The best of the west

If it's history you're after, move fast. Old farmhouses in Devon and Cornwall are being snapped up. By Penny Jackson
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Some friends, driving down to Plymouth for the first time, fondly imagined they were almost there when they reached Bristol. "It's the West Country, isn't it?" they said accusingly, having found themselves a couple of hours short of their destination.

The whole point of living in the West Country, one could have replied, is that it should be a long way from anywhere busy and fast-moving - and certainly London. Bristol, and, for that matter, Gloucestershire, are not considered by purists to qualify for true West Country status.

But even those who have found a spot where the pace of life is satisfyingly slow can be in London in super-quick time. Well into the West, yet with fast links by rail - 1hr 55 mins to Paddington - and road, is Taunton, very much a county town with its landmark old store, cricket ground and race course.

Brian Bishop, of Jackson-Stops & Staff, which has recently opened an office there, finds a big demand for good, small, quality farmhouses with two or three acres, and village houses within a 10-mile radius of Taunton. "We seem to have a lot of doctors looking for somewhere in the country but not too far from the hospitals." They will have to pay in the region of pounds 300,000, especially in popular villages such as Combe Florey and Crowcombe in the Quantock Hills.

New buildings are a sensitive issue within Exmoor National Park, and have come under greater scrutiny of late. The park authorities have just produced a wide-ranging design guide to protect the character of the villages from being spoilt. Exmoor, softer and quite unlike the bleak and more rugged Dartmoor, has numerous picturesque hamlets and villages within its boundaries. Ellicombe Manor, an Elizabethan manor house with four letting cottages, near Minehead and within the National Park, is for sale through Jackson-Stops for pounds 750,000.

Richard Addington, of Knight Frank's Exeter office, has seen the market above pounds 500,000 moving fast. Buyers at these prices choose the house rather than its location and are not tied to one area, he says. A 17th-century house for sale in the Lynher valley, east of Bodmin Moor, is unique in that so much has been preserved. Its history is well documented by Edward Kneebone, a mathematician and staunch Royalist who fled to France during the Civil War. The house has plasterwork, doors, fireplaces and a staircase untouched since the 17th and 18th centuries. The agents are looking for offers above pounds 300,000.

On the south coast of Cornwall, on the Helford River, an estate in 28 acres of grounds running down to the water's edge - with beach, boathouse and mooring, is expected to reach pounds 1.5m-pounds 2m. Trerose, at Mawnan, is one of only a handful of waterfront properties to come on to the market in recent years. The agents are Knight Frank.

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