One inspiring owner: Houses of Britain's cultural greats

Museums and galleries are all very well, but it's the houses of Britain's cultural greats which are worth writing home about. Jonathan Christie reports
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The Independent Online

One of the best views over the town of St Ives on the north coast of Cornwall is from the Tate Gallery Café.

Not facing north towards the surfers and the oversized waves of Porthmeor beach but east, from a handful of tables that look out over higgledy-piggledy slate roofs and across the estuary towards Gwithian and the shimmering stump of Godrevy Lighthouse. This isolated beacon has inspired artists and writers for centuries, not least forming the emotional backdrop to Virginia Woolf's novel To the Lighthouse.

Although actually set on the Isle of Skye, Woolf draws her imagery from childhood memories of Talland House on the edge of St Ives Bay where her family holidayed during the 1880s. And it seems Woolf's "spirit of place" resonates down the decades.

The 76-acre beach of Upton Towans in Gwithian recently went under the hammer. Despite its natural beauty, the beach captured buyers' imaginations because of its views towards Godrevy and the connection to Virginia Woolf. The auction's dramatic end saw three telephone bidders pushing the price up to £80,000 – £30,000 over the guide.

Upper Towans' new owner can't build on or develop the beach. Neither can they turn the public away and enjoy the views of Ginny's lighthouse from one lonely deckchair. But it's easy to understand the urge to buy a piece of appropriated landscape. The Lake District draws buyers seeking Words-worth's lonely cloud while the spires of Essex jump from a Constable canvas.

These places had more than their fair share of beauty before any artist gazed upon them, but the spirit of place bestowed upon a tree, field, village or landscape by an individual moved enough to capture a moment, continues to stir people to buy into that vision.

1. Helford River

This peaceful backwater is a secret favourite of Cornwall's yacht crowd. It's not really a river but a ria or flooded valley, with seven creeks. The most famous is Frenchman's Creek, which inspired Daphne du Maurier's 1942 novel of that name. Du Maurier lived 40 miles away, where her old house is for sale at £1.8m through May Whetter & Grose (01726 832299). Something closer to the heart of her book can be found near Helford with Lillicrap Chilcott (01872 273473) – a three-bed cottage with river views for £500,000.

2. Ashdown Forest

Covering 6,500 acres of heathland and woodland, the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex is rich in gorse as well as wildlife such as ... heffalumps! A A Milne, creator of the Winnie the Pooh, moved his wife and son Christopher Robin to Cotchford Farm on the edge of the Forest in 1925. Local walks inspired the locations described in stories such as The Hundred Acre Wood. Mansell McTaggart (01825 760770) are selling a two-bed tile-hung cottage within a short stroll of the Poohsticks Bridge in the heart of the forest for £334,950.

3. St Ives

Countless artists from Turner onwards have come here for the light. The Impressionist John Anthony Park painted the sea as though jewels were trapped under its surface whilst the modernists Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth sought out graphic forms. The harbour bobs with boats and the lanes are crunched with cottages, huddled together for protection against the wind. Presiding over all this is a period whitewashed house with spectacular views of the harbour, bay and lighthouse. It's in the middle of the town, so just grab your sketchbook and strike out in any direction. It is on the market for £425,000 through Harding Laity (01736 794931).

4. Wenlock Edge

Running for 15 miles from Much Wenlock in Shropshire is the escarpment of Wenlock Edge. Reputedly so large it can be seen from space, its wooded slopes have found numerous creatives musing over its beauty. A E Housman's poem "On Wenlock Edge the Wood's in Trouble" in turn inspired Ralph Vaughan Williams to compose "On Wenlock Edge" in 1909. Walks from Much Wenlock get you off the road and on to the Edge where you'll pass an 18th-century detached stone cottage. It is on sale for £284,950 through Nock Deighton (01952 292300).

5. Dedham Vale

Meandering rivers, low horizons and scudding clouds characterise the valley where the River Stour winds its way through the Dedham Vale. It was here that John Constable grew up. His father owned the mill at Flatford and the locks and quays that stitch this soft landscape together made their way back into paintings. Constable wrote to a friend in 1821: "I should paint my own places best, painting is but another word for feeling," and these feelings created "Constable Country". Grier & Partners (01206 299222) are selling a pretty, three-bed cottage in the heart of East Bergholt and a short walk down to Flatford Mill for £375,000.

6. Whitby

Whitby holds the inspiration to one of literature's most famous horror stories. The author Bram Stoker stayed in the town between 1890 and 1896 while researching stories of vampires. The eerie ruined Abbey, 199 steps above the harbour, provided him with the key to Count Dracula's arrival in England. Carter Jonas (01904 558200) is selling a listed five-bed Georgian townhouse for £460,000. Its beautiful proportions make this period gem the perfect haunt to read Stoker. Just don't forget the garlic.