With little empty space left anywhere in England, more and more people are discovering the country?s last great wilderness, the rugged Border county of Northumberland. Some are returning to their roots, for as Simon Beeby of Strutt & Parker points out: ?This is a place that people like to come back to?. Others, drawn initially by the emergence of the North-East as a business and financial centre, stumble across its magical hinterland almost by chance.
At the outer limit of the Newcastle commuter belt, Hexham has not been voted England?s favourite market town for nothing. The town and its surrounding stone villages, notably Corbridge, three miles to the east, have long been a magnet for prosperous Tynesiders, and house prices here are as high as anywhere in rural England. But take to the hills, and you can find space and solitude at half the price.
For Strutt & Parker (01670 516123) quote a guide price of £345,000 for Foxglove House near West Woodburn, 19 miles north of Hexham. This traditional stone, three bedroom, farmhouse, stands in 1.58 acres of grounds and paddock, overlooking the typically rugged, rolling countryside of this part of north Northumberland.
The picturesque market town of Alnwick, stronghold of the Percy family since 1309, is another excellent starting point from which to trawl the surroundings hills.
The Alnwick office of George F. White (01665 603581) wants offers ?in the region of £525,000? for Rowan Lea at Edlingham, four miles north west of Alnwick a stonebuilt, four bedroom former stationmaster?s house built around 1880, with three acres of land and spectacular views over the surrounding countryside towards Edlingham village, the 11th-century church and Alnwick Castle.
The border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, England?s northernmost town, was once a great port of Scotland, and changed hands 13 times before finally becoming English territory in 1482. Historically, this dramatic landscape of volcanic hills, jagged cliffs and rolling sand dunes was a wild and dangerous place, and even today is no place for the faint hearted.
It will probably take the nerve of a Border ?reaver? to take on the renovation and conversion of Seahouse at Cocklawburn, 3.5 miles south of Berwick, but the breathtaking views over the Tweed estuary, Bamburgh Castle and Holy Island would almost certainly make the challenge worthwhile.
Although currently arranged as three holiday cottages, Seahouse, with its driveway, outbuildings and south facing, one acre garden was once a much grander, single residence, worthy of a mention in Pevsner?s guide to Northumberland. Smiths Gore (01434 632404) are offering Seahouse for sale by auction at the Guild Hall, Berwick-upon-Tweed, on Monday, December 19 at a guide price of excess £300,000 for the whole.
This article was originally published in Country Life magazine, November 24, 2005. To subscribe click here.