Tapping into a liquid asset
Fiona Brandhorst goes dowsing for properties with water businesses that do far more than wash their face
Not many parents would trust their seven-year-old son to find them the house of their dreams, but fishing-loving Fred Sanders saw a fish farm and house for sale in his local Surrey paper 11 years ago and convinced his parents to go and have a look.
“We were struggling to find anything we could afford, so we thought we had nothing to lose but there were only pictures of the garden to go on,” recalls Nick Sanders, Fred’s father and the group director of brand for Clarks shoes. “The house was built in 1983 and was an agricultural dwelling, so was in very poor condition, but the three-acre garden was absolutely amazing, with four boreholes creating a stream, feeding two trout lakes with natural spring water,” he says.
The lush commuter-belt land near the sought-after village of Shamley Green was previously owned by the Duke of Northumberland in the 1800s and had been farmed as watercress beds before being run as a commercial fish farm from the early Seventies. Now it teems with wildlife, and badgers, deer and kingfishers are frequent visitors.
Sanders, and his wife Susanne, decided to gut the property and convinced local council planners to allow them to rebuild the house in a Surrey cottage-style with tile hung elevations, more in keeping with the surrounding houses, and almost doubling its size to make a handsome five-bedroom family home.
“The house came with a licence to abstract water for bottling or fish farming and we’ve renewed it each year and kept the lakes stocked with trout where we fly-fish with family and friends, but there’s potential to make a good business,” says Sanders, who considered rearing trout and establishing a smokery. Now the couple are reluctantly moving locally with their children, Fred, now 18, and Georgia, 16, to be nearer schools and friends. Arunshead Farm is on the market with Hill Clements for £1.775 million.
Vivers Mill, in Pickering, North Yorkshire, has provided an income for over 900 years, first as a paper mill and in more recent times as a flour mill after Joseph Rowntree sold it in 1740 to start his chocolate factory in York.
Today, its long history and restored mill wheel are attractions for guests at the four-star b&b, which Mike Saul and his wife, Sue, have been running for the past 17 years. “Against all advice we bought the mill in a very rundown state and we’ve restored absolutely everything ourselves,” says Saul, who turned 60 this year, triggering an urge to retire and downsize from the ninebedroom, Grade II listed property to something a bit smaller nearby.
It’s a ready-made business, on the market with Jackson, Stops & Staff for £849,000. The mill stream keeps on giving, with flycatchers, wagtails and kingfishers appealing to birdwatchers.
“The best thing about running the b&b is the freedom. We roll out of bed and start work – no commute, no hassle, just get dressed and begin,” says Saul.
Another off-the-peg property money-spinner up for grabs is Pallington Lakes, a sculpture park, complete with farmhouse, in Dorset.
Artist Simon Gudgeon created the 24 acres of landscaped grounds, dotted with his art work, in 2011. It is a haven for artists and wildlife, with 106 bird species attracted to the water, as well as otters and voles. Gudgeon and his wife, Monique, also enjoy an income stream from the fishery.
The four-bedroom house, which is included in the £2 million asking price, has a double garage and outbuildings that include an art gallery, studio and office. The barn has planning permission to convert and extend into a gallery or café.
Gudgeon is sad to leave. “With its growing popularity and the increasing amount of administration, I have moved further away from what I love best, which is creating sculpture.”
The buyer of Two Cocks Farm and Brewery, set in 40 acres of rolling Berkshire countryside, may not be so
Work of art: Pallington Lakes sculpture park and house are on the market with Symonds & Sampson, main; the living room at Two Cocks Farm, right