Commuting to London from Cornwall is near impossible. In the past this ensured that houses in the county were remarkably good value, especially away from the south. However in recent years, as people increasingly buy second holiday homes, prices across the southwest have shot up. As a result Cornwall property is now at the top end of the price range.

According to the July 2004 Hometrack price index, the overall average price for a property in Cornwall was £154,400, compared with £153,300 in Devon and £146,800 in Somerset.

You do get what you pay for, though, which, in Cornwall, is spectacular scenery and coastline, better weather, character properties, and a peaceful way of life.

The Sea’s Influence

No inhabitant of Cornwall lives more than 18 miles from the sea. Maritime trade – and piracy – may have declined, but Cornwall’s coastline ensures that tourism is one of its two main industries. Rugged cliffs characterise the north coast, sunlit estuaries the south, and a third of the coast is in the hands of the National Trust.

The waters are extremely clean by European standards, and the excellent surfing breaks are becoming an increasingly important draw for visitors. Newquay’s new surfing centre is proving popular, and has helped contribute to the town’s newfound status as the capital of UK surfing.

Food and Drink

The sea, of course, helps contribute to another important element of Cornish life: food. Seafood is fresh and delicious, and is championed by the likes of Rick Stein, whose superb restaurant in Padstow serves only the finest – and has a waiting list to match.

That other fine Cornwall delicacy, the pasty, is also ever popular. ‘Designed’ so that miners could eat a good meal with dirty hands and then discard the crust, you can find almost any flavour, from the traditional beef and potato to the slightly more novel jam and custard. Malcolm Barnecutt’s pasties in Wadebridge come highly recommended, but you can find good quality bakers anywhere as long as you look beyond those that cater primarily for tourists.

Lifestyle

Cornwall’s other main industry is agriculture: small family farms still prevail, as the rolling landscape is not suited to large-scale farming. Beef and sheep farming are most common, while since the foot and mouth crisis crops such as oilseed rape and maize have become more prevalent.

Since the 18th century, artists have been attracted to Cornwall for its light and rugged beauty. Artists such as Norman Garstin, Barbara Hepworth and Bernard Leach have all sought inspiration in Cornwall, and there are many excellent studios and galleries in most towns.

Eden Project

One of the main draws for tourism in Cornwall is the extraordinary Eden Project. Consisting of the world’s largest geodesic domes, the Project brings together a spectacular array of plants from all over the world, separated into two biospheres, the Humid Tropical Biome, featuring a jungle environment, and the Warm Temperate Biome, including Mediterranean, South African and Californian plant species. The success of the Eden Project has also had a positive knock-on effect on businesses in the surrounding area as well as the rest of the county.

Cornwall really is a world apart from the rest of Britain, with a different climate, a different language – that can still be heard in some areas – and a different lifestyle, and there can be no doubt that the high property prices are entirely justified.

Property Market

The southwest of England, especially Cornwall, has been at the forefront of the property boom over recent years. According to Colin Benney, Manager at Stratton Creber Estate Agents in Truro, prices have gone up by about 50% in this time.

Although the first six months of this 2004 were very active, along with the rest of the country, the Cornish market has failed to pick up after the usual Summer lull: ‘In my view prices are levelling out as supply comes more into balance with demand. It’s a tougher market, with fewer transactions, but without the panic buying we were seeing earlier on in the year,’ said Mr Benney.

Andrew Chilcott, from Lillicrap Chilcott in Truro, believes that, thanks to the internet, the property market is now less affected by seasons: ‘We are as busy now as we were last year. However, sellers must price their properties realistically.’

One of the main factors affecting the current property market is the fast decreasing rate of unemployment: ‘There is now virtually no unemployment, thanks firstly to money from Europe, in the form of ‘Objective 1′ funding, and secondly e-commerce and improved communications, helping people work from home.’

While the south coast, with its picturesque sandy beaches, is the main property ‘hotspot’, the north coast is also now being recognised its own qualities: ‘Padstow is very hot, and Newquay is getting more popular thanks to the surfing centre and the airport at St Morgan,’ said Mr Benney.

The further west you go, the more unspoilt Cornwall is. However this is reflected in the value of the properties: ‘People will be prepared to pay for character properties, especially if they have sea views. As a result prices in West Cornwall, seen as the “real” Cornwall, have gone up in line with other areas, if not faster,’ said Mr Benney.

Most buyers, it seems, are looking for that ‘typical’ second home – a small property with lots of character that has been carefully renovated, and that is in excellent condition.

However, in recent years, Mr Chilcott has seen a decline in this trend: ‘More and more people are coming down here to find their main homes,’ said Mr Chilcott. He also warned that buyers may not find their ideal property: ‘Most people are looking for what they won’t find: large period houses with lots of land next to the sea. Location is their priority though, and buyers will only assess the houses available in an area they have already chosen,’ said Mr Chilcott.

Larger estates do come on to the market, but at the top end of the price range. Stratton Creber recently handled the sale of a farmhouse with a small estate of around 30 acres. The property sold for ‘well over’ £1million.

Other sought after areas include Rock, the Roseland Peninsula, St Mawes and the Helford River. Older local houses are typically built of granite or other hard stone, with slate roofs, and buyers should expect a premium on houses with sea or estuary views, especially round Falmouth and Fowey.

Estate Agents

Stratton Creber: telephone 01872 240 999

Lillicrap Chilcott: telephone 01872 273 473

Major towns

Penzance, Falmouth, St Ives, Truro, St Austell, Fowey, Par, Newquay, Bodmin, Bude, Launceston.



Transport links


Train: There is a direct, regular train from London Paddington to Penzance. The journey takes around 5 hours.

Plane: There are now regular, cheap Ryan Air flights from London Stansted to Newquay airport, which have no doubt helped Cornwall more attractive to second homebuyers. The journey takes just over one hour. Other operators also run flights from around the UK.

Car: Penzance is 283 miles from central London, via the M4, M5 and A30. St Austell is 265 miles.



Public schools


Duchy Grammar School, Truro (01872 862289). Co-educational, day and boarding, age range 3-18. Inter-denominational.

St Joseph’s School, Launceston (01566 772988). Girls aged 4-16, boys 4-11. Day and boarding. Interdenominational.

St Petroc’s School, Bude (01288 352876). Co-educational preparatory school, age range 3-14. Day and boarding. Church of England.

Bolitho School, Penzance (01736 363271). Day and boarding. Co- educational. Interdenominational. www.bolitho.cornwall.sch.uk

The Truro School, Truro (01872 272763). Co-educational, day and boarding, age range 3-18. Methodist. www.truroschool.com

Truro High School for Girls (01872 272830). Day and boarding, age range 3-18. Girls only (with boys allowed age 3- 5). Anglican. www.trurohigh.co.uk

Leisure

Yacht clubs: the Royal Torbay and the Royal Cornwall, Falmouth.

Hunting: the East Cornwall, North Cornwall, South Cornwall, Western and Four Burrow. World-class surfing at Newquay. Royal Cornwall Show held annually on its own ground at Wadebridge.

Fishing: rivers Camel, Fal, Fowey, Lyd and Tamar.

Notable golfcourses: Newquay, Rock and Padstow.