For sale: Downturn abbey

If you've ever dreamt of owning a castle, now could be your chance. It still requires deep pockets and lots of hard work, but falling prices mean you could just become lord of the manor.
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The Independent Culture

There isn't a grown-up child in the land who hasn't fantasised about living in a castle at one time or another. Yet the reality is the closest most of us come to owning a slice of history is in the form of a Victorian terrace with windows that allow a force-nine gale to whip through the lounge every winter.

Thankfully, this may no longer be the case. One of the few advantages of the current economic climate is that the market for castles has stalled, meaning that whether you fancy yourself as a Scottish Laird or modern-day Emma Woodhouse, that dream is now more achievable than ever.

"In terms of what it costs to purchase them, castles have never been better value," Ran Morgan, of Knight Frank, says. "There are some places where they are 30 per cent to 40 per cent cheaper than they were three years ago. In others, it may be as much as 50 per cent."

One example of this is the beautiful Myres Castle in Auchtermuchty, Fife. Originally, the castle was marketed at £3.5m but the price has now been reduced by 16 per cent to £2.95m – roughly the same as a four-bedroom Cotswold cottage or swanky north-London home.

Yes, I know this is still far more than the average homeowner can afford, but the same principle applies: if you are in a position to move now, you should think big.

"The buying market in this sector has shrunk to those with cash or who have sold their own homes," says Chris Hall, director of rural sales at Rettie & Co.

"If you are a cash buyer who doesn't need to sell a property to facilitate your purchase, then you are in a much stronger position than you were three or four years ago or for the majority of the 21st century."

Rettie & Co is illustrating this point by marketing the beautiful Stobhall estate in nearby Perthshire for £2.35m – 10 to 15 per cent off the peak market price.

As with Myers Castle, it includes a vast number of bedrooms and bathrooms, alongside such unique extras as a library, chapel, Victorian folly, duck pond and a private island in the River Tay. Not to mention the one thing that a Victorian terrace can never provide: space. "You are in your own little world as soon as you go in the gates of a large estate," says Jamie Macnab, of Savills.

This principle of buying big doesn't just apply to Scottish castles either. Hidden in the sweeping farmland of Northamptonshire, the sprawling beauty of Bragborough Hall has just been put on the market for £5m. Yes, again, this represents a king's ransom to most, but it also stands as a 20 per cent reduction from pre-recession pricing – around £1.5m.

Head further west to Newport in Gwent and you encounter another extraordinary buy at Ruperra Castle, which is on the market for £1.5m.

"The Castle alone is 25,000sq-ft and then the outbuildings are at least another 25,000sq-ft," Ross Hooper-Nash, an agent from Jeffrey Ross, says. "So it is a huge amount of property for the price we are asking."

Sadly, there is a huge sting in the tail with Ruperra, as it has stood as a romantic ruin for the best part of 50 years and it's likely to cost the best part of £6m to turn it back into a fully functioning home again. The lands surrounding the castle also contain rare breeding grounds for bats and newts and have been the focus of intense political debate for the past 15 years.

Should anyone manage to crack this nut, they stand to make a fortune: in 2007 Knight Frank estimated the fully redeveloped 18-acre plot would be worth around £29m.

While most other castles and stately homes are in a less perilous position than Ruperra, they also combine this combination of high running costs and promise of investment. "If you are going to keep these places properly you need to consider a gardener, annual maintenance and a housekeeper, as well as insurance, council tax and heating oil," Morgan says.

"Walls also fall down in these old buildings and extreme temperatures can cause massive problems to the lead roofs and flat roofs. There are always things that need to be kept on top of. But it still represents a very sound medium to long-term investment."

Morgan suggests the best way around this it to run some form of business from the property to take advantage of the vast tax breaks this provides. The key would also appear to be to select a historic home that's been recently updated and is therefore far less likely to suffer from problems.

Fix these harsh realities into your mind and it's just possible that you could become the lord of the manor for the same price as a family home in East Finchley. Essentially, all you need is the ambition.

"Castles are extraordinary buildings and I've always thought that the people who choose to live in them are fairly extraordinary characters too," Macnabb says.

"They attract the romantic rather than the practical buyer because they have fabulous rooms but the layout isn't entirely logical. They are quite easy places to get lost in until you get used to them. But that is just part of the fun."

MYERS CASTLE

Auchtermuchty, Fife

How much: £2.95m

How old: The original castle was built in 1530 by John Scrymgeour.

How big: Ten bedrooms, eight bathrooms, four drawing rooms, 45 acres of land and a walled garden laid out in the same style as one at the Vatican.

To do list: A lot of was money spent updating the castle 10 to 15 years ago. So it's just a question of redecorating to taste – with Historic Scotland's permission.

Historic bonus: Scrymgeour's grandson, also called John, oversaw the refurbishment of Holyrood Palace for King James V.www.savills.co.uk

BRAGBOROUGH HALL

Braunston, Northamptonshire

How much: £5m

How old: The hall dates from the early 19th century.

How big: A vast 346 acres. Along with the main hall and gardens, the lot includes a stable courtyard with three self-contained flats, a detached bungalow and two gate lodges.

To do list: The house is immaculate but given the vast size of the plot, there will always be something.

Historic bonus: The Manor House in nearby Ashby St Ledgers was the HQ of Guy Fawkes for the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. www.fishergerman.co.uk

STOBHALL

Perthshire, Scotland

How much: £2.35m

How old: Parts of the building date back to 1367 when Sir John Drummond received a royal grant.

How big: About 196 acres with 23 bedrooms split between the main house, dower house, chapel house, caretaker's flat and gate lodge.

To do list: None. The current owner has spent 15 years rewiring, re-plumbing, redecorating and repairing the stonework.

Historic bonus: Sir John Drummond's daughter Annabella married the future Robert III of Scotland and is an ancestress of all succeeding British sovereigns. www.rettie.co.uk

RUPERRA CASTLE

Newport, Gwent

How much: £1.5m

How old: The original house was built in 1626 by Sir Thomas Morgan but was destroyed by fire in 1785 and rebuilt by Lord Tredegar. Sadly this also burnt down in 1941.

How big: A 25,000sq-ft castle with four fronts, three stories high and four round towers, plus 15 acres of land with numerous outbuildings.

To do list: Extensive. There isn't so much as a floorboard or timber in sight.

Historic bonus: Charles I licked his wounds at Ruperra after his defeat at the Battle of Naseby in 1645. www.jeffreyross.co.uk

All it needs is a lick of paint...

The running costs for a large country estate can reach upwards of £1m a year, but for a small stately home or castle you can expect to pay in the region of £100,000 to £300,000 per annum. Angus Harley, head of Knight Frank's country house consultancy service, says: "A third to a half of these costs go on wages. The next biggest item would be repairs and maintenance, followed by insurance and council tax. Heating costs can also be very high and easily run into tens of thousands in houses that haven't been fully refurbished." You have been warned.

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