The North Norfolk Heritage Coast and its hinterland, from Old Hunstanton in the west to Weybourne in the east, was designated an AONB as far back as 1968, and is still a glorious wilderness of sand dunes, shingle, salt-marsh and reed-beds. The diligence of local planners and conservationists and the survival of large landed estates, such as Holkham and Sandringham, have ensured that the natural beauty of the area meaning not just its landscape and wildlife, but also its buildings and villages-has remained largely untouched by time.

From a property hunter’s point of view, this laudable lack of development has resulted in an endemic shortage of medium-sized family houses for sale within a 20-mile radius of the coast, as a result of which prices soared during the ‘banker’s boom’ years of the mid 1990s to the mid 2000s. Fortunately for the area’s more traditional buyers, the recession has brought prices down with a bump, and, with one or two notable exceptions, the majority of deals done in north Norfolk this year have been within the £1 million to £2 million price bracket, rather than the £3m to £4m routinely achieved four or five years ago.

With choice in the area mainly restricted to conversions of redundant agricultural or industrial buildings, such as barns, stables, watermills or windmills, a well-placed old rectory with a few acres of land will always command a premium. One of the most delightful is Thwaite House at Alby, a quintessential 18th-century former rectory, launched on the market last month by Bedfords (01328 730500) and Savills (01603 229229) at a guide price of £2.2m. Set in 53⁄4 acres of secluded gardens and meadowland, its location five miles from Cromer, eight miles from Holt (home to that other north Norfolk landmark, Gresham’s School) and 12 miles or so from the coast is about
as good as it gets.

Since 1999, dreamy Thwaite House has been the Norfolk home of Gilly and Geoffrey Newberry, founders of Bennison Fabrics, which specialises in the production of hand-printed fabrics based on 18th- and 19th-century English and French textile designs. The Newberrys have used many of these original designs in their inspired renovation of the building’s classic Georgian interior, with its three light-filled reception rooms leading off the central stone-flagged hall, its bright and spacious kitchen/breakfast/ living room, its four main bedrooms and two bathrooms. Further guest accommodation has been created in the newly built, slate-roofed wooden coach house. Other recent additions include a conservatory and a summer house.

Norfolk is blessed with excellent builders and craftsmen, many of whose skills have been passed down from father to son. As a result, building conversions have become something of an artform in these parts. Savills quote a guide price of £1.1m for Grade II*-listed Thornage Water Mill near the pretty village of Thornage, 11⁄2 miles from Holt and five miles from the coast at Blakeney. Once part of the Astley estate at Melton Constable, the mill was last used as a watermill in 1915. It was converted in the late 1980s to take full advantage of the fine southerly views over its 71⁄2 acres of gardens and meadowland and the River Glaven, which meanders through them. Some of the original mill gear is still in place, and recent restoration work has included the repair and reconstruction of the water wheel.

Accommodation over three floors includes two main reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, a study, a master suite, four bedrooms and two bathrooms. The sale includes a converted barn with a studio, shower room and kitchenette. Apart from the weather and a general shortage of buyers, things have been ticking along quite nicely in north Norfolk, says Ben Marchbank of Bedfords in Burnham Market (01328 730500). Reasons to be cheerful include his firm’s recent sale of a newly converted barn at Field Farm, Brancaster, to a Midlands businessman for £1.25m. Bedfords also found a buyer for Orchard House at Blakeney, at £1.3m, after only three weeks on the market.

Bedfords and Knight Frank (020-7629 8171) quote a guide price of £1.85m for the impressive Marsh View Barn at Titchwell, a mile from the sailing Mecca of Brancaster and five miles from trendy Burnham Market. Imaginatively converted in 2004 by the respected local firm of Robbie Wright Builders, Marsh View Barn stands in a spectacular setting, looking north over the round-towered Saxon church of St Mary to the reedbeds, creeks and sand dunes along the coast; the nearby village of Titchwell offers direct access both to the beach and the RSPB reserve at Titchwell Marsh.
The house has been designed to make the most of its unique location, and has accommo-dation on two floors, including three reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, a TV room and two bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms on the ground floor.

The first floor boasts an impressive drawing room with a brick fireplace, oak floorboards, exposed beams and full-height French windows opening onto a covered balcony with magnificent views of the coast. Also on the first floor are the master bedroom and two further bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms. Security and seclusion are guaranteed by double electric gates opening onto the driveway, beyond which an archway leads to a south-facing courtyard sheltered by high walls
and planted with borders of Mediterranean shrubs.

The busy village of Brancaster, with its sailing club and quaintly old-fashioned Royal West Norfolk Golf Club, where-as with everything in Norfolk-local knowledge is a distinct advantage, has long been one of the most sought-after places to live along the coast. Bedfords quote a guide price of £1.25m for The Old Stables in Broad Lane, Brancaster, a 4,000sq ft conversion of a range of stone barns and stables that were originally part of the former rectory.

The Old Stables was first converted in the 1980s, remodelled to its present layout in 2000, and now needs some updating. Tucked away in a quiet corner close to the beach and golf club and protected by three areas of garden, including an enchanting walled parterre garden, the house has five reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, a second kitchen, five bedrooms and four bath rooms spread over two floors.