Country houses for sale

The East Anglia property market

Having shaken off its image as an inaccessible backwater, East Anglia is fast-tracking its way to success in the property stakes. Once considered quiet and quaint due to its poor road connections, acres of sugar beet and marshy creeks, the region is being sought out by an increasing number of buyers in search of unspoilt countryside and empty beaches. ‘People used to look down their noses at the area, partly because of Essex. But an increasing percentage of buyers is choosing East Anglia-not least because you get a lot more for your money,’ says Paddy Pritchard-Gordon of Knight Frank.

Stretching across six counties Essex, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk the region appeals to virtually every kind of buyer. Much-maligned Essex’s fast train links to Liverpool Street make it a favourite with City traders, for example. ‘We recently sold a house near Ipswich to a client whose daily commute is now only five minutes longer than when he lived in Balham,’ says Mark Oliver from Savills’ Ipswich office.

Areas such as the Stour valley on the Essex/Suffolk border-where John Constable painted The Hay Wain remain popular because of their natural beauty and proximity to mainline stations, including Colchester and Manningtree. Cosmopolitan Cambridge is also a favourite, thanks to its 47-minute rail link to the capital. However, commuters are increasingly willing to trade longer journeys for a better quality of life when they get home (in line with a national trend-see Country Life, April 6).

A recent study by Savills of rail use across the East of England shows that many more people are travelling from Suffolk to work in London. ‘In the past five years, there has been a significant increase in the level of commuting from Suffolk, which is up by 48%,’ says Lucian Cook, head of Savills Research. ‘Strong growth has been seen in and around Stowmarket-up 88% over five years.’

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Long beloved by artists, Suffolk-from Southwold and Aldeburgh to further inland at Bury St Edmunds and Lavenham-also retains its appeal to second-home owners and retirees. The county is known for its historic timber-framed houses, a fine example of which 16th-century Giffords Hall near Newmarket-is currently on the market with Savills (01473 234830) at £3.5 million.

But the most radiant constellation in the East Anglian firmament is the collection of villages along the north Norfolk coast. ‘The area’s star has risen and risen in recent years,’ says Louis de Soissons of Savills’ Norwich office. The ‘Champagne Shore’ has found new favour with Londoners and with ‘people who were previously looking at moving to Devon’, according to Mr Pritchard-Gordon. It spans the coast from Thornham in the west to Cley and Blakeney in the east, and the vast sandy beaches at Holkham and Brancaster (plus the birdwatching, sailing and numerous historic houses) are a big draw, as is the proliferation of smart pubs and restaurants.

One of the most popular locations is Burnham Market, which has pretty Georgian properties and boutique shops clustered around a leafy green. However, buyers who are seeking a typically north Norfolkian flint-and-brick property with a pantile roof should take a look south-east of Burnham Market, near the Georgian market town of Holt, where White Horse Farm is currently on the market with joint agents Bedfords (01328 730500) and Knight Frank (020-7629 8171). The five-bedroom, 17th-century, Grade II-listed farmhouse-complete with a four-oven Aga and five holiday barns-
is priced at £1.95 million.

‘As you go further east to Cromer and Sheringham, you find unspoilt countryside and, further inland, real Norfolk that’s accessible to Aylsham and Holt, with its top-drawer public school, Gresham’s,’ says James Brooke of Bidwells. ‘North Norfolk is in a big bubble, but other places, such as the Broads, are catching up with it,’ adds Mr Brooke.