South Wales’ Vale, with a touch of the West Country
The times are changing in Wales. The days when the only jobs were in heavy industries and the public sector, designed to attract people from across the English border, are long gone. Now the Welsh economy is one of the top-performing parts of the UK, with exports up 10 per cent year-on-year. Its property prices outperformed every other region in 2017, rising by eight per cent, according to Halifax. Little wonder then that there has been an influx of families and retirees to the area.
For those newcomers there is no better place to live than the slice of land to the west of Cardiff, between the M4 and the Severn estuary – the Vale of Glamorgan. “The Vale”, as it is known to South Walians (often with a mickeytaking posh accent) is like no other part of Wales. Forget about gloomy valleys and post-industrial pit villages, this is flat farmland, dotted with quaint villages, not unlike the West Country.
“That was one of the things that attracted me to the area,” says Mark Jennings, 41, a property consultant and mortgage adviser, who relocated to Ystradowen, three miles outside Cowbridge. He moved from near Taunton with his wife, Katie, 41, two years ago. “It’s also got fabulous connections. We can get to Cardiff in half an hour, Gower is about 40 minutes down the M4, and it’s only around 90 minutes to Pembrokeshire.”
Jennings spent £400,000 for a five-bedroom detached house, which is roughly equivalent to what you might pay in Somerset. The most popular town in the Vale for newcomers is Penarth, on the outskirts of Cardiff. “I have a theory that people down from London immediately feel at home there,” says James Thomas of Savills. “They see the rows upon rows of Victorian properties and imagine they are back in Fulham.”
Although considered expensive by South Wales standards, house prices in Penarth are a major attraction to these incomers from across the Severn Bridge. The million pounds that a very ordinary terraced house in Fulham costs will buy a spectacular five-bedroom detached with an indoor pool in Penarth. The scrapping of the toll on the Severn Bridge is also helping to bring more English homehunters over, as you can get more for your money over the Channel than in Bristol.
Penarth has a lot going for it, too. Shaped like an inverted cone, the town centre at the apex is a bustling mix of independent shops and chains and from there attractive parks and leafy avenues lead down to the sea front, with its art deco pier. The cappuccino colour of the sea rules out any thought of bathing, but it is good walking territory. Round the corner is the new Cardiff Bay development. Top restaurants have followed the new money like seagulls: restaurant James Sommerin hit the headlines when it was awarded a Michelin star in 2016, while the Fig Tree occupies a restored Victorian beach shelter.
However, it would be wrong to portray the Vale as a Welsh version of the Home Counties. That idea is quickly knocked on the head Overlooking farmland and a courtyard garden, The Granaray is a barn conversion with five bedrooms and a big kitchen with an Aga. Sitting in more than 30 acres, this three-bedroom converted farmhouse has been recently renovated and dates back more than 400 years. This two-bedroom flat has a balcony with views over the marina as well as another to the side. The apartment block has a lift and there is no chain. With four bedrooms and great connections into town, this house is near the sea and also has pretty gardens with views over fields.
James Sommerin outside his restaurant in Penarth, left; Prisk Farm in Cowbridge, main and below, £1.455m with Watts & Morgan and Knight Frank
Southwinds in Penarth, with views over the sea, is £1.4m with Knight Frank