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Why it’s time to move up North: Beauty, beaches and the ‘Cotswolds of the North’

Although much is said of the clamour for property down south, up north, the demand has almost reached the same heights. Eleanor Doughty investigates.

The numbers alone tell the tale. ‘We’ve seen a 15% increase in buyers over the past 12 months, largely from London,’ says James Wort, head of Strutt & Parker Harrogate. ‘Lots are Yorkshire expats moving back to raise a family – a typical scenario is the husband or wife working three days in London and two days from home.’

With trains to King’s Cross within two hours from York, it’s easy to see how the two worlds can combine. The satellite villages within eight miles of Harrogate are a particular pull, says Mr Wort.

He recommends the village of Whixley, ‘famous for its cherries’, and Ripley, ‘often named as North Yorkshire’s most sought-after place’.

Yorkshire strolls

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But it’s not all about Yorkshire. Willy Browne-Swinburne grew up at Capheaton Hall, his family’s estate since 1270, 18 miles from Newcastle. He lives there today with his wife, Eliza, who runs an interiors business, ibbi, from home.

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Northumberland, Mr Browne-Swinburne says, has everything – ‘coast, hill and heather’. Culture, too: ‘Everyone seems to think that Northumberland is a place of hardcore, rough-tough fieldsports – which it is – but it was also where the great Northumbrian Catholic families led the Grand Tour, so it is rich in culture and sophistication.’

The fieldsports are superlative, he says. ‘We have the single best salmon river in England and 10 packs of hounds. It’s got everything.

‘A true Northumbrian should only really go on holiday in March – the only time of year when there’s nothing to do.’

‘Beautiful scenery, empty, sandy beaches, quiet roads’

It was this variety that drew Emma Crabtree from London. ‘When I announced I was giving up my job in the City and swapping the King’s Road for rural Northumberland, my friends thought I was having an early mid-life crisis,’ she says.

Now, she runs holiday lettings company Crabtree & Crabtree from her home outside Berwick-upon-Tweed, and has fallen in love with Northumberland, describing it as ‘heaven on earth’.

‘There’s the ‘beautiful scenery, empty, sandy beaches, quiet roads and internationally renowned country sports on the doorstep,’ she says. Plus, it’s quiet: ‘the pace of life is different.’

The same is true in the Lake District, home to shepherdess Andrea Meanwell, who has lived in a 16th-century farmhouse in the Rusland valley for the past eight years.

Rusland Valley, Lake District

Wildlife watching is a daily joy, she says – ‘there are 110 red deer hinds that can be seen most evenings and an abundance of owls’. The area is so inspiring that she’s written a memoir of a year living and working on the farm; In My Boots is published later this month.

Although the Lake District, with its UNESCO World Heritage status, may be well known to tourists, the nearby ancient Forest of Bowland AONB, home to landowner John Weld-Blundell’s family for hundreds of years, is a genuine hidden gem. It’s where The Queen, who owns a substantial parcel of land there, has said she’d like to retire.

‘People don’t realise it’s here,’ says Mr Weld-Blundell. ‘They drive past on the M6 heading to the Lake District and overlook it.’

‘The Cotswolds of the North’

The area may be little known, but there is one thing that particularly draws the crowds – cycling. Indeed, the cult of the MAMIL (‘middle-aged man in Lycra’) has been a boon for much of the North of England, chuckles David Steel, head of Savills’ Clitheroe office. ‘The Tour de Yorkshire has made it a cycling Mecca.’

Of course, this unspoilt country comes at a price. On the north-east coast, there’s a shortage of supply, points out Samuel Gibson, a partner at Strutt & Parker Morpeth. ‘Pent-up demand is causing gazumping in some cases,’ he says.

In York the market is ‘particularly active’, according to Philip Proctor of Humbert’s York, with buyers flocking to both the cathedral city (1 hour 50 minutes to King’s Cross) and the Howardian Hills, ‘sometimes known as “the Cotswolds of the North”’.

‘There’s a natural sense of community in the North,’ explains Andrew Harle, director of rural projects at Savills, rhapsodising about his homeland. ‘Although every county is fiercely proud of itself, collectively, everyone comes together as a “northerner”.