It had to happen eventually. After six heady years, during which country-house prices in Devon and Cornwall have soared to more than double their 1999 levels, the market in the south-west of England is finally taking a pull. Still, according to Rupert Bradstock of buying agents Property Vision, there are now more properties over £1 million sold in Devon than in Dorset, and leading agents say that in parts of the once dreamy county, prices can be as much as 20% higher than those quoted for similar properties in the royal county of Gloucestershire.
?Devon is still the place where people want to be,? says Martin Lamb of Savills in Exeter, adding, ?buyers have become more cautious about committing to a purchase before they have sold their own house elsewhere and they are less prepared to take on large bridging loans.? So, in the coming weeks, the reaction of West Country buyers to the first of this year?s major country-house sales is likely to set the pace of the market for the rest of 2005.
The first test of the Devon estate market comes with the sale through Savills (01392 253344) of historic Feniton Court with 251 acres of woods and farmland near Honiton, east Devon, at a guide price of £3m. The manor of Feniton dates back to Norman times, although the present Grade II-listed house is Georgian, built in the early 1800s with later additions.
In 1926, Feniton Court was bought by Col Dyke Acland, great-grandfather of the present owner, who made further altera-tions to the house, decorating the interior in the style of the day.
Eighty years on, little has changed at Feniton Court, where horses and farming are the estate?s raison d?être for Peter Acland and his wife, Cindy. Hidden by banks of towering trees, the rambling eight-bedroom house has a wonderfully authentic period feel, despite recent essential modernisation, such as complete re-roofing, re-wiring and a central-heating upgrade.
Outside, a courtyard houses a separate three-bedroom annexe, two cottages and a stable block; the farmstead provides additional stables and buildings. The land to the north, south and east of the main house and village is currently run as a mixed in-hand farm, although its mature woodland, hedgerows, ponds and streams are ideal for creating a family shoot.
Less than five miles to the east as the crow flies, Knight Frank (01392 423111) quote a guide price of £2.3m for another handsome, Grade II-listed, Georgian house with Victorian additions, in a gloriously private setting. Built in about 1789 for one of Nelson?s rear-admirals, Thomas Graves, Combe Hill at Combe Raleigh, near Honiton, stands in 47 acres of gardens, woodland and paddocks, overlooking the Otter Valley. It has everything a proper country house should have, including reception and staircase halls, three grand reception rooms, a study, a billiard room, three bedroom suites, four further bedrooms, two further bathrooms, extensive cellars, a coach house, stables and garaging.
Still in fashionable east Devon?but only just, for the hamlet of Tytherleigh sits right on the border with Dorset, a mile from the pretty village of Chardstock?Knight Frank are selling Tytherleigh Manor, near Axminster, on behalf of the executors of former Conservative minister Sir Peter Emery, who died recently.
A guide price of £1.1m is quoted for the stone-built 16th-century former coach house, which stands in 3.4 acres of gardens and paddocks, with glorious southerly views towards Seaton on the coast. It has three reception rooms, a library/billiard room, seven bedrooms, three bathrooms, a
cottage, outbuildings and a tennis court.
While Devon keeps its powder dry, Cornwall is already bringing out its big guns?and they do not come much bigger than Glynn House near Bodmin, a Grade II*-listed mansion which once stood at the head of a 4,500-acre Cornish estate. There has been a house on the site overlooking the Glynn Valley and the River Fowey since Domesday, although the present house dates from 1805. In 1819, a major fire destroyed the interior and the house was put up for sale.
In 1833, Sir Richard Hussey Vivian bought the shell and restored the interior, but in the 1950s, the estate was broken up and Glynn House was sold off once more.
The present owners purchased Glynn House in 1996 and have converted it into three parts comprising two elegant four-bedroom houses, and three adjoining
apartments, all of which could be reunited to form a single family home, say selling agents Knight Frank. Glynn House comes with a coach house, 3.9 acres of gardens and grounds, and a guide price of £2m.
It is rare to find a large block of land for sale west of the Tamar Bridge, and joint agents Strutt & Parker (01392 215631) and Knight Frank are understandably excited about the prospects for 240-acre Shillingham Manor Farmat Trematon, near Saltash on the Devon-Cornwall border. Currently part of the Ince estate, Shillingham Manor stands on the banks of the River Lynher, looking across the water towards Antony House, now owned by the National Trust.
A ruined 14th-century chapel marks the site of a former large medie val manor house at Shillingham, although the present house, listed Grade II, is mainly 18th century, with later additions. Built of stone with white rendered elevations, the compact family house was extensively refurbished about 10 years ago and now has four delightful reception rooms, five bedrooms and three bathrooms. With its long foreshore and frontage to the River Lynher, Shillingham Manor Farm is a haven for sea-birds and other wildlife, say the agents, quoting a guide price of £1.75m for the whole, or in up to four lots.
Some of Cornwall?s most spectacular locations?and prices?are to be found along the dramatic coastline of the Cornish Riviera. The picturesque village of St Mawes on Cornwall?s Roseland Peninsula (the name, incidentally, has nothing to do with roses, I am told, but comes from the Cornish word ros, meaning heath), is renowned among yachtsmen for its access to some of the country?s finest day-sailing waters?on the Percuil River, Carrick Roads and in Falmouth Bay itself.
The asking price of £1.5m quoted by Miller Countrywide (01872 274211) for River in Roseland, a large 3/4 bedroom bungalow with a huge garden and long water frontage on Polvarth Point, gives some idea of the premiums currently being paid for a unique waterside setting. On the market for the first time in 25 years, the house could either be renovated or rebuilt.
Farther west, £1.25m is the guide price quoted by Knight Frank for Calamansack Vean at Port Navas, an impeccably restored and extended traditional Cornish granite house on the banks of the Helford River. Built in 1832 by the Mayne family, who ran the Helford Oyster Fishery, the house has been owned by the present vendor?s family since the 1940s.
Extended and re-roofed in 1999, it has two main reception rooms, five bathrooms, a shower room and outbuildings. The house and gardens face south towards the ancient woodlands of Groyne Point (an SSSI), with views to the south-east across the Helford to the entrance to Frenchman?s Creek, of Daphne du Maurier fame.
This article was originally published in Country Life magazine, April 28, 2005. To subscribe click here.