Cream Of The Country: Sheringham

This pretty north Norfolk town is undergoing a sea change.
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The bustling North Norfolk seaside town of Sheringham has a lot going for it. The town enjoys a pleasant prospect, nestling in a natural hollow with cliffs to either side of it and surrounded by stunning countryside. It has its own working steam railway line as well as a wonderful network of footpaths in the wooded National Trust hills behind it and along its rugged coastline where low-flying fighter jets out on manoeuvres are a common sight.

Its pretty high street leads directly down to the sea. The place is compact and easily navigable by foot. It has a good selection of independent shops and amenities lining its High Street - notably Scotter the fishmonger, AVA Electrical next door and Sheringham Theatre around the corner.

Most of the banks have branches, there's a mini-mart in the centre and there is a weekly open-air market on the station forecourt.

Tesco, meanwhile, is in advanced negotiations with the local authority over plans to open a new supermarket on the outskirts - a prospect eliciting mixed feelings among locals.

Sheringham is the site of an ancient settlement. In Roman times it was about one-and-a-half miles inland from where it is today - on the brow of the hill now known as Upper Sheringham. The town was subsequently shifted down to the seaside where it developed into a major fishing port and boatbuilding centre.

It became renowned for the bravery of its life-saving crews, especially in the days before radar when fleets of fishing boats would frequently become stranded on perilous sandbanks and rocky outcrops.

Agents report that property prices in the town are rising dramatically. "They have more than doubled within the past five years," says Iain McLaren of Abbotts Countrywide.

This part of the country is no stranger to sharp surges in property prices. Holt, a few miles inland, has become thoroughly gentrified over the past decade or so, as has nearby Burnham Market where property prices have been rising so sharply that locals now dub it "Burnham Mark-up".

More recently, however, it is the region's coastal properties that seem to have been appreciating in value the most, with a ripple of price rises unfurling from the pretty seaside villages of Wells, Blakeney, Cley and Weybourne to the west through to Sheringham itself and the elegant Edwardian resort town of Cromer a little to the east.

It's also a popular destination among those looking for second holiday homes. It has been a tourist town since the Victorians supplied it with a railway link. There is still a lot of camping and caravanning going on along its cliff-tops and dotted around the hills to the back.

It should be borne in mind by drivers that their vehicles can cause serious summer congestion on the network of minor roads feeding into the town.

In terms of what Sheringham has to offer residentially, there are a lot of new-build bungalow-style properties to the south of town up towards Sheringham Park. Most of the period properties of character - mainly one- to two-bed flint-fronted former fishermen's cottages - are concentrated along the seafront itself and in the warren of narrow winding streets immediately to the back of it.

Sheringham's residents are predominantly elderly with the town traditionally attracting people looking for retirement homes. Apart from the bungalows to the back of town, another popular zone for these buyers is just to the back of the seafront where there is a ring of more substantial Victorian family houses that often double up as B&Bs during the busy holiday season.

There can be hidden pitfalls. "Many people dream of running a little B&B by the sea," says Iain McLaren of Abbotts Countrywide, "but it often entails a lot more work than they had bargained for."

For other people, though, it can work out very well. "A B&B business can represent a lucrative sideline for those who are looking to supplement their slim retirement incomes," says the independent agent John Marsh.

"The beauty of it is that it's flexible and virtually hassle-free. It's not like a hotel and you can exercise a lot more executive control in vetting the people who stay with you and in only letting out rooms when it suits you."