Bathing beauties

The simple beach hut has become hot property for frazzled execs and artists alike. Caroline Knight sniffs around for the best resorts
Click to follow
The Independent Online

There's a "des res" area in Dorset where prices of one type of property have risen by 600 per cent in the last 10 years. It's not your average three-bed semi, nor executive home. These are, shall we say, "shingle" occupancy homes - otherwise known as the beach hut. And it appears that Mudeford Spit is the place to hang out in a hut that may fetch around £125,000 on the open market. Here, residents can spend all summer in and around their huts. Some suited individuals even commute daily to work, either by boat or bike.

There's a "des res" area in Dorset where prices of one type of property have risen by 600 per cent in the last 10 years. It's not your average three-bed semi, nor executive home. These are, shall we say, "shingle" occupancy homes - otherwise known as the beach hut. And it appears that Mudeford Spit is the place to hang out in a hut that may fetch around £125,000 on the open market. Here, residents can spend all summer in and around their huts. Some suited individuals even commute daily to work, either by boat or bike.

But it appears that the scramble to snap up every available hut may be turning the tide against the original temporary residents. High demand has pushed prices sky-high, and some incomers seem loath to abandon their modern comforts. There is now a bistro-style café at Mudeford Spit, in addition to luxury holiday apartments in a converted boat builder's house known as The Black House. According to local estate agent Andrew Denison (01202 484748), some of the beach hut summer "residents" are a bit miffed, preferring the au naturel environment of years gone by.

Hut-dwellers are also threatening to take Christchurch council to the European courts over a ground rent dispute, allegedly representing a rise of 50 per cent. And handing a hut over to the kids creates its own stormy seas - the ownership transfer fee, payable to the council, is £15,000. None of this, however, seems to dissuade people looking for a simple life. With the merest salty sniff of an impending sale, a beach hut owner at Mudeford Spit is immediately besieged with potential buyers.

Just down the coast, Bournemouth is basking in the glory of being named Britain's Best Beach by Encams. It has three Blue Flags and six Seaside Awards for facilities that include land trains, a beautiful sandy beach, wheelchairs for the disabled, pier amusements, and last but by no means least, around 1,200 beach huts. This is beach hut paradise, with the colourful little fellows available to hire daily, weekly or annually, with prices from only £18, £90 and £800 respectively, during peak season. Some plots and huts are available to buy for only £500 for the site rental and from £200 for the huts - a mere drop in the ocean in comparison with others. Most of Bournemouth's wooden beach huts date from around 1910, having been lovingly maintained over the years. But an exception stands down at Durley Chine, where a four-year-old curiously experimental beach hut has been constructed from recycled plastic.

Heading eastwards, a pebble-dashed space on the beach could be yours for a cool £14,995 at Cooden, near Bexhill. This is a minimalist's dream. No walls, roof or even a base. Indeed not even the pebbles could be called your own if you were to purchase the plot, fickle as pebbles can be. Local agent Ward & Partners (01424 842188) explains that you could, of course, erect your own heavenly hut at a cost of anything up to £2,000, and enjoy foreshore rights to the sea, plus parking for one vehicle. The proud owner will be entitled to views of the English Channel, with the odd windsurfer, sun-worshipper, dog or seagull passing by for good measure.

Endorsing the fact that the beach hut attracts folks from all walks of life is an inscription on a rather grand hut at Eastbourne. It reads: "This chalet was used by their majesties King George V and Queen Mary in the month of March 1935." One wonders why the splendid pair chose the month of March to enjoy the simple pleasures of the beach - no doubt plenty of cobwebs were blown from the royal crowns that day. More lowly subjects fall over themselves to use the very same hut today together with other similar versions. At a rental of £2,500pa, the ladies (and gentlemen) in waiting must be patient, as the waiting list is over a year long.

More "hulk" than hut is a cannonball-proof Martello Tower, nearby at Normans Bay. It comes complete with planning permission for conversion to a residential home - a fact that sent prices soaring past the guide of £150,000. Originally built as part of coastal defences during the Napoleonic War, the monster fetched £285,000 at auction this spring.

Although it originates from a wheeled Victorian "bathing machine" designed to protect the modesty of bathers, today's beach hut offers an escape from the desk, the chores and the hectic pace of the onshore world. Occupants can cast aside the technological age for a brief moment, choosing to surf the waves instead of the net, or net something squidgy at the bottom of a rock pool.

That's not to say that work vanishes when in the tardis, however. Some people actively seek out their beach hut in order to perform. Tracey Emin allegedly posed nude for photographs in her Whitstable-based hut, then subsequently sold it to Charles Saatchi, netting around £75,000 in the process. The resort is certainly popular for beach huts, with Christopher Hodgson (01227 266441) reporting that both demand and prices have soared over the last 10 years. A decade ago, beach huts were selling for around £500. Today they cost between £10,000 and £14,000.

Canterbury City Council confirms that they just can't provide enough. "Demand has gone through the roof," says council spokeswoman Donna Quirke. "People are now allowed to sleep in their beach huts at Tankerton, near Whitstable, and they are fetching up to £13,000. It's a lot of money for a shed - although I wouldn't say that to a beach hut owner," she adds.

Crime novelist PD James is said to have written novels in her Southwold beach hut in Suffolk, where prices range from £8,000 to more than £45,000. According to Jennie Jones (01728 454622), the council wants to increase ground rents for huts there from £200 to around £1,000 a year within the next three years, and the local beach hut owners' association is protesting strongly. Despite the threat of rising prices, though, there's no shortage of takers; Jones has around 70 people on her beach hut waiting list, even though only a handful come up for sale every year.

So has the beach hut bonanza reached the crest of its wave? Have beach hut owners shelled out far too much cash for their piece of paradise?

Apparently not - there is no evidence to suggest that the tide is turning. It appears that a new race of temporary beach dwellers is just beginning. They are a rugged bunch, armed with paint pots, sun hats, newspapers and lunch. When life's a beach, a hut is the place to be.

Comments