Wanted: a 'normal' house by the sea

Old-fashioned seaside towns offer the simple pleasures of sun and sand, tennis and regattas. They are also clubs for the privileged few
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The Independent Online
On Monday morning, Savills in Ipswich will open a sackful of best offers for a small beach house in Thorpeness. It has one sitting-room, two and a half bedrooms and a small garden, and is in need of complete renovation. Savills had 40 people interested before the house went on to the open market, as word went out on the local grapevine. The guide price is pounds 69,000, but Savills has received offers of up to pounds 90,000.

Thorpeness is a rare place. Built as an Edwardian holiday resort on the Suffolk coast, it has adapted gently to the demands of late 20th-century tourism. The mere, where people swim and row, the river where they sail and the beach where they play are all much the same as when the Ogilvie family created the place. The pleasures on offer have a ready market among the affluent middle class.

Britain-on-Sea is not generally glamorous. While the wealthy of other countries own beautiful houses on the ocean, we line our sea-fronts with caravan parks, amusement arcades and old people's homes. Our excuse has been the weather. Those who could afford it went abroad for their sea and sand, leaving the English coast to those who could not. But a series of hot summers has made living by the sea an attractive option in many parts of the South.

Some developers are responding to the new interest by building "normal" houses by the sea. At Eastbourne, Lovell Homes has used the award-winning Newcastle architects Jane Darbyshire Associates to build a courtyard development on the waterfront. The promenade facade is tall, giving good views of the water, but the roofline is broken up with Dutch gables and steep pitches to avoid the seaside apartment-block look. The first flats, priced from pounds 48,000 to pounds 97,000, go on sale this autumn.

Down the coast at Aldwick (which is to Bognor Regis what Hove is to Brighton), Try Homes is building a development of 27 houses, the six largest being right on the beach. Two-and-a-half-storey houses, with a deep staircase window and a first-floor sitting-room, take full advantage of the views. Prices for the six five-bedroom seafront houses are about pounds 265,000.

However, if you want something smaller and cheaper, one of the best places to look is East Anglia. The coast is studded with villages and towns left unmarked by post-war tourism developments. West of Cromer are the beaches of Brancaster, Blakeney and Holcombe, where the noisiest visitors are likely to be the flocks of birds that hole up there for the summer.

In between are some better-kept secrets such as Stiffkey, which borders the National Trust Saltings. Strutt & Parker in Norwich is selling The Old Stores at Stiffkey, a brick-and-flint cottage with two large reception rooms, a large kitchen/dining-room, four bedrooms and a garden backing on to the River Stiffkey, for pounds 175,000. In the similarly popular village of Weybourne the company is selling a brick-and-flint farmhouse, which needs doing up, for pounds 132,000.

Further south in Suffolk, accessibility to London means you have to pay a bit more for sea air. The old fishermen's cottages at Shingle Street and Felixstowe Ferry tend to be snapped up by the Suffolk mafia. If you want one, you need to be at the top of the estate agents' lists.

Orford, with its castle and quay, is particularly popular. Strutt & Parker has just let a four-bedroom period house on Quay Street for pounds 650 a month. One of the smaller cottages would cost about pounds 400 a month to rent or upwards of pounds 100,000 to buy.

Back in Thorpeness, some of the disappointed buyers in Monday's bidding could club together and buy The Red House, a six-bedroom property divided into two homes. It sits at the "top" end of Thorpeness, with steps from the garden leading down to the shingle beach. The house looks Georgian, although it was built in the Twenties. Strutt & Parker is asking pounds 330,000. The new owners could join the regulars in The Dolphin, or play tennis at the country club, which also hosts volleyball games and quizzes. If they were quick, they could even take part in the regatta at the end of August.

If they really wanted to be one of the gang, they could join the Marmelade Club. To be eligible you must be male, own a home in Thorpeness and have got stuck in the mud while sailing with someone else's wife.

Stephen Fletcher of Bidwells fulfils all these criteria. He owns a big beach house, where his family decamps for the summer. Most of his neighbours are locals, though many families come from the Midlands as well as London. "There is a whole generation of people who came as children to Thorpeness," he said. "They have come back to relive it with their own children."