With Kent?s highspeed Channel Tunnel raillink nearing completion, growing numbers of countryhouse buyers have been concentrating their search on England?s garden county. But they will need to be quick off the mark if they are to find their dream country home in Kent this autumn.

The sale of Downgate near the village of Sandhurst, Kent a pristine Regency house with 88 acres of gardens, grounds and parkland shows just how fast things are moving. Launched on the market in mid August by Calcutt Maclean Standen and Knight Frank at a guide price of £3 million, contracts were exchanged on the property on September 8, the very day that it appeared in Country Life. A few days later, the successful vendor exchanged contracts on the gorgeous Franchise Manor across the county border in East Sussex, at a guide price of £5.3m.

It looked as if things were going the same way with Grade II* listed Heronden, near Sandwich, when it came on the market in late July at a guide price of £2.25m through Strutt & Parker (01227 451123). A private sale was quickly agreed, but the deal fell through, and this exquisite house described by selling agent Simon Backhouse as ?possibly the best house to come to the market in East Kent in the past decade?s now back on the open market.

Built in 1776 for William Kelly, Heronden next became home to Capt John Harvey, commander of HMS Brunswick, one of Nelson?s fighting flagships. Approached off a little used country lane, the house has four elegant reception rooms, a master suite, seven further bedrooms, three further bathrooms, two cottages, a quadrangle of splendid period outbuildings and 14 acres of glorious gardens.

For its owner, David van der Woude, a widely travelled professional in his late fifties, three generations of whose family have lived at Heronden, this is ?a very special place of singular beauty and peace? which has been ?something of a refuge? all his life.

This article first appeared in Country Life magazine on September 29, 2005. To subscribe click here.