Buy Of The Week: High Barn, Norfolk

Retreats in north Norfolk are hot property - and the prices prove it. So what's the charm? Nick Lloyd Jones visits a cottage to find out
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The Independent Online

As north Norfolk becomes ever more fashionable - driven by "incomers", like so many areas of England that are a couple of hours by Audi from London - the chance to buy a substantial, quaint, beautiful home just outside a thriving town is an increasingly distant dream. But High Barn, a stunning five-bedroom house about four miles from the coast and half that distance to Burnham Market, needs no recent trends to boost its charm.

It lies totally secluded within its own nine acres, surrounded on all sides by rolling farmland. There is no noise from traffic and the nearest neighbouring property is half a mile away. This house, and its grounds, have a wonderful sense of tranquillity. Its current owner, artist Anabel Symington, knows High Barn intimately. Her father originally came here as a tenant farmer in 1937 when the estate stretched to 500 acres, and Anabel herself was brought up here. In those days lighting was by gas, and water had to be drawn daily by hand from the deep well that still stands in the back garden.

Anabel's parents were also both very artistic. They had met while studying at Norwich Art School together and their creative heritage lives on in many of the features found around High Barn, such as the little sculpted figures embedded in the walls and dotted around the garden that are the work of her father, and in the series of multi-coloured animals and birds painted by her mother on the back wall of the house. Other quirky bequests include the 1940s Gypsy caravan in the back garden as well as the church font rumoured to have been used for Nelson's baptism. The land around the house is still arable - mainly given over to carrots, potatoes, barley and wheat - but, after her father's death in 1965, most of the land was parcelled off and placed under the control of a new farmhouse about a mile away in the picturesque village of Stanhoe.

Anabel's mother stayed on at High Barn until her own death in 1996 when Anabel snapped up the opportunity of buying the place. The central section of the house - nowadays housing the kitchen-cum-dining area - is flint-rendered and probably the oldest part. It dates from around the 1840s and was originally a barn. The front section of the house was added on in 1863 with further extensions created in the 1940s and 1950s.

"It's a bit of a mishmash," says Anabel. The back door currently serves as the main entrance from where a rear hallway leads off to a pantry, study and small greenhouse to one side with a WC and the kitchen on the other. To the front of the kitchen is an additional study, a large south-facing living room and a front hallway leading across into another giant sitting room, which Anabel uses to conduct classes in t'ai chi and yoga.

A flight of stairs leading up from the first living room ascends to a split-level landing area from where access is gained to the five bedrooms - two larger ones to the front and three others to the back where the bathroom and WC are also located. However, even more impressive than the house itself are its gloriously secluded grounds.

There is a five-acre meadow at the front from where you can catch glimpses of the sea on a clear day. This is bordered by a long beech-lined drive. There is an additional four acres of mixed woodland to the back of the house. Some of the trees here - especially the beeches and elms - are up to 200 to 300 years old. Anabel's mother extended the woods by encouraging the seedlings from the older trees to sprout - a practice known as "forest gardening" - so that now there is a wonderful selection of trees including ash, sycamore, oak, chestnut, cherry and willow.

This woodland has attracted an equally wide selection of birdlife, such as woodpeckers, blackcaps, wagtails, moorhens, goldcrests as well as tawny and barn owls. "This is a very special place where your experience of nature is heightened," says Anabel. "The trees look more beautiful, the colours of the flowers seem brighter, you notice the birdsong more and you feel more at one with the world."

There is also a rather overgrown market garden to one side of the house that still produces good crops of raspberries and assorted vegetables. There are extensive outbuildings too. Principal among these is an unmodernised one-bedroom cottage, which has electricity but no running water and that is currently used as office space. The cottage abuts one of two giant barns that form an L-shape around the former farmyard that has now been put to lawn and planted with shrubs and wisteria.

Anabel uses the barns for storage space during the winter months and to host an annual arts festival in the summer featuring workshops in everything from sculpture, boatbuilding and weaving through to poetry and storytelling. Planning permission has already been obtained to convert the two barns into residential use - either as a single living space or as a pair of separate dwellings - but Anabel has reservations about this. Ideally, she says, she would like to see the spirit of the house to live on. "My dream is that what has been done here before should continue and flourish. I would much prefer the barns to continue to be used as art spaces rather than being converted into holiday homes."

Anabel is also in two about minds about leaving her childhood home for good. "It would be a great wrench for me," she says. "I have my roots here and I would miss all the changing shapes and colours of the different seasons."

That's one of the reasons she is considering dividing High Barn into two lots - the house itself and its outbuildings - one of which she might retain for her own use. "I want to keep all my options open," she says.

Get the spec

What's for sale: Secluded five-bedroom house with outbuildings including one-bedroom cottage and two large barns for which planning permission has been obtained to convert into residential use.

Drawbacks: There is a little-used public right of way across the property; no en-suite bedrooms.

How big? High Barn is set in nearly nine acres of land, with the gross internal area of the main house being 2,345sq ft, while the outbuildings collectively run to just over 6,000sq ft.

Extras: Great selection of trees; 1940s Gypsy caravan in need of renovation; artworks incorporated into the property; font in which Nelson is reputed to have been baptised.

Buy it: The High Barn estate, Burnham Road, Stanhoe, north Norfolk, is for sale in its entirety for £1.2m or in two lots of £700,000 for the main house and £500,000 for the outbuildings through Sowerbys (01328 730340).