Brian Viner: Country Life

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Every gambler, for example, has a story of the near-miss bet, the windfall that wriggled just out of reach. Although not much of a gambler I have one myself: the £10 double 15 years ago on Durham Edition to win the Grand National and Nick Faldo to win the US Masters golf tournament. Faldo won but Durham Edition lost by less than a length, denying me a pay-out of over £1,000. But in gambling, as in fishing, a near-miss counts for nothing. I might just as well have backed the horse to win the golf tournament, and the golfer to win the steeplechase.

Similarly obsessed with stories of The One That Got Away are property speculators, a band of men (and women too, I suppose, although dwelling on past near-misses is more of a man thing; women tend to be more pragmatic) who seem to derive more pleasure from deals missed than deals made. I have shared car journeys with a few of them down the years, and in London particularly you can scarcely get from one set of traffic lights to the next without having this or that building pointed out that they would have bought, should have bought, but didn't buy.

In regions of Britain where property values have climbed especially steeply, one is never far away from a person with a pained expression and a story of missed opportunities. And there can't be many regions where property values have surged more than this part of north Cornwall.

It is said that the ghosts of smugglers stalk the clifftops, which may very well be, but 100 years from now they will be outnumbered by the ghosts of those who had a chance to buy a house overlooking Constantine Bay and didn't take it. And from time to time a ghoulish wail will pierce the air: "I could have had it for 275 grand and now it's worth three times as much!"

There can't be a beach anywhere in the British Isles as perfect for holidaymakers as the one at Constantine Bay, at least when it is kissed with as much sunshine as we have enjoyed these past 10 days. It has something for everyone: excellent surf, marvellous rockpools, wide expanses of sand to play cricket on, shallow channels for toddlers to sit in, great views. It is the beach you would get if you phoned Central Casting and said: "Find me a perfect English seaside beach".

And the property market has woken up to the fact. Yesterday I asked an estate agent in Padstow whether she had anything in Constantine Bay on her books. She looked at me pityingly, as if I had asked whether I might still be able to reserve a table for four at Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant this coming Saturday night. "Would you like to join the waiting list?" she asked. "On the rare occasions they come up for sale, they don't even get into the window. I just have to make one phone call and they're sold."

All of which brings me to my friend Mark, a fellow guest at the Treglos Hotel, who 10 years or so ago had a City bonus burning a hole in his pocket and was advised by the Treglos maître d', Wally, to buy the pair of old coastguards' cottages on Trevose Head, the beautiful promontory overlooking Constantine Bay. Wally, like all the best maître d's, can not only fillet a Dover sole in his sleep, he is also a formidable repository of local knowledge. And he saves his choicest bits of knowledge for the guests he knows best. "You'll get 'em for £135,000 the pair," he said. "You can't go wrong."

Mark chose to buy a couple of racehorses instead. "Worst decision I ever made," he laments now, in preparation for the afterlife.

'Tales of the Country', by Brian Viner, is on sale now (Simon & Schuster, £12.99)