Country houses for sale

Arable estates excite interest

According to the latest Agricultural Land market survey from Savills Research, the proportion of farmers selling farmland in 2011-43% of all sellers-was at its lowest level since 1993. This compares with 47% in 2010, and continues the steady decline in sales seen since 2006, underlining the general increase in confidence within the farming sector.

In contrast, the proportion of farmers buying land rose from 56% in 2010, to 61% in 2011, and, with the sole exception of 2009, was the highest level recorded since 2001. The majority of farmers were buying to expand their businesses, but buying for residential and sporting purposes was also
a significant element, accounting for 25% of all purchases in 2011, compared with 19% in 2010. With an interesting first crop of arable farms with good principal houses now hitting the market, the competition between professional farmers and residential buyers is likely to be more intense than ever over the course of 2012.

This time last year, land agents Smiths Gore set the ball rolling in Wiltshire with the launch onto the market of pristine Manor Farm at West Overton, near Marlborough, at a guide price of ‘excess £6.2 million’. It sold as a whole within a matter of weeks, and netted a bonus for its new owner in the autumn, when the main house was put back on the market and found a buyer within a relatively short space of time.

Smiths Gore (01865 733300) could repeat the process this year with the sale of picturesque, 290-acre Cliffansty Farm at Clevancy, near Calne, which will be launched officially on April 16, in one or four lots, at a ‘realistic’ guide price of ‘excess £3 million’ for the whole. Once part of a much bigger estate, Cliffansty Farm (pictured) has been owned or farmed by the same family for almost 100 years, and is being sold following the decision of the present incumbents, Richard Keevil and his artist wife, Caroline, to scale back their operations.

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Selling agent Giles Wordsworth is expecting keen interest from both sides of the farmland divide, given that Cliffansty combines a substantial block of prime, Grade 2 arable land, with a charming, Grade II-listed, Georgian family farmhouse in a glorious Downland setting, with easy access to London, either via the M4 motorway or by train to London Paddington (a 75-minute journey from nearby Chippenham station). ‘The beauty of the farmhouse and its location are going to directly set the residential market against professional farmers, who won’t want to miss out on a good-sized block of quality Wiltshire arable land,’ Mr Wordsworth predicts gleefully.

A few miles further west, in the Mendips of north Somerset, Mark McAndrew of Strutt & Parker (020-7629 7282) is equally upbeat about the prospects for the idyllic, 417-acre Meeting House estate, near the pretty village of Wrington, 11 miles south-west of Bristol. Unlike so many rural English villages these days, Wrington appears to cater for many of country life’s most pressing needs, in that it boasts a doctor, a dentist, a pharmacy, a vet, a solicitor, a farm shop and its own brewery.

Although built only 24 years ago, the estate’s delightful, five-bedroom stone manor house, with its pretty Gothic-style arched windows under a pantiled roof and garden courtyard enclosed by high-and low-level stone walls, looks completely at ease in its sheltered, private setting at the heart of its land. Other estate houses include the four-bedroom Barley Farmhouse, a two-bedroom lodge and two semi-detached farm cottages. The estate itself sits on a south-facing slope on the north side of the Yeo Valley that links Blagdon Lake to the Bristol Channel.

For sale following the death of its late owner, businessman David Telling, at a guide price of £5.67m for the whole, or in five lots, the land-a mix of arable, pasture and wildflower meadow-has been let for a number of years to neigh-bouring farmer John Alvis, a renowned Cheddar maker, who keeps young stock from his dairy farm on the lush green acres. In the past, some 115 acres of woodland, laid out to take advantage of the natural undulations of the land and encourage high, challenging birds, have provided the basis for an exciting family shoot, with eight main drives allowing for half-a-dozen days a season, and bags averaging between 100 and 150 birds.

Over in East Anglia, Suffolk will be seeing quite a rush of farms coming to the market in the next six weeks, in sharp contrast to last year, when few acres were offered for sale in the county, reveals James Brooke of regional agents Bidwells (01223 841841). His first offering-at a guide price of £4.6m for the whole, or in five lots-is the charming and compact Corn Hall estate at Bures St Mary, 10 miles from Colchester. For sale for the first time since 1949, the estate has 294 acres of gently rolling farmland running down to the banks of the River Stour, of which some 250 acres are suitable for cropping, with the rest down to grass and woodland used for a well-run family shoot.

At the heart of the estate and framed in a parkland setting, stands Corn Hall itself, a classic, small Georgian family house, listed Grade II. Built of red brick under a slate roof, the impeccably maintained, 3882sq ft house has three main reception rooms, five bedrooms and two bathrooms, plus a two-bedroom annexe. The property also includes three cottages and some fine traditional farm buildings, including a range of Essex/Suffolk-style brick-and-timber barns, built between the 17th and 19th centuries, and converted to residential use in the late 1990s.