A primarily agricultural county, Herefordshire has up until recently been perceived as remote from London, putting potential buyers off. But recent developments have encouraged two different types of buyer into the area.
Commuters are finding living to the east of the county means centres from Birmingham to Stratford Upon Avon are easily accessible, and others seeking a more secluded lifestyle are revelling in the ability to pick up relatively cheap property amongst truly stunning scenery.
Rich, flat farming country makes up much of Herefordshire, bounded by the Black Mountains to the west, the Malvern Hills to the east and the Forest of Dean to the south. The scenery along the river Wye in the south is some of the most beautiful in England.
Many of the houses are situated away from the few main roads, although the M50 to the south and the M5 to the east ensure that communications to much of the south and south west are good. One of the least densely populated parts of England, the county is little marred by light or noise pollution, and has a rural feel that is lost to much of the rest of the country.
Houses are typically built with sandstone wood; slate roofs are the norm. There are also many half-timbered black and white houses from the 17th century and earlier.
Much of the land is owned by estates, but there is usually a good supply of substantial farmhouses, many of which come with some land and have been altered little over the years.
‘The people who built the houses here did so with what they had. They were farmers who couldn’t afford to import lots of heavy stone, so many of the loveliest properties are charming old farmhouses, built in the traditional black and white style which makes a refreshing change from the stereotypical Georgian house so many people seem to be after,’ says Alexandra Nater of Christopher Lyons (an associate of Savills).
Prices have risen considerably in the east, and according to agents in the area can be as much as property nearer to London for the right house, which will be snapped up extremely quickly.
‘We have people who have been here renting for two years, waiting for the right property to come along just outside Ledbury, and the moment it comes up I have no doubt it will go immediately,’ says Ms Nater.
Tim Jessop from Knight Frank agrees that the prime area for property is still around Ledbury and Ross-on-Wye, near the motorways, but adds that the north and west are prettier and can offer different advantages.
‘Further north and west, the landscape is some of the most beautiful in the country, and people looking to buy there, should they be able to work from Thursday night to Monday at home, could really make the most of the location.’
Although prices are expected to increase this year as the market continues to recover, they are not expected to rise to anywhere near the likes of Gloucestershire or Warwickshire. ‘Prices in the west are starting to rise but not exponentially – Wales also really took off last year and we expect that trend of people looking west will continue,’ says Mr Jessop.
Last year, as in most areas, the market in Herefordshire was sluggish but as confidence returns to the market, buyers and sellers are growing in number.
‘We had three houses on our books all of last year which would not shift, but this year one has gone already, and we have had lots of interest in the other two,’ Mr Jessop points out.
Another factor in changing perceptions of the county has been public perception and media coverage, from the amazingly successful Hay-on-Wye literary festival to the proliferation of high quality restaurants springing up with alacrity following Ludlow’s status as foody capital of the UK.
People who drive miles tempted by the food at the Fat Duck, and stay for a walk after lunch easily fall in love with the serenity and the landcscape and events like this cannot be underestimated in changing perceptions of an area.
‘Slowly people are thinking less of Herefordshire as a backwater,’ continues Mr Jessop. ‘They are coming here and bumping into people they know whilst enjoying the kind of lifestyle it is hard to find in the south east and thinking, ‘Why leave?”.
‘It has all the benefits of living in an unspoiled rural haven, with none of the expense or the hassles that come with property in more conventionally popular areas of the countryside such as the likes of Cornwall,’ he adds.
‘The whole country has become more ‘with it’. And the mix of setting and reputation is encouraging people to look west where before they would never have thought to do so.’
townsHereford, Ledbury, Bromyard, Ross-on-Wye, Hay-on-Wye, Leominster, Kington, Eardisland.
linksTrain: Paddington to Hereford 3hr 5min; Waterloo to Leominster (direct service), 4hr 10min.Car: Hereford is 135 miles and Leominster 150 miles from central London, via the M40, A40 and A49. Leominster is 156 miles from London via the M40, M42, M5 and A44.
Hereford Cathedral School(01432 363522). Co-educational, age range 11-18, day and boarding. Associated preparatory school.
St Richard’s, Bromyard (01885 482491). Co-educational, age range 4-13, day and boarding.
The Pilgrims’ School, Winchester (01962 854189). Boys only, age range 7-13, day and boarding.
The Margaret Allen School, Hereford (01432 273594). Girls only, age range 3-11, day.
Somerleaze Preparatory School, Lucton (01568 780473). Co-educational, age range 3-12, day.
Golfcourses: Kington (01544 230340); Ross-on-Wye (01989 720267); Herefordshire, Wormsley (01432 830219).
Hunts: the North Herefordshire, the South Herefordshire, the Radnorshire and West Herefordshire, the Ledbury.
Fishing rivers: Wye, Lune, Monnow and Arrow.