Property: Classic cottages, magic castles: David Lawson goes in search of surprises and finds lurking in the property backlog the sort of hideaways that attract story-tellers and film directors

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The Independent Online
YOU HAVE put off moving for so long that Joe no longer fits his bunk bed. Not surprising when he is now 14 stones and playing for the school rugby team. More seriously, his sister is old enough to need a room of her own and the new baby will be out of its cot soon. Thank God that a buyer for the house materialised out of nowhere last week. So where to now?

The choice seems endless, with a tide of homes stuck on the market for the last couple of years. The big problem is getting sellers to accept a reasonable price rather than hold out for inflated values inherited from the boom. Most are ordinary, run-of-the-mill suburban boxes - ideal for the average mover looking for extra space. But the backlog also holds some weird and wonderful surprises for anyone wanting something a little different. Even if you're after the former, one way to get started is to have fun looking at the others.

Take Parnholt Cottage near Winchester: it would have made a classic rural hideaway except that the roof has gone. Nicholas Zorab wishes he knew where. 'Someone backed a lorry in and nicked the tiles,' says the agent.

Not to worry. He is still asking pounds 130,000 for the shell and its big overgrown gardens. 'It was sold to the current owner for around that amount last year and there were a lot of disappointed bidders.' The secret lies in permission to build a new home, which would probably be worth more than pounds 200,000 when finished.

But where would the kids sleep while you were building this dream home? Perhaps it would be better to go for something that already has a fairy-tale aura. A bit of thatch; roses around the door; heavy oak beams: just what Enid Blyton might have picked for her children's books and called Old Thatch.

What a coincidence. A house with exactly that name near Little Marlow in Buckinghamshire has just come on the market. It was described by a former owner as 'just like a Fairy Tale house'. That owner happened to be Enid Blyton, writing in her diary during the late Twenties.

Such dreams do not come cheap, however. Raffety Buckland is asking pounds 385,000 for this fairy house. For the price of one Blyton room you could get the whole of Paynes Cottage at Moreton-in-Marsh. Mind you, that is not much more than one Old Thatch room, but the pounds 65,000 being asked by Hurley Lloyd Thorpe does show how prices of Cotswold cottages have crashed since the flood of city refugees dried up. They will not remain at that level once London and Birmingham homes start selling again.

This tiny place would also pose some problems for Big Joe. Perhaps it is worth looking for grander accommodation. How about Pickenham Hall, near Swaffham in Norfolk? The kids could have the pick of 16 bedrooms - or get stuffed into the three-bedroom nursery suite. Better still, they could be shifted off to one of 27 cottages on the estate. This place comes with a complete village attached, says Andrew Macpherson of Knight Frank & Rutley. A few other goodies are also thrown in, such as 4,000 acres of farmland, gardens and woods. The main farm produces around pounds 200,000 a year - which would give Joe something to do when he fails his O-levels and could be useful to help meet the mortgage. But not quite enough to cover all the payments, as the asking price is between pounds 6m and pounds 10m.

Back in the Cotswolds, St Catherine's Court has a more manageable brace of cottages to augment the main 10-bedroom Jacobean house. It even includes that elusive fairy-tale atmosphere, which was instrumental in its choice as a set for the 1985 TV movie of Jamaica Inn. One of the stars, Jane Seymour, liked it so much she bought the place. Now in America, she has asked Savills and Pritchards in Bath to sell it for pounds 1.75m.

If that is too much even to contemplate, why not consider a magical castle coming up for auction in a couple of weeks at a price you might pay for a large suburban semi? Dromore has no need to be fashioned as a film set; it already looks like one. The vast rooms include an 80ft grand hall, and all are lit entirely by flickering gas.

Hamilton Osborne King and Cheveley Johnston have set a guide price of pounds 400,000 for this Gothic pile, which includes 50 acres of grounds and fishing on the Blackwater and Kenmare rivers. That might provide a geographical clue to the modest price. The castle is in Ireland, which might mean getting up rather early to commute into work. Perhaps you are stuck with finding a boring old semi after all.

(Photographs omitted)

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