Find your own castle in the town that’s racing ahead of the market
Middleham is an odds-on favourite with house hunters. Sharon Dale reveals why.
MIDDLEHAM’S community website proudly boasts that the town is “the jewel in the crown of Wensleydale”.
While the author may be biased, those who know the area would no doubt agree with this bold statement.
Its location is stunning. Nestling on a hillside between the River Cover and the River Ure about half an hour’s drive from Ripon, it is surrounded by breathtaking countryside with the magnificent Coverdale valley at its tip.
It has impressive historic credentials, too. Its ruined castle was the much-loved childhood home of the now infamous King Richard III, who was cared for by the Earl of Warwick. He married Warwick’s daughter Anne in 1472 and Middleham became his political power base while he administered the North on behalf of his brother King Edward IV.
Architecturally, the town still bears the hallmarks of success. Its residential property is a mix of old cottages with some lovely Georgian and Victorian houses around the cobbled market square and newer build hidden away on the outskirts.
But what really makes it special is the race horse training. Middelham has around 15 stables, including those of George Moore, Ben Haslam, Micky Hammond and top trainer Mark Johnston, who is right in the middle of town.
Former vet Mr Johnston, whose main client is Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum has put Middleham firmly on the racing map since arriving in 1988 and is the first trainer ever to have 100 winners in 10 consecutive Flat seasons.
You will hear the echo of thoroughbred hooves in the morning as the horses go up to the gallops above town and it is their riders and trainers who really add life and vibrancy to Middleham and make it different to other Dales tourist towns.
They also add another strand to a property market that now has three distinct sets of buyers.
“There is the racing fraternity who veer from extremely wealthy to completely broke. Never anything in between,” says estate agent Liz Carlisle of JR Hopper, drawing attention to the fickle nature of the racing business.
“Then there are the local families, who have lived here for generations and, of course, the third lot are people from outside who are want to live here or have a holiday home here. We have four or five pilots there now because it’s equidistant between airports.
Off cumed ’uns have helped push prices up well out of reach of most first-time buyers.
The starting price at the moment is £120,000 for a small one bedroom cottage for sale with Norman F Brown.
A family-sized period property starts at about £220,000.
Or you can buy a lifestyle property suitable for a B&B from about £300,000.
For value, look at ex-council houses and newer builds on the edge of the town.
JR Hopper has a three bedroom semi in need of modernisation for sale at £135,000.
“There are no good or bad areas. They’re all good,” says Liz, who adds that the internet, which allows people to work from home, has added to the number seeking to live the Dales dream in Middleham.
Roland Handley, 75, who has lived there all his life, says: “It has changed a lot starting in the 1960s and 1970s in that there are a lot of people from outside now. People have bought houses and done them up and now they’re too expensive for local people. When I was a lad houses cost £100.”
The town is also a popular spot for those who want to “retire” to the country. “A lot of people tend to retire twice when they come up here,” says Liz.
“First, people will retire early here at 55 or 60 and buy the house they’ve always wanted or a lifestyle property like a B&B and then between 75 and 80, they ‘retire’ again into something smaller or a bungalow and usually in Leyburn.”
Leyburn is the bust market town two miles away with more shops and facilities.
While Middleham has town status, it is village-sized, though it still has a good local shop with post office, a community centre and four pubs.
These range from sedate to lively thanks to the teenage stable boys and girls.
“It’s almost like a university for horse training and youngsters flood in desperate for somewhere to live. They are quite hard to house. They come here at 16-plus and so need a parent guarantor and finding
The riders and trainers really add life to Middleham and make it different to other Dales towns.
rental property suitable is a challenge,” says Liz.
They also come and go, and have been doing so since race horse training began here. George Formby was a stable lad here until he swapped the saddle for the stage.
This transience adds interest and constantly regenerates the population and has done since the 1700s when the first trainer set up and race meetings began on the High Moor, now home to the gallops.
“The boys and girls don’t tend to stay long but there’s still very much a community here. It’s a locals town with all sorts of clubs and groups. It also has a very low crime rate. People still tell children off for being naughty. It’s that kind of place,” says Liz.
Roland suggests that by running this piece we’ll be alerting everyone to Middleham’s charms and encouraging more outsiders to settle there. He’s right, but then according to Liz Carlisle, they’ve been coming since Richard III gave it his royal seal of approval and there really is no stopping them.
LANDMARK: Middleham Castle was the childhood home of Richard III.
,THREE TO SEE: From left, Domus, Market Place, £545,000, JR Hopper tel: 01969 622936, www.jrhopper.com – period guest house, six bedrooms and owner’s accommodation. Glasgow Cottage, £225,000, JR Hopper – Georgian cottage, four bedrooms and patio garden. Overlooks a racing stables. Jasper Cottage, £130,000, JR Hopper – two beds and patio garden.