Hot Spot: Blandford Forum, Dorset

The West Country coast, fine townhouses and scarce supply keep prices high in this Georgian town, says Robert Liebman
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It took a major fire and a pair of Bastards to give Blandford Forum the Georgian flavour for which it is celebrated. The ancient town actually survived several previous fires until the mother of all conflagrations in 1731 virtually levelled the place. When the ash finally settled, architect brothers John and William Bastard created the 18th-century version of a new town.

"Blandford is a typical Dorset market town of 8,000 beside the River Stour, with magnificent views across the river to Bryanston school, one of the area's many good schools," says Peter Lewis of Stacks Property Search. "It has some good Georgian townhouses but they rarely come on to the market and only a few are in quiet locations. Prices in the Blandford area are kept down by the fact that communications are not very good; Poole station is 14 miles. Prices to the north and west are lower but houses are few and far between."

In 1997, Londoners James and Suzie Coker (aka property PR consultant Suzanne Goldklang) bought a weekend cottage in Child Okeford, just north of Blandford. "James was a sailor at that time and the village had proximity to the coast, but we wanted a rural setting," says Suzie. "The walking here is fantastic. Our cottage was on the edge of Blackmore Vale under a wonderful hill. The area also offers good riding and good pubs."

A job relocation for James took them permanently out of London but out of Okeford as well. "We wanted to live in the country full-time but as James's job was in the Cotswolds, we moved to Moreton-in-Marsh instead. If his job had not been in the Cotswolds, we would have traded up to a larger house in Blandford Forum village."

Soaring property prices on the Dorset coast have propelled buyers inland, where prices are sustained by a chronically limited supply of homes. "When we bought our cottage 10 years ago, there was not a great deal on the market," Suzie explains. "When we sold five years ago, our first buyer pulled out, and our estate agents found another buyer within 48 hours. We made a lot of money, and I understand that prices have gone up even more since. Selling was a mistake but we did not have the luxury of not having to sell. And if work brings us back to Blandford Forum, I wouldn't object."

The low-down

Getting there

Train stations at Poole (14 miles south) and Gillingham (14 miles north) serve London Waterloo.

Shopping

In addition to quilting, antique and other individual shops - including Chapel Gallery & Framers, the sole surviving medieval structure - Blandford Forum has several large supermarkets. Market days are Thursday and Sunday and there is also a farmers' market.

Sports and leisure

Blandford Leisure Centre offers swimming, aerobics, trampolining, fitness, badminton, squash and tennis. Other leisure centres are located in Shaftesbury, Sturminster Newton and Gillingham. The North Dorset Cycleway offers circular routes of 73, 45 and 26 miles through the area's key towns. Ashley Wood Golf Course is a mile out of town.

Entertainment

The nearest cinemas and theatres are in Poole. Bryanston School's arts-club performances are open to the public, and summer concerts and other outdoor events are held in the Larmer Tree Gardens. You can admire 250-year-old frocks in Blandford's Cavalcade of Costume Museum.

Events

Anorexic teetotalling horses need not apply for the Heavy Horse Show and Sale in April, which also features trade and craft stands and a real-ale bar. Blandford Georgian Fayre features performers, craft stalls, a funfair and dray rides on the first May Bank Holiday Monday every year. The five-day Great Dorset Steam Fair in late August has 2,000 exhibits and hundreds of trade stands.

Prices

Prepare to spend £85,000 for a one-bed flat, £125,000 for a two-bed terrace, £175,000 for a three-bed semi, and more than £200,000 for a four-bed detached. New three-bed character homes at Bryanston Hills in Blandford St Mary start at £240,000; Goadsby & Harding.

Bottom rung

Vivien Horder has a two-bed terraced cottage (the second bedroom is a loft conversion) with cellar and large rear garden; £116,950. A two-bed maisonette in a Grade II-listed house in a conservation area with separate dining room and roof garden is £129,950 at Palmer Snell.

Top end

Highfields is a five-bed country house eight miles from Blandford Forum with conservatory, triple garage, two-bed staff flat and indoor swimming pool, all on about four acres; £1.4m at FPDSavills.

Village life

In Iwerne Minster, between Blandford Forum and Shaftesbury, the six-bedroom, 17th-century Preston House has two receptions, a dining room, library, woodland and paddocks on about seven acres; £1.25m at FPDSavills. Beechcroft has a dozen new retirement cottages now available as part of a farm conversion, from £240,000 (01747 812756).

New

Westbury's Riverside Court has family homes from £214,950 in a 60-unit estate bordering the River Stour and the A354 ring road (01258 459745). The Poole-based developer FH Cummings is building 13 townhouses in Blandford town centre (01202 625462).

Estate agents

Connells, 01258 452327; FPDSavills, 01202 856800; Goadsby & Harding (Poole), 01202 856666; Palmer Snell, 01258 453711; Stacks, 01300 320480; Vivien Horder, 01258 454419.

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