Throughout the current property boom, which may or may not be coming to an end, much has been made of soaring country-house values in almost every corner of England, and much of Scotland. Yet little has been made of the quiet revolution that has taken place in Wales. A large proportion of Wales’s 2.9 million population is concentrated along the narrow southern coastal strip linking Newport, Cardiff and Swansea, where, following the collapse of the coal and steel industries, huge chunks of regeneration money are being ploughed into large-scale redevelopment. A new Welsh spirit of free enterprise is reflected in the emergence of Cardiff as a major financial centre, bringing with it a new breed of home-grown entrepreneurs who are happy to compete with their English counterparts for trophy country properties. This was the case earlier this year when a Welsh property developer bought the historic Wyelands estate near Chepstow, Gwent, for more than the £5.5 million guide price.
Many English buyers seeking a country property within two hours drive of London now see this lovely part of rural South Wales as an alternative to Devon, says Anthony Clay of Knight Frank, who moved back to Abergavenny eight years ago. Matching supply to demand is the biggest problem he faces in an area that has seen the construction of few grand country houses in the past 100 years, and the demise of many. Local knowledge is an advantage, he adds, in places where the grapevine works best, as in the hills around Brecon known as ‘Happy Valley’ for its popularity as a retirement destination among senior Welsh officers following their traditional final posting to the local garrison.
Savills’ new Cardiff office 029 2036 8900 quotes a guide price of £1.1m for the impeccably refurbished Craiglas Houseat Talybont-on-Usk, near Brecon, in the heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Built in about 1800, and the home of Lord Brecon until the early 1900s, Craiglas House, listed Grade II, has five reception rooms, seven bedrooms, five bath/shower rooms, a study, a snooker room and a tennis court, all set in landscaped gardens overlooking the Usk valley. Although Monmouthshire/Gwent and the Vale of Glamorgan remain the targets for the smart money in South Wales, English buyers looking for a change of lifestyle tend to look further afield. They’ve been buying up smallholdings with letting potential in the beautiful south-west county of Pembrokeshire, dubbed ‘the new Cornwall’ by Peter Reilly of Savills. He’s asking £800,000 for Colby Moor at Llawhaden, near Narberth a solid 16th-century, four-bedroom farmhouse with 11 acres of land and a range of outbuildings with planning consent for conversion.
If Pembroke is the new Cornwall, then the popular fishing village of Saundersfoot, three miles from Tenby, is ‘the new Rock’, Mr Reilly suggests a little optimistically, perhaps, given that Swansea, the nearest airport, is 50 miles away. Savills quote a guide of £1m for The Dingle at Saundersfoot, a five-bedroom ranch-style house with a separate three-bedroom annexe and a large garden running down to the charmingly secluded Glen beach. Idyllic Cresswell Quay at the top of the Milford Haven Waterway, 10 miles inland from Tenby, is one of South Wales’ best-kept secrets. Knight Frank 01432 273087 and Owen & Owen 01646 621500 quote a guide of £750,000 for pretty Georgian Cresswell House overlooking the quay, one of the village’s most familiar landmarks, and a popular B&B for many years. Built in about 1750 Grade II-listed Cresswell House has five bedrooms, four bathrooms, a cottage, and gardens leased from the Cresselly estate for a ‘peppercorn’ £5 a year.
Up in North Wales, country-house prices in the tranquil Vale of Clwyd have been rising steadily on the back of the area’s growing popularity with cross-border commuters, many of whom own holiday homes on the coast. Jackson-Stops & Staff 01244 328361 and Savills 01952 239500 quote a guide price of £1.85m for secluded Coed Marchan near the historic town of Ruthin, 24 miles from Chester and 34 from Liverpool, via the A55 expressway. Money goes a long way here it’s a fine six-bedroom country house, with a leisure complex, a tennis court, stabling, a floodlit manège, and 26 acres of gardens, paddocks and woodland.