Hot Spot: Morpeth, Northumberland

This market town is close to Newcastle, has beautiful countryside and boasts schools so good that people move there to get their children into them

Once a quiet market town in mid-Northumberland, Morpeth now more resembles the booming polyglot south. "When I arrive at the office on Saturday morning, I see lots of toddlers and buggies and hear all sorts of accents," says Charles Robinson of Bradford & Bingley. "Welsh, Scots, cockney, Midlands, Irish, Liverpudlian. Many newcomers here are on a job relocation. Prices in Morpeth itself have been increasing 20 per cent annually, and in former pit villages like Pegswood, prices almost doubled in three years."

Once a quiet market town in mid-Northumberland, Morpeth now more resembles the booming polyglot south. "When I arrive at the office on Saturday morning, I see lots of toddlers and buggies and hear all sorts of accents," says Charles Robinson of Bradford & Bingley. "Welsh, Scots, cockney, Midlands, Irish, Liverpudlian. Many newcomers here are on a job relocation. Prices in Morpeth itself have been increasing 20 per cent annually, and in former pit villages like Pegswood, prices almost doubled in three years."

The area has undeniable assets: "The surrounding countryside is one of outstanding natural beauty, there are miles of spectacular beaches, the Northumberland National Park and Kielder Forest. To the north are the Cheviot Hills, Berwick and the Scottish Borders."

Morpeth is especially popular for those with young families: "Our clients tell me that education is their top priority. Morpeth has good schools, it has market-town appeal, a river, a wooded valley and a bit of history, and proximity to Newcastle via a dual carriageway," he says.

Ian Britton, a photographer who runs his own stock photo library, fell in love with a stone house in Wallbridge, "a hamlet so small it is not on the map... They found coal here and built a railway line, but the seam turned out to be small, and all that is left is a little hamlet with no pub and no church."

The Stockton-born Britton says he chose to move there because "there are so many beautiful places to photograph, and every day the vistas and landscapes change. The area is very sparsely populated, so it is easy to travel to Newcastle and the airport, and London and Edinburgh are no problem on the train."

THE LOW-DOWN

Getting there

Morpeth is on the main London-Edinburgh east coast route. The A1 skirts the town; Newcastle is 14 miles, Edinburgh is 94.

Attractions

The 13th-century Chantry contains a craft centre, comprehensive Bagpipe Museum, tourist information centre and a few shops. The free-standing clock tower sounds the curfew every night at 8pm. Nearby Marlish Farm and Whitehouse Farm are open to the public. English Heritage's Brinkburn Priory and Warkworth Castle are north of Morpeth, and the National Trust's Wallington Gardens in Cambo is west.

Northumbrian Gathering

From 16-18 April, the annual festival of Northumbrian culture and traditions offers music, dance, craft exhibitions, outdoor entertainment (including Rent a Peasant), storytelling and various competitions.

Schools

The three-tier system has first schools to age 8, middle schools (8-13) and high schools (13-18). In Whalton, six miles west of Morpeth, the CE-aided primary school has a pre-school and after-school. King Edward VI Morpeth High School, a mixed comprehensive founded in 1552, is a technology and beacon school.

Prices

A two-bed, two-reception home with single garage, and another two-bedder with conservatory are each c.£140,000. A five-bed, double-fronted stone townhouse with garage in town is £358,000 at Bradford & Bingley. The three remaining flats (one with a tenant, the other two vacant) in a converted Georgian house near the town centre are for sale at £475,000, through Louis Johnson.

Lettings

A two-bed flat above a currently empty shop in Ashington is £65 a week, and a three-bed furnished house in Ellington is £450pcm; both through Louis Johnson.

Barn courtyard

A barn conversion in Hepscott just outside Morpeth has four bedrooms, a west-facing conservatory, detached garage and shared courtyard and grazing in an adjoining paddock; guide price £314,950, at Strutt & Parker.

The Old Vicarage

A former vicarage in Longhirst, three miles from Morpeth, has six bedrooms, a garage, library and a large, almost square, conservatory on about 0.76 acres. Nearby is Longhirst Hall golf course; the guide price is £750,000 at Strutt & Parker.

The Walled Garden

This 10-year-old house in Hartburn, eight miles from Morpeth, consists of two large wings separated by a 46ft conservatory, with grounds that contain a stable block, smokehouses set in the garden wall, a tennis court and stable block, all on 12.5 acres; price on application at Sanderson Young.

New

Bowey Homes' Mill Court has 17 two-bed flats in central Morpeth overlooking the River Wansbeck (0191 482 7711). Two-bed terraces available at Grainger Homes' 145-unit Grangewood in Widdrington start from £80,000; four-bed detached terraces start from £150,000 (01670 791652). About 60 units have already been sold.

Estate agents

Bradford & Bingley, 01670 517393; Louis Johnson, 01670 513025; Rickard, 01670 513533; Sanderson Young (Newcastle), 0191 213 0033; Strutt & Parker, 01670 516123.

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