Property: Apply here for a taste of the good life on a country estate

The gatehouses of large country estates may no longer have a practical role to play, but they make fantastic homes for those wanting something a little unusual. And you don't even have to opt for the rural life - cities too boast their share of lodges. By Gwenda Joyce

It was the mid-Victorian town dweller's dream - a property on a private estate, with gates and a gatekeeper. But nowadays many of these gatehouse properties, or lodges, are finding themselves on estate agents' books, their former role obsolete.

From those in a derelict, unloved state to those which have been painstakingly restored and refurbished, their appeal lies in the chance to own a distinctive "one-off" period house that is usually detached to boot.

Lodge properties are not restricted to remote country estates. Many are found in locations to which you could easily commute, and some even stand right at the heart of our towns and cities.

Fisher Wrathall, an estate agent in Lancaster, is currently selling a seven-bedroom Victorian residence set in five acres of grounds in Halton for pounds 435,000. Coincidentally, the property at the main gate, Carus Lodge Cottage, is also up for grabs, although the two houses have been separate entities for 15 years. The cottage is a late-Georgian detached property with two double bedrooms and original features, including slate hearths, and threepenny-bit and lozenge-paned windows.

Despite popular misconceptions, lodge properties usually come with their own private space around them, which can sometimes be substantial. Carus Lodge Cottage is set in its own grounds of a third of an acre, with a gravel driveway that has parking for several cars. Despite the rural surroundings, it is a mere two miles from Lancaster. It is freehold, at an asking price of pounds 118,000.

Eastgate Lodge, an early-19th-century property, is situated within "the golden triangle" of York, Harrogate and Leeds. Sandy Fagan bought the lodge, which is part of the larger estate of Grimstone Park, in its unrestored state, and has now completely refurbished it.

In estate agents' parlance it is extremely "compact", although Sandy Fagan has done her best to stretch it - it now has a mezzanine floor constructed above the sitting room, which houses the bedroom, while a bathroom has been clawed out of what was once an underground passage linking Eastgate Lodge with its unrestored twin across the driveway.

The lodge, which recently sold for pounds 69,000, and was marketed by Middleton Marketing, has its own lawn and a private, sunken patio. The "big house" no longer houses the aristocracy, and has already been converted into around a dozen smaller units, "So there is no element of `them and us'," says Fagan. Refreshingly, there were no vestiges of feudal property relations with the larger estate, and the property came freehold. There is, however, an annual pounds 185 service charge. "The lodge is small," admits Fagan. "but it does have character. Apart from a home for one person, or a couple, it can also be used as a pied-a-terre or weekend hideaway."

One category of lodge, the municipal-park lodge-house, means that lodge living is not incompatible with the buzz of the city. Birkenhead may not be New York, but it is a decidedly urban location - and there are links to the Big Apple. Designed by Sir James Paxton, Birkenhead Park so impressed one American, FL Olmsted, that he wrote admiringly of "this People's Garden", and used it as the model for Central Park.

Gothic Lodge, being sold by Whitegates estate agents, is one of several lodges, each with a distinct character - from Norman to Italian to Castellate- that sit on the park's perimeter. A four-bedroom property, it is a Grade- II-listed building, dating from 1845.

At one time, say the current owners, Alan and Joan Howells, it was an orphanage, and later was boarded up for 20 years before being bought and restored. "We fell in love with it when we first saw it," says Alan. "However, a friend nabbed it first. When it came up for sale again we snapped it up."

The former stables are now the kitchen, and the lodge has an open courtyard. The property is freehold, with its own private gardens to the front, side and rear and is currently on the market at pounds 123,500.

But doesn't living in a lodge-house make you feel you are living in too much of an outpost? "It is quiet and peaceful, but because there are other residents on the estate you see other faces around, so there is no sense of being too isolated," says Sandy Fagan.

In the case of Birkenhead Park, Paxton's original design, which remains largely intact, included not only meandering rivers and paths in what he intended to be an idealised version of a country landscape, but also land which could be sold for housing within the park.

There are a sizeable number of properties inside the boundaries, some in individual occupation, others converted into flats, and one residential care home. There is also a school. "There is definitely a feeling of community," says James Lester, head of parks at Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council.

"There are even sub-communities - the residents of the Upper Park, for example, see themselves as one." The park itself is now a Conservation Area and a Grade-I-listed landscape, but it also remains a public park, and for some people the park buildings still retain the connection with their former role. "You can still get a knock on your door from the occasional lost and confused visitor asking for directions," says Lester.

Fisher Wrathall, 01524 68822;

Middleton Marketing, 01423 561965; Whitegates, 0151-608 2325

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