Hot Spot: Bridgwater, Somerset

Just five miles from the gorgeous Quantocks, this Georgian town is luring City slickers westward, says Robert Liebman
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The Independent Online

If Bridgwater was in the middle of nowhere, its place on the hot-spot scale would be near the frigid end. It is, however, in the middle of attractive countryside, is considerably cheaper than its more illustrious neighbours, and has good communications and transport links. All the ingredients, that is, for good long-term price growth.

"Bridgwater was a charming seaport with spectacular Georgian architecture, and the town centre is gorgeous," says Gideon Sumption of Stacks property search agents. "But it was heavily industrialised and is blighted by the industrial development that occurred outside it. Much of north Somerset's industry is located there. The town itself is vibrant, but it is not a desirable place to live."

Only five miles away are the Quantocks, "an exceptionally beautiful range of hills, and a highly sought-after area in which to live," says Sumption. "Some villages on the north-eastern slopes in sight of Bridgwater are highly desirable, and the smart money is heading to villages such as Spaxton, Over Stowey and Enmore. Buyers get a slice of the West Country's most beautiful and atmospheric range of hills together with easy access to some of the county's best schools in Taunton and within 10 minutes of an M5 junction. In any event, Taunton is probably overcooked in terms of property prices."

Bridgwater is nowhere near its peak. Many buyers are ex-urbanites with firm likes and dislikes, and the financial clout to get what they want. "Good five-bedroom period properties in these villages with sufficient land to provide protection have shown the greatest price growth in the last year," says Sumption. "Protection of a property from traffic or its neighbours is becoming a priority, particularly for London buyers who place a high value on privacy. A farmhouse with outbuildings is now often worth more intact than broken up."

In Bridgwater itself, proximity to - or being downwind of - a nasty factory can affect property values, says Charles Scott of agents Greenslade. "Because of the prevailing south-west winds in this country, factories are normally located on the east side of town, so the west side is normally the best side for residential property." For that reason, Bridgwater's western suburbs such as Wembdon remain popular and, compared with the Bristol area, affordable. A little like Sussex versus Surrey, Scott adds.

Bridgwater prides itself on its Guy Fawkes Carnival, a month-long festival that reaches its climax this year on Friday, 7 November. Get ready to party...

THE LOW-DOWN

Getting there

Bridgwater has rail links with Taunton, which has fast services to London. The town is near junctions 23 and 24 of the M5. Bristol is 40 miles away.

Shopping

A new Asda and Angel Place shopping centre are in the centre. A farmers' market operates alternate Fridays.

Entertainment

The town has a two-screen cinema, and the Town Hall and Arts Centre hosts amateur drama and theatre groups. Outdoor concerts are held in Blake Gardens.

Museums

Blake Museum, Bridgwater's museum of archaeology and local history, takes its name from Cromwell's General-at-Sea. The Somerset Brick and Tile Museum houses Bridgwater's last kiln.

Sport and leisure

Splash Leisure Pool has water slides, rapids and a wave machine. Chilton Trinity Sports Centre has squash courts, a fitness studio, sports hall and outdoor courts and pitches. The 1827 Bridgwater and Taunton Canal offers angling, canoeing and bicycling.

Party time

The Autumn Fair and Guy Fawkes Carnival actually begins in early October with a two-week Carnival Concert, and culminates in a parade with more than 50 floats and - unique to Bridgwater - a squibbing display. Strictly defined, squibs are small fireworks that hiss before they explode. In Bridgwater, giant squibs are carried through the town before being set alight in the High Street.

Family attractions

A restored steam-powered pumping station is located in nearby Westonzoyland. Better known days out are Longleat in Warminster, Animal Farm Adventure Park in Burnham on Sea and Cheddar Gorge.

Prices

Three-bed houses start from £110,000. A three-bed two-reception bungalow in Westonzoyland with outbuildings, stables, air-raid shelter, block-built workshop, aviary and garage; £225,000. A two-bed bungalow in Pawlett with conservatory and garage, £189,950. Agent is Bradford & Bingley.

Cow-free zone

Millstone in Crossington is a three-bed detached with garage fronted by a cattle grid; £249,950 at B&B.

Water therapy

A detached four-bed cottage in Otterhampton with annexe has a heated indoor swimming pool, steam room, hobbies room, garage and workshop, on about 1.5 acres; £485,000 at Bradford & Bingley.

Cannington

Bridge House is a double-fronted four-bed Victorian house with cellars, garage and two attic rooms, £175,000; three-bed Grange Lodge has a 6' by 4' box room with plumbing for use as a darkroom; £199,950 at Greenslade.

Conversions

Peart Hall in Spaxton is a Grade II former rectory, £1.5m; the 17th-century Coultings Farm has three barns with planning permission for conversion, £1.4m; Chestnut House has three bedrooms with six-room hotel, £700,000, all at Greenslade.

Estate agents

Bradford & Bingley, 01278 423353; Humberts, 01823 288484; Greenslade Taylor Hunt, 01278 425555; Jackson-Stops & Staff, 01823 325144; Stacks, 01884 849144.

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