Easing the Strain of the Train

Ever since the Romans landed on a beach near Deal in 55BC, East Kent has prided itself on being Britain?s gateway to Europe. So local businessmen and MEPs were dismayed when, earlier this year, Eurostar announced that daily services from Ashford International to Brussels would be discontinued, and those to Paris severely pruned, when its new £100 million station at Ebbsfleet, near Dartford, north Kent, opens in October next year. But from late 2009, a new local commuter network of high-speed ?bullet trains? will link towns such as Canterbury, Folkestone, Dover and Ramsgate with London St Pancras, via Ashford or Ebbsfleet, halving the two-hour journey time.

?Since the announcement of the new high-speed train link, we have seen a steady flow of people moving out of London to this part of Kent many of them young professionals with families who find that they can upgrade to a four- or five-bedroom house for the price of their two-bedroom property in the City,? says Dee Ryall of Cluttons in Canterbury. She currently has no fewer than 38 prospective purchasers prepared to pay more than £1m for a large country property within easy reach of Canterbury?s private schools and the new Eurostar station at Ebbsfleet. Home-buyers who had not previously considered the area may be surprised to discover just how much house £1m buys.

Cluttons (01227 457441) quote a guide price of £750,000 for the impeccably restored, mid-16th-century Manor House in the centre of the village of Fordwich, two miles from Canterbury. Having bought the Grade II-listed house as ?a complete wreck? in 1997, its owner John Kingston commissioned appraisals from English Heritage and Canterbury Archaeological Trust. He was fascinated to learn that the house had been ?Victorianised? in the 1880s, but that in 1996, a fire had destroyed the Victorian part, leaving only the original timber-framed core. The Manor House has four main reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, four bedrooms and two bathrooms.

The same agents are asking £975,000 for 37-acre Deerson Farm at Preston, 6? miles from the Cinque Port of Sandwich and 7? miles from Canterbury. This charming equestrian property comprises a Grade II-listed, six-bedroom Georgian farmhouse with a late-20th-century extension, and a farmyard with a barn, stabling and tack room, plus six further stables, two further barns, paddocks, a manège, and a cross-country arena.

Simon Backhouse of Strutt & Parker in Canterbury admits to having mixed feelings regarding the effect a sudden influx of City commuters might have on his local area. ?On the plus side, the completion of the Channel Tunnel rail link will have a huge impact on Kent generally, adding ?saleability? to less popular parts of the county. On the flip side, I would hate to see a fine city such as Canterbury a really great place to live being turned into a dormitory town. Although, given the current over-supply of new homes and flats in Canterbury, perhaps that is the only way they will all find buyers.?

Strutt & Parker (01227 451123) quote a guide price of £725,000 for idyllic Home Farm near the village of Godmer-sham, halfway between Canterbury and Ashford, which was the setting for Jane Austen?s Mansfield Park. Built about 20 years ago in the style of a 17th-century Kentish farmhouse, Home Farm stands on rising ground overlooking rolling down-land, and has a double reception room, a kitchen/dining room, a master suite, three further bedrooms, a cottage annexe and a stable block the whole set in two acres of gardens, grounds and paddock.

At £1.1m, Elmstone Court at Barham in the Elham Valley, six miles from Canterbury, is one of the few properties in rural East Kent for sale at more than £1m.

Strutt & Parker had found a buyer for the handsome, Grade II-listed, Georgian house earlier this year, but the sale fell through. But Mr Backhouse is confident of finding a new owner for this classic family house with three reception rooms, a music room, a study, a farmhouse kitchen/breakfast room, a master suite, seven further bedrooms and five further bathrooms.

This article first appeared in Country Life magazine on November 16, 2006