Yours for pounds 5m: Land's End and John O'Groats

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IAN MacKINNON

For the first time today, the most northerly and southerly points in Britain will come up for sale in a single lot.

Land's End and John O'Groats, two of the country's best-known landmarks, which between them attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, will have a price tag of pounds 5.5m.

But the owners, Gulf Resources Pacific, a New Zealand company selling up overseas interests to concentrate its resources in its home property market, expects strong interest from the US and the Far East.

One unexpected contender who emerged yesterday, though, was Peter de Savary, the flamboyant property tycoon who sold the Land's End business three years ago.

The sale of Land's End, which had 500,000 visitors last year and a turnover of pounds 3.2m, will mean it has changed hands four times in the last 15 years.

Comprising 100 acres, it was bought in 1981 by a private company of the property developer, David Goldstone, which he subsequently sold for almost pounds 7m in 1986 to Mr de Savary, who, in turn, spent pounds 5m on upgrading facilities.

Gulf Resources Pacific then took it over in 1992 for an undisclosed sum, and the company invested a further pounds 1m.

Nigel Talbot-Ponsonby, chairman of chartered surveyors Humberts Leisure, which is marketing the current sale, described it as a very profitable tourist operation.

John O'Groats, which Gulf Resources bought separately, is set in 20 acres and includes the John O'Groats House Hotel . It attracts more than 250,000 visitors a year and is a much smaller business than Land's End.

Last month, Caithness Licencing Board served notice on the owners to urgently upgrade the John O'Groats hotel kitchens, which fail to meet minimum health and hygiene standards, and banned the manager and his staff from cooking meals there until this work was done.

Yesterday the 50-year-old Mr de Savary, who now runs the magnificently- restored Skibo Castle in the Scottish Highlands as an upmarket retreat called The Carnegie Club, announced he was seriously considering buying the pair of properties back.

"They have both lost some of their 'oomph' since I sold them. Hopefully I would be able to turn them round again," he said.

Locals hope that the sale will end the uncertainty over the hotel, which is badly in need of investment as the present owners have been unable or unwilling to carry out much more than essential repairs.

John Green, who is chairman of the Caithness Tourist Board, said: "The fact that the John O'Groats House Hotel is not meeting the standards which to-day's tourists expect has been a considerable drawback to this whole area. I am confident that this will result in extra public money being released for this and also give a considerable boost to employment in the area."

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