink feathers. He saw a newcomer flying in from afar and managed to take a few steps back and position himself so the bird could land square in front of his camera. Its wings created a stunning symmetrical U-shape.

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8. Settled In: by Ryan Miller, USA

The city of Anchorage, Alaska, sees frequent moose, and this bull is known as Hook to the locals. Moose antlers are deciduous and every year they fall off ready for regrowth. Ryan knew from the previous year that Hook would be ready to shed his antlers in the coming days and he captured the scene in heavy snowfall as the city slept.

Voting closes at midnight on February 5. See all the other photos and vote for your favourite at nhm.ac.uk.


How To Transform Your Home With 2018’s Trendiest Colour – Ultra Violet

ultra-violet-colour-living-room-news.jpgSurely one of the grandest hues on the colour wheel, with its associations with royalty, wizardry and luxury, purple is the hot shade for 2018.

Ever since colour gurus Pantone announced Ultra Violet – their interpretation of the shade made from a combination of blue and red tones – as their new Colour of the Year, there’s been a virtual avalanche of homeware and accessories in plummy shades.

This powerful colour is definitely not for faint-hearted decoristas, or those who think daring is moving from white to a pale shade of grey. Even Leatrice Eiseman, Pantone’s executive director, describes Ultra Violet as a “dramatically provocative and thoughtful purple shade”.

But used cleverly, it can look pretty as well as punchy – you just need to get the dose right!

Here, three decor experts reveal how to enjoy a full-blown purple passion, ‘flirt’ with quirky purple accents, or ‘double date’ by blending blue and purple…

Go full-on passion for purple “Ultra Violet has already sent shock waves through the interior design fraternity,” says Sophie Robinson, interior designer and former judge on BBC’s The Great Interior Design Challenge, whose living room reflects her enthusiasm for purple. “It’s a real Marmite colour, people either love it or hate it, but I’m a purple lover. I adore its intensity and vibrancy. It’s a really uplifting, feel-good colour and I can’t wait to see it popping up in the best dressed interiors.

“My advice,” Sophie adds, “leave behind all thoughts of Cadbury Cream Eggs, Barney the Dinosaur and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen in all his purple velvet suited glory, and embrace the new power of purple.” “Don’t be tempted to simply paint a feature wall in Ultra Violet and leave it at that,” she urges. “Instead, keep walls neutral and let soft furnishings do the work for you. If you’re using florals, mix them with geometrics for a more interesting look and do something unexpected.

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“For me, a pop of neon colour for a cushion and candles lifted my living room scheme. The great thing about Ultra Violet is that it can hold its own with a diverse range of colours. It can act as a dark foil for acid brights, a cool partner for hot hues, and a safe anchor for delicate pastels.”

Flirt with punchy purple accents “This exciting choice for Colour of the Year works brilliantly in many different ways, for all different interior schemes,” enthuses Brian Woulfe, founder and managing director, Designed By Woulfe. “If you’re brave, go hard on block colours and mix this vibrant hue with other visceral and stimulating colours in your home in a Mondrian style. This will give your space a stylish edge because this is a heady cocktail of punkish rebellion and regal opulence.

“Alternatively, intoxicating purple sits wonderfully with the popular grey, earthy tones which have dominated the interiors scene for so long. Alongside greys and ochre, purple tones are softened and can be seamlessly integrated to a pre-existing scheme,” Brian continues. “Another great way to introduce a softer version of Ultra Violet is to opt for cashmere or wool soft furnishings in this punchy tone, or use the shade for silk or satin piping for an on-trend trim for cushions, curtains or armchairs.”

Partner moody blues with purples “Purple’s long been associated with spirituality, mystery and contemplation, and Ultra Violet is no exception,” says Hannah Thistlethwaite, textiles buyer, Heal’s. “Inspired by the night sky, it’s full of possibilities. Pairing Ultra Violet with serene shades of blue could have an ethereal effect. For a luxurious take on the trend, I’d recommend sofas and armchairs in inky navy or midnight black, with amethyst cushions and throws to provide subtle pops of colour from the same palette,” Hannah adds. “Finally, add a pendant light or a table lamp in soft copper to catch the light and add brightness to the overall look. So, while the psychedelic hue is certainly a statement, be bold, and you’ll reap the benefits of a space that is altogether other-worldly.”

So why not start 2018 by searching for colourful property solution here.

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Britain’s Top Rankin Photos

Anyone can be a photographer these days, and even if we can’t reach the higher echelons of A-list snappers, we all have the ability to capture a moment in time.

That was the challenge photographic community Photobox set users when they invited submissions for their This is Britain project. Published and produced by Photobox, the coffee table book features images of the colours and characters that make up our society, all taken by members of the public, with a final selection curated by celebrity photographer Rankin.

More than 300 pictures reflecting the passage of the day sit alongside essays by personalities such as Kelly Hoppen MBE, Ben Fogle, Lorraine Kelly OBE and Denise van Outen. We asked Rankin to tell us about some of his favourite images from the book, which could of course be a lovely Christmas gift for someone.

1. Natural arc – I love this photo. The beautiful rainbow seems to perfectly span the length of the bridge. The row of local fishing boats reminds me of the thriving fishing industry of the past.

2. Wallflower – This is a great photo. The giant wall appears intimidating with the small child looking up at it. The beautiful apple tree growing up the wall pops out against the red brick. It’s stunning.

3. Monochrome beauty – This photographer certainly knows what they’re doing. The viaduct fades beautifully into the background while the harsh black and white colourings on the dog are so impactful.

4. End of the day – Wow! We’re so lucky to have an amazing coastline in the UK which provides a natural canvas for photographers to get creative. The warm light from this sunset bounces off the shoreline to create a mind-blowing photo.

5. Time for play – Nothing says playtime better than some puddle jumping and this photo captures it perfectly. I love the rows of beach huts in the background – very British.

Rankin’s top tips for taking pictures:

1. The first and most important thing for photography is light. Whether you’re on the bus or in your kitchen, think about light and where it’s coming from all the time to help sculpt the world around you.

2. You don’t need a big expensive camera – use a smartphone. They’re perfectly good enough to take great photos. The phone is just a tool, so use your imagination, get creative and take risks.

3. There are no rules. Photography isn’t meant to be prescriptive or strict. It’s supposed to be fun, so get out there and enjoy it.

This is Britain is produced and published by Photobox, in aid of BBC Children In Need, and available now. It’s priced at £25, with more than 40% of the sale price donated to the charity.

First Drive: BMW M5

What is it?
So here it is – the all-new BMW M5. Following in the footsteps of some of the best-regarded super-saloons ever made, this latest four-door powerhouse has got a tougher job than ever to remain top of the pile thanks to some hugely capable rivals. Utilising the very latest engine technology, it’s also the first M5 to feature all-wheel-drive, as well as a host of other features designed to make it sharper and more capable than ever before.

What’s new? – There’s a lot going on. The new BMW M5 makes use of a 4.4-litre V8 turbocharged engine as well as that all-important all-wheel-drive system – one of the biggest changes to the M5’s layout, with most M-cars traditionally powering the rear wheels only. That said, this new car can still be locked off to rear-wheel-drive only – so purists need not be too aghast. Not only this, but this sixth-generation car is lighter than ever before too, making use of carbon-fibre reinforced plastic to keep its overall weight down.

What’s under the bonnet? – As mentioned, the new BMW M5 uses a 4.4-litre turbocharged V8 engine to power all four wheels. Here, it produces 592bhp and 750Nm of torque, allowing it to hit 60mph in 3.2 seconds before reaching an electronically limited 155mph top speed. All that fury is sent to the wheels via an eight-speed Steptronic transmission. BMW claims that the M5 will do 26.9mpg on a combined cycle, while emitting 241g/km CO2 – so there’s still some degree of sense despite the performance madness.

What’s it like to drive? – BMW M5s of old had a reputation for being somewhat spiky to drive. This latest one has been designed to offer a little more traction – and it’s well and truly achieved this. Despite packing close to 600bhp, the M5 rarely feels out of control, instead offering a lot of balance and adjustability. The biggest factor in this is that all-wheel-drive system. There’s no doubting the car’s rear-drive-bias; when the system is set to allow a certain amount of slip, the M5 will fall into delightful mini-drifts, sliding you through corners without ever feeling like it’s going to spin around and bite you. Turn all the systems back on, and it transforms into a point-to-point weapon with all of the traction you could want.

Then there’s the engine. Anybody who doubted turbocharged engines in performance cars needs to experience the way the M5’s V8 deploys its power. There’s no lag to speak of, just shove throughout the rev range. Of course, lower down is where you notice the power the most and any press of the throttle is accompanied by a deep, mechanical bellow. The steering also has a decent weight to it, though it feels its most capable in sport mode – the middle of the three. Comfort feels too light, while sport plus is granite-heavy. The middle ground, unsurprisingly, is the best bet.

How does it look? – The M5 exudes all of the classic styling that we’ve come to expect from big, powerful M-cars. It’s certainly not as wild as the current-generation M3, but it still looks special. At the rear, four exhaust pipes to give some hint of the car’s performance, as do the gills at the side of the car, but all in all it’s still instantly recognisable as a BMW saloon – and that’s no bad thing at all. M-cars aren’t meant to be shouty and brash in terms of exterior styling, as they let their performance do the talking – and that’s just the case here.

What’s it like inside? – The interior of the M5 uses the vast majority of components from the standard, but excellent, 5 Series cabin. That means you still get an infotainment system which is simple and easy to operate, as well great build quality and good materials. The M5 builds on this with additional ‘sporting’ touches, such as carbon-fibre finishers for the dashboard. The biggest changes come in the form of driving mode selectors. Two red ‘M’ buttons sit at either side of the steering wheel, and allow you to customise the suspension, steering and engine responsiveness to one of three modes. There’s also the drivelogic selector, now found on the top of the gear stick, which controls how quickly and sharply the car changes gear.

Of course, as it’s based on a standard 5 Series saloon, the M5 remains hugely practical. There’s loads of space for both sat up front, while rear seat legroom is excellent too. The cabin, as a whole, feels special as well as comfortable – and this makes it ideal for those who are planning to undertake longer journeys but still want plenty of ‘star’ factor.

What’s the spec like? – You’d expect any high-powered executive saloon to pack a lot of toys and, thankfully, the M5 delivers in this respect. Standard equipment includes 20-inch alloy wheels, adaptive LED headlights and dynamic LED brake lights on the outside, with BMW’s professional media system, 10.25-inch colour display and front heated seats just a variety of the long list of included technology for the inside. Being a BMW, there’s still a long list of options to choose from. Highlights include ceramic brakes, a sports exhaust system and a full carbon engine cover. That said, the car’s price starts at just shy of £90,000 which means, even by ticking just a few boxes, the M5 could easily nudge into the six-figure bracket – and that’s a lot, even for a car with as much performance as this. That said, it’s in line with its competitors – the Mercedes-AMG E63S matches the BMW in the price department.

Verdict – The M5 certainly came into this world with a lot of competition. However, thanks to better all-round capability than ever before, it’s likely to come out on top when it goes on sale next year. It’s relatively expensive, but given the sheer amount of technology and performance on board, it feels more than worth the money.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

Model: BMW M5

Price: £89,640

Engine: 4.4-litre turbocharged V8

Power: 592bhp

Torque: 750Nm

Max speed: 155mph

0-60mph: 3.2 seconds

MPG: 26.9

Emissions: 241g/km