As we learn in ‘A Literary Landscape’, it was towards the end of the 18th century that summer trips to the Lakes became more popular as the French Revolutionary Wars put a temporary cork on European Grand Tours. During this period and throughout the Victorian era, industrialists in Manchester and surrounding towns built a number of summer villas in the Lake District, an area that Daniel Defoe described, a trifle startlingly, as ‘the wildest, most barren and frightful of any that I have passed over in England’.
Today, those villas, as well as earlier stone built farmhouses with slagged roofs, form the bulk of the stock of country houses available to buy. ‘Anything of any size within the national park has been converted into hotels,’ says Jo Loughran of Davis and Bowring in Kirkby Lonsdale (01524 274440). ‘And there are few Georgian houses around, so when these come on the market they attract a premium.’
The proliferation of remote working has cast the net for country houses in and around the Lakes wider in recent years. This contributed to house prices in the area heading into the stratosphere during the boom years. Today, they’ve calmed somewhat, and buyers are seeking large discounts. ‘But these expectations aren’t mirrored by the vendors. Asking prices have come down by about 10% locally and that’s where they’re sitting tight,’ says Miss Loughran. ‘The rest is up for negotiation.’
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For super-prime estates alone, the market appears to be just lagging behind that of the south of England, believes Sean Castle of Castle Summerson Wright in Brampton (01697 742833). As appetites in the South begin to pick up, it’s encouraging more prospective buyers to look north and make offers. ‘Although the bottom end of the market is quiet, the market for super prime is picking up. But as vendors aren’t interested in moving unless the price is right, and there has been a marked increase in the number of private sales,’ says Mr Castle. ‘We have five estates on our books over £3 million which aren’t going to the open market.’
What to look for
Jannicke Taylor of Smiths Gore (01228 546400) recommends looking at Keswick, in the north Lakes. ‘It’s very pretty, but rural, so you can be out in the middle of nowhere in 10 minutes.’ South of the Lakes, the Lune Valley is famously lovely and the market town of Kirkby Lonsdale has good schools and shopping and has the benefit of being outside the national park, so off the tourist trail. Mr Castle says that houses that tick all the boxes for buyers have lake views, aren’t interrupted by road noise (‘a real problem in the valleys during the summer’), have no right-of-way problems and enough land for a cordon sanitaire ‘60 acres is good’.