It’s a coastal wonderland down in Devon, where the market is as buoyant as the waves
Penny Churchill finds houses for sale in South Devon
In medieval times, the South Hams region of South Devon, now part of the South Devon AONB, was a feudal estate comprising the land between the Rivers Plym and Dart and to the south of Dartmoor, with the English Channel forming its southern boundary. The area’s strategic importance ensured long-standing links with the Royal navy and inspired a grand maritime tradition, which has made its spectacular, deeply indented coastline a Mecca for seafarers, who dream of owning a house that has, as the French say, ‘les pieds dans l’eau’.
Around here, however, the best waterside houses are rarely seen on the open market. As Sarah-jane Bingham-chick of Savills explains, ‘families who inherit or manage to buy such a house tend not to sell, or only in exceptional circumstances’. It’s no wonder, then, that the executor’s sale of Woods House ( facing page) at Stoke Gabriel, near Totnes, offered at a guide price of ‘excess £4 million’ through the firm’s Exeter office (01548 800462), has sent a frisson of excitement through the upper echelons of an increasingly buoyant West Country market—as demand for highend coastal property elsewhere in the UK remains ‘a lot stickier’, leading agents say.
The ancient, no-through village of Stoke Gabriel, one of the most sought-after in the South Hams, stands on a creek of the Dart, some three miles upriver from Dartmouth. Set on its own south-facing peninsula, within 39 acres of wrap-around gardens and grounds, Woods House occupies one of the finest positions on the river, with rolling pasture sweeping gently down to the riverbank and more than half a mile of river frontage. The house enjoys total privacy, being visible only from the river and accessed through a discreet entrance in the village that leads into a tree-lined drive.
The fine Victorian stone house has been carefully restored and reconfigured in recent years to provide some 6,000sq ft of family accommodation on three floors, with three reception rooms, a large kitchen/breakfast room, a sun room, master and guest suites, five double bedrooms, four bath/shower rooms, a study and a playroom. Mod-cons include cabling for digital, audio or visual use, with additional guest accommodation provided in a separate three-bedroom cottage. Amenities include garaging, a kitchen garden with a fine Victorian glasshouse, a 40ft-long barn and a helipad.
Down at Devon’s southern tip, the creeks, sheltered waters, deep-water moorings and sandy beaches of the Salcombe estuary provide an inspiring backdrop for some of Britain’s most enviable waterside homes. The pretty estuary village of East Portlemouth is a short walk or boat ride from the
heart of busy Salcombe town, which retains much of the original charm of its days as a prosperous fishing village. Kingsbridge, at the head of the estuary, offers more comprehensive shopping, dining and leisure facilities and a highly regarded school.
Mark Proctor of Knight Frank’s Exeter office (01392 423111) is handling the sale, at a guide price of £6 million, of one of the hottest properties to hit the South Hams market in recent years. This is the majestic Upalong at East Portlemouth, an impeccably renovated, 1930s house, set in almost six acres of landscaped gardens leading to its own private beach, two-storey boathouse and slipway and no fewer than five moorings— three running and two swinging. The views from the main rooms and the terrace across the estuary, Salcombe harbour and parts of South Pool Creek are simply sensational.
The current owners, who bought the property from its previous long-term owners some seven years ago, have extensively remodelled and refurbished the unlisted main house, which offers some 5,480sq ft of contemporary living space on three levels; the lower-ground
The views across Salcombe harbour are simply sensational
floor, arranged as a two-bedroom studio annexe, could easily be integrated into the main house to provide six/seven bedrooms in all.
The main ground-floor reception rooms are accessed from a central reception hall, with an open-plan kitchen/breakfast room to one side. Some of the best views can be enjoyed from the new conservatory/dining room, which leads to both the western terrace and the indoor swimming pool. On the eastern side of the house, the drawing room and its adjoining guest bedroom also have estuary views. Even a separate one-bedroom annexe behind the house benefits from mesmerising panoramic views.
The owners have also remodelled and re-landscaped the gardens around Upalong and its annexe to ensure complete privacy —a rare and exclusive asset in a prime waterfront location, Mr Proctor points out.
Proof that the appeal of the South Hams in general, and Salcombe in particular, extends way beyond English shores, comes with the sale of the remarkable Murrawingi on exclusive Moult Road, Salcombe, through Strutt & Parker, Exeter (01548 897616), at a guide price of £2 million.
Having moved to the UK in the 1950s, Australians Geoff Chapman, a keen sailor, and his wife, Sue, were living in Wimbledon when, in the early 1970s, they discovered Salcombe and the distinctive beach-style house with its large decked balcony, which looks out across the Bar at the mouth of the Salcombe estuary and due south towards Prawle Point and the English Channel. Originally named Pickwell, it was built in the 1960s by well-known local builder David Murch, as a home in their retirement for gardener Lesley Weedon and his wife who, sadly, died not long after they moved in.
The Chapmans bought the house in 1974 and re-named it Murrawingi (Aboriginal for ‘happy home’), since when it has been the focal point of happy outdoor living for three generations of the sea-loving Chapman family. Now that she is no longer able to make the journey from Salcombe to Wimbledon on a regular basis, Mrs Chapman has reluctantly decided to sell, although she retains her links with the town through her son, who also owns a house there.
Murrawingi, with a gently curving design that takes full advantage of its dramatic panoramic views of estuary, sea, cliffs and fields, has changed little during the Chapman family’s tenure, but is now, compared with its neighbours, somewhat outdated. With its wide frontage and easy access to private Moult Road, from where a footpath leads to South Sands beach, owner and agents suggest that an outstanding contemporary home could be built on the site. Alternatively, local architects and planning consultants have identified the potential to build two separate houses, subject to the necessary planning consents.
Worth the excitement: Upalong in South Hams has its own beach and five moorings. The 1930s house has been fully renovated. £6m. Below: Perfectly private Woods House has 39 acres on a south-facing peninsula above the River Dart. Excess £4m Above:
Above: Murrawingi has superb views over the Salcombe estuary. £2m. Left: The unusual curving balcony of the house