With the exception of a few large private sales, 2008 started quietly in the West Country, but only by comparison with the frenzy of the past three years. In reality, things have merely reverted to the way they used to be, with the best country houses coming to the market in May, followed by a late surge in September, before the shooting starts. And the mouth-watering choice of West Country properties being launched on the market this week reminds us that the best of the West is usually worth waiting for.
For sheer glamour and pizzazz, there’s nothing to touch romantic Redlap House at Dartmouth, in Devon’s South Hams; at £5 million-plus, through Savills (01392 455755), the price is glamorous, too.
The pristine eight-bedroom Georgian house stands in 30 acres of spectacular tropical gardens and grounds, at the head of a private, frost-free valley leading down to sandy Redlap Cove, which is otherwise only accessible by water. It comes with ‘all the toys’, including a secondary house and cottage, numerous outbuildings, a swimming pool and a hard tennis court. In the 18th century, Redlap House was owned by the governor of Dartmouth, a keen supporter of the local smuggling trade, who built false walls within the hall to hide the contraband. In the 20th century, the house played host to various royals during their official visits to Dartmouth. In the 1930s, the actor and impresario Cyril Maude entertained his friends at Redlap; it may even have inspired John Masefield’s smuggling tale, Jim Davis.
Were it not for its relative proximity to Exeter airport, majestic Grade I-listed Rockbeare Manor, six miles east of Exeter, would rank beside Redlap House in terms of price; instead, joint agents Knight Frank (01392 423111) and Stratton & Holborow (01392 278466) are inviting ‘expressions of interest at around £3m’. The original manor house at Rockbeare was built in about 1760 for Sir John Duntze, a rich Exeter woollen merchant and banker, who added the splendid Adam-style dining room in 1769. In 1815, he sold the house to his son, who had it substantially remodelled in the classic Regency style in about 1820; in the 1920s, the Follett family had the garden wing remodelled by Morley-Horder. Although now in need of some refurbishment, Rockbeare is a gem of its period, with six grand reception rooms, 13 bedrooms, extensive staff quarters, outbuildings and gardens, the whole set in 106 acres of historic listed parkland.
Henry Holland-Hibbert of Strutt and Parker has misty-eyed memories of an idyllic childhood spent at rambling Broadclyst House, five miles north of Exeter, the Grade II-listed, Georgian former vicarage that has been his parents’ home since 1957. The house stands in five acres of glorious gardens and grounds high above Broadclyst village, part of which lies within the estate of Killerton, now owned by the National Trust. The original house, built in about 1550, was substantially rebuilt in 1820, after which it was lived in by a succession of well-heeled vicars, before being sold off
by the Church in 1925.
Strutt & Parker (01392 215631) quote a guide price of £1.8m for dreamy Broadclyst House, which has four reception rooms, seven bedrooms, four bathrooms, attics, outbuildings, stabling and a cottage, and wonderful sweeping views over the wooded Clyst valley.
And what could be more dreamy than the setting of delightful Grade II-listed Shilstone Manor, near Chagfordan idyllic, 30-acre Dartmoor farmstead that dates back to Saxon times? The pretty four-bedroom thatched manor has two cottages, a range of granite barns (one with planning consent for conversion) and everything a horsey family could wish forincluding a model stable yard, outdoor riding arenas and smart post-and-railed paddocks, surrounded by miles of the most glorious riding country in England. But reality has kicked in of late, say selling agents Jackson-Stops & Staff (01392 214222), who are offering Shilstone Manor at a reduced guide price of £2.1m.
Realism is also the order of the day across the county border in Somerset, where Will Morrison of Knight Frank (01392 423111) quotes a guide price of £3m for tranquil Grade II-listed Combe Florey House at Combe Florey, on the edge of the Quantocks, seven miles from Taunton. Built by Thomas Francis in 1665, the red sandstone house stands in 35 acres of its own former parkland behind an Elizabethan gatehouse. Since the 1950s, Combe Florey has been in the hands of Evelyn Waugh’s family, the current vendors. It has three main reception rooms, seven bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a separate three-bedroom wing, plus outbuildings, stables, and a large walled garden.
For centuries, the rich grass farms to the north of Castle Cary, Somerset, were part of vast holdings held by the monks of Glastonbury Abbey, and, even since the Enclosures Act, little has changed in the area, which is scattered with pretty hamlets of mainly period houses and cottages built of the local Doulting stone. One of the prettiest is Chesterblade, which sits in unspoilt rolling countryside dominated by the ancient fort at Small Down Knoll and the magnificent Maes Knoll, seven miles from Castle Cary. Jackson-Stops & Staff in Wells (01749 685220) quote a guide price of £1.35m for Chesterblade’s prettiest house, The Manor, built in 1868, which has four reception rooms, 57 bedrooms, stabling and outbuildings, set in 3.5 acres of gardens and grounds.