Country houses for sale

Country houses with character

Approached through grand entrance gates along a winding tree-lined drive, rugged, stone-built Rhyll Manor at East Anstey, north Devon, on the edge of the Exmoor National Park, sits quietly at the head of its own south-facing valley, surrounded by hill farms that were part of the manor’s substantial farmland holdings until the late 1960s, when the Rhyll estate was broken up and sold off. The land was bought mainly by the estate’s former tenants, whose families remain firmly rooted in the area. The Georgian manor house, listed Grade II and set in 20 picturesque acres of park and woodland, has since changed hands several times, and is back on the market again, at a guide price of £4.25 million through Savills in Exeter (01392 455755).


  Ryhll Manor, £4.25m, Savills

But, unlike some high-profile West Country manors, where change hasn’t always turned out for the best, recent owners of Rhyll Manor have left the house in a better state than when they found it, says Martin Lamb of Savills, who is handling its sale for the third time in 20 years. Exmoor has a proud sporting history, boasting excellent shooting in its many wooded valleys, hunting with some of England’s most famous packs and good fishing on the Rivers Exe and Barle. Rhyll Manor has long been at the heart of the Exmoor sporting scene, especially during the tenure of the Hancock family, which established the South-West’s largest brewery at Wiveliscombe in the early 19th century.

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Hunting was a lifelong passion for successive generations of Hancocks, who were masters of the Dulverton foxhounds and, briefly, of the Devon & Somerset staghounds in the 1930s and 1940s and kennelled the hounds at Rhyll Manor during the Second World War. It was Exmoor’s shooting heritage that drew the manor’s present owner to this part of the world, when, in 2010, he bought the property from Lord Hamilton, who as Archie Hamilton MP, was Margaret Thatcher’s parliamentary private secretary and a lifelong friend. A plaque in the wall beside a set of stone garden steps built by Lord Hamilton is a whimsical reminder of their ‘formal’ inauguration by the late Baroness Thatcher in 2003.

Having bought the manor as a base for shooting on Exmoor, the new owner set out to create the ultimate 21stcentury shooting lodge. The gardens were beautifully remodelled by Chelsea gold-medal-winning designer Christina Williams and the illuminated helipad is located out of sight of the house so that it still blends seamlessly with its ancient landscape. The interior, however, has been totally transformed. State-of-the-art heating, plumbing and electrical systems were installed, new bathrooms were added to make six elegant bedroom suites and a sumptuous leisure complex and shoot room were created in the former coach house. Game is a recurring theme throughout the main reception rooms.

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Each carved-stone fireplace features a different game bird, a sculpted stag’s head dominates the study and the lead roof linking the manor and its former coach house is surmounted by a pair of lead pheasants. It all adds up to a shooting man’s dream-without the shoot, of course. But the vendor has solved that problem by moving on to a fully fledged shooting estate, leaving Rhyll Manor as ‘the perfect accommodation for a sporting successor’, Mr Lamb suggests.

 Hethfelton House, £5.5m, Savills

Across the county border in Dorset, illustrious Hethfelton House, near Wareham-one of Dorset’s loveliest market towns and the gateway to the Isle of Purbeck-stands at the end of a long, tree-lined drive within a tranquil, 150-acre oasis of enchanting gardens, woods and farmland. For sale through Savills (01202 856800) at a guide price of £5.5m, the Georgianstyle manor house stands on the site of an 18th-century mansion destroyed by fire in 1923, and rebuilt in 1929 using the original cellars as a footprint. Long before that, there was an 11th-century manor at Hethfelton (or Hafeltone, as recorded in the Domesday Book), which, at the time, was held by Bindon Abbey.

According to Kelly’s Directory, in the late 19th century, Heffleton House was the seat of Dorset landowner John William Townsend Fyler, and occupied ‘a commanding situation in beautifully wooded grounds of about 1,100 acres, the timbers and plantations of which are considered exceptionally fine, and very varied in character, including some fine specimens of the cedar of Lebanon’. Those wonderful trees are still a feature of the landscape. Hethfelton’s splendid Victorian gardens have recently been restored and remain protected on all sides by woods and farmland, with distant southerly views of the magnificent Purbeck Hills.

The splendour of the setting is reflected in the restrained grandeur of the 11,950sq ft main house, which has been impressively modernised and beautifully maintained. The accommodation includes a reception hall with a fine oak staircase, four reception rooms, a breakfast room and orangery, three bedroom suites, five further bedrooms, two further bathrooms and a luxurious indoor-swimming-pool complex. The former coach house has been converted to a two-bedroom guest cottage and another four-bedroom house on the north-east boundary is available for purchase by separate negotiation.

Peaceful seclusion is also the hallmark of historic, Grade II*-listed Pentlow Hall at Cavendish, Suffolk, described in Pevsner’s The Buildings of England: Essex as ‘an uncommonly fine manor house’, whose 14 acres of grounds straddle the River Stour, which forms the boundary between Essex and Suffolk. Launched in this week’s Country Life at a guide price of £1.95m through Savills in Ipswich (01473 234800), the impeccably renovated moated manor house dates from about 1500; a substantial Georgian extension was added in about 1740.

Each part of the house reflects its own period, the Tudor element having half-timbered elevations with leadedlight windows, and those of the Georgian era revealing the symmetry typical of the 18th century, with sash windows and well-proportioned rooms. The Tudor portion has exceptionally high ceilings for its time, and includes the drawing room, notable for its linenfold panelling, fine fireplace and huge oriel window, claimed to be one of the largest in the country.


 Pentlow Hall, £1.95m, Savills

The present owners of Pentlow Hall, who bought the house in 1991, have considerably improved the property, adding a large Marston & Langinger conservatory and buying in additional land. In all, the house has four main reception rooms, a garden room and study, a kitchen/breakfast room, four main bedrooms, three secondary bedrooms and three bathrooms; there is also a two-bedroom cottage, listed Grade II.The grounds include stabling, outbuildings and 300 yards of double-bank frontage to the River Stour.

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