Hot Spot: Lancaster

This city's architectural heritage includes a Norman castle and swathes of Georgian townhouses, says Robert Liebman
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The Independent Online

Lancaster's Norman castle still earns its keep. Yes, it contains a museum and is open for tours, but it also functions as a court and prison. As the city's oldest and most imposing feature, it continues to make its contribution to a city proud of its architectural heritage.

Lancaster enjoys a reputation as a Georgian city, ample evidence for which can be found in the many large, handsome, townhouses in the castle precincts. Nearby are Victorian properties, and this pleasing mix has recently been joined by new luxury riverside apartment blocks, alongside warehouse conversions.

"Along with our attractive old buildings, we now have many new buildings and interesting old converted warehouses in St George's Quay on the River Lune," says estate agent Geoff Rowlinson of Fisher Wrathall. "Lancaster has had many new developments, and about a dozen of them have been very successful."

High demand relative to supply has pushed up prices across the board: "The period from January 2002 to the present has seen the best price increases in Lancaster since 1989," Rowlinson adds. "The sharpest rises took place in the first six months of last year, and despite some small jitters just before the Iraq war, the market continues to be very buoyant. Demand is still strong, primarily from investors and young professionals."

Investors have squeezed first-time buyers in what Rowlinson describes as a "chicken and egg situation. Investors force prices up, the ability of local youngsters to afford to buy decreases, so they have to rent." By their own enthusiasm for the buy-to-let market, investors enjoy the double bonus of rapidly rising capital values, with would-be buyers compelled to rent.

Joan Wilkinson of Halifax applauds those who beat the system. "Lancaster has St Mary's College as well as the university, and many parents buy a property for their kid, and let the extra rooms. South of the river has always been more popular because it is nearer the university, the college, the hospitals, the motorway, and the Lune Valley, which is very pretty."

East of Lancaster is the Forest of Bowland, an area of outstanding natural beauty, and just west is the seaside town of Morecambe, which was the birthplace of the comedian born as John Eric Bartholomew and later gave him his adopted name.

Lancaster, meanwhile, claims the poet Laurence Binyon (1869-1943) whose poem "For the Fallen" ("At the going down of the sun we shall remember them") is recalled every Remembrance Day.

THE LOW-DOWN

Getting there

Direct rail links exist between Lancaster and London Euston (three hours-plus), Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Oxford and major cities in Scotland. The most convenient airport is Manchester International, which is 60 miles away.

Shopping

Lancaster's Marketgate and St Nicholas Arcades have a refurbished Littlewoods and the usual high-street retailers. Independent shops in the Assembly Rooms, Sir Simon's Arcade and Bashful Alley sell antiques, hand-made jewellery, books and crafts. A street market runs two days per week, and a farmers' market takes place monthly. The nearest department stores are in Preston, 22 miles away, and Manchester, 52 miles off.

Fitness

Salt Ayre Sports Centre has a swimming pool, fitness suite, and indoor and outdoor facilities for football, badminton, gymnastics, athletics and other activities. Lancaster University's sports facilities are open to the public all year.

Entertainment

Dukes Playhouse is a cinema/theatre with programmes that include open-air performances at the Walkabout Theatre in Williamson Park. The Grand Theatre is England's third-oldest provincial theatre, and Shakespeare is performed at the Castle. Lancaster University is open to the public for concerts, plays at the Nuffield Theatre, art exhibitions and other cultural and sporting events. In nearby Morecambe, there's also the Apollo Cinema.

Prices

At Fisher Wrathall, a three-bed cottage with garage and garden, marketed as "ideal to let," is £85,000; a two-bed, 18th-century cottage on Castle Hill with original oak beams is £189,000. Halifax has three-bed semis: with garage for £134,950, and without for £119,950.

Home-office-hymnal

A Grade II Victorian church has been converted into two units, one a four-bed, three-reception residence, and the other a large open-plan office, both with ample parking. The residence is £325,000 and the office is £295,000. Available through Moving Works (Longton), 01772 615550.

Waterside

A three-bed, three-storey modern townhouse with river views, £179,950; a two-bed penthouse loft in a warehouse conversion on St George's Quay, £120,000; and a Victorian two-bed stone mid-terrace, £98,950, all at JD Gallagher.

Castle precinct

A two/three-bed, three-storey, end-terrace Georgian townhouse with cellar costs about £180,000 and a four-bed, two-reception, mid-terrace with three beds in the loft is about £300,000. A much larger six-bed, four-reception stone Victorian semi in Westbourne Drive, near the castle, has a guide price of £385,000. The agent is Fisher Wrathall.

Conversion

In Galgate, Lancaster, a barn has been converted into a string of two-storey terraces in an elegant courtyard development. Here, a three-bedroom terraced-house with exposed beams and timbers, a galleried landing area and a garage and external store is availabe at £199,950, through Halifax.

New

Bryant Homes's Standen Gate, less than a mile from the city centre, has three-storey, five-bed homes from £240,000, and four-bed detached houses at £220,000 (01524 845979). Other developers active in Lancaster include Gleeson, Persimmon, Crosby, Fairclough and Country & Metropolitan.

Estate Agents

Fisher Wrathall, 01524 68822; Halifax, 01524 843043; JD Gallagher, 01524 843322.

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