The lure of the West Country

Devon and Cornwall offer not only high quality of life, but also holiday income. By Mary Wilson
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The Independent Online
"Go West, young man, and grow up with the country." Horace Greely, editor of the New York Tribune, may have been referring to life in America in the 19th century, but his words have a particular resonance for Britons. Today, the urge to move west in this country is extremely strong.

In Britain, people go to the West Country not so much to grow up, as to retire from busy cities. Since the Seventies, around 58,000 people have moved to the quiet counties of Devon and Cornwall. The north coast generally attracts those looking for wild countryside and dramatic scenery; the south coast is a lure for keen sailors.

Although the train service between Exeter and London makes Devon the more accessible of the two counties, new road systems have vastly improved journeys to Cornwall: Fowey and Falmouth are now little more than an hour away from Exmouth.

"Clients who come by car frequently arrive an hour and a half early because they have wrongly calculated how long the journey takes," says Jonathan Haward, of County Home Search in Truro.

"Cornwall has a charm of its own," he continues. "Three miles from Truro at Looe beach, you can still see oyster boats under sail, dredging for oysters - and that sort of thing is typical of the county. South Cornwall is a myriad little waterways which attract sailors of all standards. Novice sailors can safely take their boats out in creeks, and the more experienced can cross a more challenging sea between estuaries."

Near Helston, not far from both Looe beach and the popular Helford river, the estate agent Miller is selling a Grade II-listed late-l8th-century mansion on the edge of the town. The six-bedroom house, set in half an acre, is priced at pounds 175,000.

It may not be for sale for long: estate agents are confident that the market is really beginning to take off again in the West Country. Robin Thomas, of Strutt & Parker's Exeter office, says: "This summer was the busiest since 1988. Property which is competitively priced is attracting purchasers principally from London and the Home Counties. It seems that they are once again seeing the south west as an area offering both quality of life and value for money." Mr Thomas does not predict a boom, but he feels that the property market here will continue to get stronger, and he anticipates that these conditions will continue through the autumn and winter.

Buying a potential source of income is a popular move. Just on the market, through Strutt & Parker, is Deer's Leap Farm in West Anstey, south of the Exmoor National Park. This is a 19th-century, four-bedroom farmhouse with five holiday cottages and 30 acres. Properties such as this are much in demand by those who may be retiring early, but still want some earnings.

Each cottage is fully equipped and has the use of a games room, a laundry room and a hard tennis court. At the moment, the cottages bring in about pounds 19,500 a year, a figure that could be increased. The property also has stabling for nine horses. It is on the market for pounds 400,000.

The same agent is also selling a Grade II-listed house, Tillworth House, near Hawkchurch, Axminster, in Devon. This was built in about 1840 and has five bedrooms and extensive cellars. The property also has a self- contained flat and cottage which in the past have been rented out as holiday lettings. It has 8.5 acres, a tennis court and a paddock, and offers are invited in excess of pounds 475,000.

Peter Turner, of Fulfords' Plymouth office, says: "We are finding that people from the south east of England and also from the Midlands are falling over themselves to get down to the south west. Inland, around the edge of Dartmoor, you have attractive countryside and it is easily commutable to Exeter."

Here, a four-bedroom family house could cost between pounds 150,000 and pounds 200,000. Meanwhile, anything on the waterside will go for a song, and would be eminently rentable if bought for investment. Fulfords is selling Drake House, which has six bedrooms, overlooking Hope Cove, near Salcombe in Devon, for pounds 300,000.

There is a separate, two-bedroom coach house which could be let out for pounds 480 a week in high season and pounds 270 in low season. The main house itself could also be let, for a weekly rental of pounds 1,180 at peak times of the holiday season.

All this movement west is encouraging developers to build in the area. Alford Homes, part of the Prowling Group, has developments in Okehampton, Devon, and Saltash (known as the "gateway to the west"), in Cornwall. "Most of our customers move to the country to be away from the stresses of the city," says Graham Jackson, sales and marketing manager. "And we have certainly seen an increase of visitors from city locations at all our developments, especially from the Midlands."

Strutt & Parker (01392 215631); Miller (01872 74211); Fulfords (01 548 843731); County Home Search (01872 223349); Alford Homes (01823 259777)

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