Country houses for sale

Farms and agricultural properties buoyant

Traditionally, the second quarter of the year is always the busiest for farmland sales, with vendors keen to market land and farms when they’re looking their best, with a view to completing a sale before the start of the next cropping year. For all its problems, 2011 has been no exception.

Back in April, Giles Wordsworth, head of national farms and agency at Smiths Gore (01865 733300), was ‘spot on’ when he prophesised that the sale of the scenic, 702-acre Manor Farm at West Overton, near Marlborough, in the North Wessex Downs AONB, would set the benchmark for farmland values in Wiltshire for the year. Following its launch in Country Life, ‘unprecedented interest’ from prospective purchasers resulted in Manor Farm going under offer within two weeks, and selling for 20% more than its £6.2 million guide price.

Market intelligence suggests that Mr Wordsworth can repeat the process with next week’s launch of Manor Farm at Chirton, near Pewsey, Wiltshire, at a guide price of £4.625m. The picturesque, 470-acre farm, mainly arable with some pasture, stands against a backdrop of one of the Pewsey Vale’s famous White Horses. 

It comes with a pretty, Grade II-listed, four-bedroom farmhouse on the edge of the village and a range of traditional farm buildings that could be converted to equestrian or even residential use, subject to planning consent. The land is of excellent quality, being half grade 1 Pewsey greensand-a soil renowned for its moisture-retaining properties the other half being mainly grade 3.

In a farmland market that has seen supply dwindle in the past three decades-from an average of 328,000 acres sold each year in the 1980s, to 246,000 a year in the 1990s, and 143,000 a year in the 2000s-Charlie Wells of buying agents Prime Purchase reports sustained demand ‘from investment-motivated buyers, particularly where a farm presents a good combination of crop-yield potential within an attractive setting, as well as some wildlife and amenity value. Buyers are often prepared to pay a premium for productive land set in appealing countryside: the “green and pleasant land” image is what the majority look for’.

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Week Farm

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Land doesn’t come much greener or more pleasant than the 102 wooded acres of idyllic Week Farm (pictured) at Combe Hay, near Bath, Somerset, which launches in this week’s Country Life at a guide price of £4.75m through Knight Frank (01225 325999). Week Farm sits in a dreamy small valley overlooking the enchanting stone village of Combe Hay, within the Cotswolds AONB, yet is only three miles-or 10 minutes’ drive -from Bath city centre. Charles II is rumoured to have found refuge here for a week in 1651 while on the run from Cromwell.

The present owners, whose family bought the farm in 1964, are now returning to their native Yorkshire. They have transformed Week Farm into a mini-sporting estate, completely rebuilding the house, which had been derelict for more than 30 years. It now has four reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, master and guest suites, four further bedrooms and a family bathroom, its centrepiece a splendid cantilevered stone staircase leading up to the second floor. Outbuildings include two cottages, an original stone barn, an office suite and two large barns with B2 business use.

The land is let on a Farm Business Tenancy to a local farmer until 2012, and the shooting rights until February 2012, with the owner of Week Farm taking one or two ‘family days’ in lieu of rent.
London buyers are always a force in the market for easily run residential farms within commuting distance of the City. Tim Page-Ratcliff of Strutt & Parker in Lewes (01273 475411) recently arranged the sale of picturesque Eatons Farm at Ashurst, near Steyning, West Sussex, at a guide price of £4.8m, within a week of its launch in Country Life.

With its recently renovated, Grade II-listed, five-bedroom Sussex farmhouse, landscaped gardens with a swimming pool and tennis court, traditional and modern farm buildings, stabling with access to the South Downs, and 183 acres of rolling farmland with frontage to the River Adur, Eatons Farm is the perfect retreat for a London family wishing to indulge in a spot of hobby farming.

But according to Ian Hep-burn, head of Hampshire-based Private Property Search (01256 242938), the independent buying arm of Strutt & Parker, there is a growing trend for London buyers to take a more active role in farming any land they buy, for the tax advantages this brings. In effect, this means hiring a local contractor to farm the land on their behalf, rather than letting it to a tenant. This year alone, Mr Hepburn has purchased no fewer than five farms of 150 acres or more-mainly in Hampshire and the Cots-wolds-on behalf of City investors who wished to build a new house on site and contract-farm the land, while continuing to run their London operations.

For one southern family, the purchase of a Yorkshire grouse moor some 20 years ago was followed soon after by that of a charming small sporting estate in the glorious Howardian Hills AONB between Malton and York. That was secluded Potter Hill near Coulton, 12 miles from Malton, which sits tucked away in its own private valley, surrounded by 152 acres of formal gardens, well-fenced grass paddocks, lakes and woodland. Now, the owners are heading back south, and Potter Hill is
for sale through Rounthwaite & Woodhead in Malton (01653 600747) and Savills in London (020-7499 8644) at £2.85m.

At the heart of the estate stands the main house, a striking building redesigned in the 1930s with three main reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, a large conservatory and garden room, a billiards room, an indoor swimming pool, a gun room, five main bedrooms, four bathrooms and a four-bedroom guest wing. Amenities include a tennis court, stabling, lakes and a family shoot.

Generally speaking, however, agriculture is a serious business, and across the Cheshire border in scenic north-east Wales, former CLA president Mark Hudson is retiring from farming and selling the 271-acre Rhyd-y-Cilgwyn estate near Ruthin, in the Vale of Clwyd, which has been in his wife’s family for 65 years. The estate was bought soon after the war by his wife’s uncle and established as a thriving dairy farm, first with dairy shorthorns and later, when he was already 80 years old, with British Friesians. Mr Hudson, an agricultural consultant, and his wife, Sue, came over to help with the running of the farm in 1973, and took it over altogether some six years later. It has been fully organic since 2002.

Strutt & Parker (020-7629 7282) quote a guide price of £3.75m for Rhyd-y-Cilgwyn, which is being sold as a whole or in up to 13 lots, with the house, gardens, modern and traditional farm buildings and some pasture-31.7 acres in all-on offer at £1.2 million. The main estate house, listed Grade II, was completely refurbished following a fire in 2000, and has four reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, eight bedrooms and six bathrooms, on three floors. It overlooks lawns and the River Clywedog, the banks of which are lined with mature trees, snowdrops and daffodils.

The dairy business is currently run as a contract farming venture and includes an exceptional range of farm buildings built 13 years ago, in addition to a range of brick former dairy buildings and storage sheds. The estate includes 179 acres of arable land (with 139 acres currently down to ley grass) and some 78 acres of woodland, with ‘some nice dips into the valley’ offering scope for a challenging family shoot. Included in the sale is a terrace of four cottages and 1.25 miles of fishing on the Clywedog.

Finally, where else but in Scotland would £2m buy you a productive, 408-acre, arable and mixed farm with a modernised four-bedroom traditional farmhouse, two good cottages and a first-class pheasant and partridge shoot with duck-flighting and roe stalking? The Brechin office of Savills (01356 628600) is handling the sale of Greenmyre, near Kingoldrum, at the foot of Glen Isla, six miles west of Kirriemuir, Angus, where both the farming and sporting sides have been run as part of a bigger operation by sporting icon Paddy Fetherston-Godley of Avon & Airlie Sporting Ltd. The farm, which won Mr Fetherston-Godley and his team a Purdey Award for Game and Conservation in 2008, has been run with shooting very much in mind, with woods and game crops providing testing pheasant and partridge drives.

Two cottages have been renovated and used for holiday lets, at rents of up to £385 a week, mainly tied in with the sporting lets. Planning consent, now expired, was granted in 2000 to convert part of the farm steading to further holiday accommodation.