Seaside showdown: Britain’s most fought-over coasts

They’re Britain’s most fought-over stretches of coast – but which has the hideaway for you? Our crack househunters went in search of sun, sand, surf and high society
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South Hams, Devon
By Jonathan Christie

The South Hams are as hot as Britain's seasides get. At this time of year, the weather may be grey and a chill may whip across the waves, but the housing market is always simmering. Like all the coastlines featured here, this region in southern Devon has just been identified by the nationwide estate agency Savills as one of Britain's four super-seasides, where demand is highest. In fact, South Hams is among the UK's most expensive locations to buy property. Full-stop.

Salcombe's perfect sailing position has driven up house prices and demand for second homes is riding an ever-rising curve of prosperity. A stroll past the waterfront shops, bars and restaurants provides a snapshot of the well-off, fashionable and nautical clientele who have bought into Salcombe's social scene.

All property in Salcombe and the nearby villages of East Portlemouth, South Pool and Chivelstone are sought after, a fact reflected in the very high rate of second-home ownership: 42 per cent. Expect to pay as much as £300,000 more for a property in Salcombe than an average UK pad, and anything up to 60 per cent more than surrounding districts in South Devon.

This local price gap is well established, but hasn't widened over the past five years, indicating that the towns and villages beyond South Hams are benefiting from Salcombe's micro-climate. It's not great news for locals, and for Andrew Ireland, of local agency Ireland Weller, the story goes back centuries. "The Victorians started building second homes in Salcombe," he explains, "and these older houses are the most sought after. At least half the second homes we sell aren't registered for council-tax reduction, so the real figure for second-home ownership in Salcombe is probably nearer 70 per cent."

Waterfront homes can achieve £1,000 per square foot. Marshalling bidding wars is part of Andrew Ireland's job: "We have around 50 registered buyers in a cash-ready position, with budgets in excess of £2m waiting for the right house."

What's the big draw?

Beaches and sailing. Salcombe's position near the mouth of the Kingsbridge estuary, its extensive waterfront and sheltered harbour create the perfect escape without the need to travel the extra two hours down into Cornwall.

The ferry to East Portlemouth lands near unspoilt beaches that back on to National Trust land and further escapades can be had in villages such as South Pool. Salcombe bustles with great delis, bakeries, art galleries and clothes shops.

Who buys there?

Salcombe is a place to be seen. Celebrity residents include Sir Clive Woodward, Kate Bush and members of Led Zeppelin, but the bulk of incomers are families from the east. "Most of our inquiries come from London or the West Midlands," says Andrew Ireland.

Bucket and spade – or oysters and chablis?

Most buckets around here are used for chilling that chablis. With a relaxed atmosphere, the King's Arms attracts locals, and Dusters restaurant has live jazz. The newcomer is The Oyster Shack, serving mostly seafood. Captain Flint's serves modern Mediterranean food.

The beautiful beaches are not just for posing on, and families can be seen in abundance. Villages are less glossy than the town, but no less exclusive. In a creekside pub you'll be hard-pushed to catch a Devon accent, dahling.


Berwick, Northumberland
By Sarah Leese

If you throw down a rug at Berwick-upon-Tweed, you probably won't have to share the stretch of sand. The 100-mile stretch of coastline from Berwick to Tynemouth is Northumberland's hidden secret – but not for much longer among second-home buyers from around the country.

The villages offer something for everyone. Bamburgh is genteel; Seahouses offers more of a family experience – fish and chips, candyfloss and sticks of rock – while Beadnell is popular with lawyers who work in Newcastle, windsurfers and the sailing crowd.

At the National Trust-owned beach at Low Newton, the wooden beach houses might look rudimentary, but they are like gold dust. When one did come on the market three years ago, it had a £200,000 asking price.

Looming on the skyline are markers of the county's troubled border history. As Richard Sayer, of Rook Matthews Sayer says, "We have three of the most iconic castles in the country, Bamburgh, Lindisfarne and Dunstanburgh. Bamburgh is prime, Beadnell is a nice harbour village and Seahouses is a busy working harbour. It ticks all the boxes."

What's the big draw?

The coastline and the prices. According to Savills, the average price is £281,749, the lowest of all the coastal hotspots.

Who buys there?

Half the properties here are second homes, many of which are snapped up by affluent Geordies with young families. Newcomers from Yorkshire and London are slowly moving in.

Bucket and spade – or oysters and chablis?

The coastline's beauty attracts an eclectic crowd. "It's hikers, binoculars and golf," says Richard Sayer of Rook Matthews Sayer. You'll get your fine dining at the Victoria Hotel and Brasserie in Bamburgh, where three courses will set you back around £25. If you're looking for a traditional seaside experience, then Seahouses won't disappoint.

North Norfolk
By Jimmy Lee Shreeve

Take the old A149 winding coast road into Cley-Next-The-Sea and the first landmark you see is the 18th century, timber-sailed windmill that towers aloof above the sprawling 400 acres of marshland and reed beds that stretch across to the sea. Pass the walkers and twitchers and, next to the mill, you'll find a row of traditional flint cottages evoking an older, almost lost England. And above all this is the expanse of blue sky that typifies the flatlands of North Norfolk.

It's easy to see why Cley and the surrounding area has become a hotspot for second homes. And considering it is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the average property value is not extortionate, at £326,983. But according to Savills' research, that's still 59 per cent higher than the average property value in North Norfolk as a whole, which is £205,755.

Cley itself – pronounced "Kly" not "Clay" – has a narrow high street, cobbled alleyways that overflow with giant, colourful hollyhocks during summer months. On the high street is the award-winning Picnic Fayre Delicatessen, which also stocks wine and local produce. And if you're short of something to read, there's even a second-hand bookshop called the Crabpot.

You don't have to leave the village to add a touch of individuality to your new home – just pop into Made in Cley (not the best pun, given the pronunciation issue), which sells hand-thrown stoneware pottery and sculptures, all made on site.

Equally picturesque is the village of Weybourne, which lies to the east of Cley. It's well-served by good pubs and restaurants, but the stand-out feature is the Weybourne to Sheringham steam railway – a must-ride for the nostalgic.

Venture inland and you come to the beautiful Georgian market town of Holt, which is replete with artsy and ethnic shops, along with traditional cream-tea cafes and upmarket eateries. Further along the coast, west of Cley, is Blakeney. Its winding streets, lined with flint cottages, have a more rural feel, helped by the sheer rugged beauty of its marshland coastline.

What's the big draw?

The North Norfolk coast is one of the few unspoilt areas left in Britain. Driving around the road that follows the water is like a journey back in time to the 1930s (especially in winter when there's no tourist traffic). At the same time it's only 45-minutes' drive into Norwich, for shops and a better choice of restaurants, pubs and entertainment. And it's only two-hours drive from the M25. The only downside is the tourist traffic in summer.

Who buys there?

Stockbrokers, TV people and successful arty and business types are flocking into the area to buy second homes, while locals move further inland for the cheaper prices. Most come to the area for the walking, bird-watching and boating. They reinvigorate the area by buying local produce and food, and by investing in local crafts.

Bucket and Spade – or oysters and Chablis?

The North Norfolk coast is a world away from Great Yarmouth, the Blackpool of Norfolk. The north coast is all about old-world charm, fine restaurants serving locally produced foods, and homespun crafts. The pace of life is slower, too, which makes it the perfectly tranquil bolthole for the high-pressured.

North Cornwall
By Jonathan Christie

Cornwall's rise from the provincial doldrums has been spearheaded by the creation of chichi enclaves along its coastline. Fowey, St Ives and Helford have all had celebrity associations, but the beaches and cliffs near the collars-up town of Rock and the impossibly quaint Port Isaac have now acquired the dubious moniker "Britain's Saint-Tropez" and, perhaps more accurately, "the Kensington of Cornwall".

In a county better known for affordable housing, these few middle-class square miles are a glistening ghetto where house prices are twice the UK average.

Rock's proximity to Newquay airport and high-profile shops and restaurants have made it an infamous hotspot for the well-heeled. Away from Rock, the villages of Polzeath, St Minver and Port Isaac are less brash. Jagged cliffs, romantic harbour walls and top surfing beaches seduce visitors into fantasies of buying a little place by the sea. But with second-home ownership in Rock and Port Isaac at 38 per cent, there's a premium of 55 per cent to be paid for coastal pads.

Jonathan Cunliffe, head of Savills in Truro, grew up in Cornwall and has watched the north coast's housing market flourish. "Rock has always been expensive," he says. "It's a family thing. The children go to Eton, the parents work in banking and they have a second home in Rock to meet up with all their friends. They don't really leave the village, except to get the ferry over to Rick Stein's restaurant in Padstow.

"The top end of the market here is booming," he adds. "It's a two-tiered market that's rippled out to the areas around Polzeath and Port Isaac, as well as inland villages like St Kew, where period country houses are sought after. There are now commuters who spend part of the week in London and fly back down to Newquay for a long weekend."

What's the big draw?

This pocket of the north coast feels removed from the throng of Cornwall's tourist trade, yet Newquay airport is only 20 minutes away, so you can fly here from Gatwick, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, Cardiff and even Geneva. Rock's long, sandy beach is spectacular at low tide, and there is golf at St Enodoc and sailing in the estuary, too. The seeds of the gastronomic revolution landed on fertile soil here, especially at the St Kew Inn and Rick Stein's gaggle of restaurants, and it's worth grabbing the window seat at Port Isaac's Red Lion and supping a pint of Hick's while watching the bustle in the harbour. Polzeath hits the spot for surfing and, the rental market for holiday cottages here is very strong as well.

Who buys there?

Rock's rarefied atmosphere attracts affluent buyers prepared to tip the million-mark to get a taste of Cornish cream, with A-listers such as Prince Harry, Hugh Grant and Harry Enfield raising its profile. The area's most famous old boy, John Betjeman, may want to redirect his Slough-bound bombs towards Rock's new helipad, but he's too late to stop Jamiroquai's Jay Kay and Mohammed Al Fayed from having landed there already. Polzeath, St Minver and Port Isaac won't trouble the paparazzi, but the cash-rich middle classes are still the main house-hunters here.

Bucket and spade – or oysters and chablis?

Away from Rock, the Cath Kidston buckets and spades can still be spied, carried by those treading a knowing line (in their Crocs) between nostalgia, exclusivity and the latest style. To enjoy the coast and beaches around Port Isaac, you'll need to put your hiking boots on or squeeze your gas-guzzler through its higgledy-piggledy streets.