With the craggy outline of the Lake District fells to the west and the brooding bulk of the Pennines to the east, Cumbria’s undulating, pastoral Eden Valley should be better known. The area extends roughly from the tiny market town of Kirkby Stephen in the south to the outskirts of Carlisle in the north, taking in the foothills of the Lake District around Ullswater, considered by many the most beautiful of all the lakes.
Eden Valley’s sense of space – along with its stock of good-value homes – is its biggest draw. The area is sparsely populated with just 25 people per sq km, according to the 2011 census.
Vincent Fierkens, a Dutch architectural designer, and his wife Deborah, an artist, bought a house at Brackenber Lodge, just outside the village of Shap, in 2011. In spite of its name, Brackenber Lodge is actually a group of a dozen mainly terraced houses. It has served as a poor house, a prisoner of war camp in the second world war and accommodation for mine workers. Today its owners include locals, resident incomers and second-home owners – a common mix in this part of Cumbria.
“There is a real variety in the landscapes around Shap, and they are fantastic for walking and hiking,” says Fierkens. “You also feel really close to nature. For instance, early in the autumn the red deer were rutting. The hillsides were covered in animals and the stags were making bellowing noises, competing for supremacy. It was an amazing thing to witness.”
Proximity to such scenes comes at a cost. Second-homes in Cumbria once enjoyed a council tax discount of 50 per cent; this was reduced to 10 per cent in 2004 and the discount may be cut completely from April next year.
Meanwhile, the national property slump has hit the market for barns suitable for conversion. These projects used to be popular with buyers from other parts of the UK, both as main residences and as holiday homes. They also boost the local economy and can breathe life into pretty, but isolated, villages. “I’ve noticed a slight loosening of the planning rules for conversions over the last year or so, but people seem less inclined to take on projects with a lot of work to do, no doubt because of the unpredictable state of the economy,” says Nick Miller, director of Eden Estate Agents, an agency based in Penrith.
Despite this, the property market in Cumbria remains robust. In its latest report, the Nationwide Building Society found an average 1 per cent drop in the value of homes in the region over the past 12 months.
But Eden Valley is a story of two distinct markets. The homes that carry a premium are in the part of the Valley that is covered by the building restrictions – and the cachet – of the Lake District National Park. Miller says: “In the northeast corner of the national park … the premium can be as high as 20 per cent.”
One example is Brownrigg House, an 18th-century farmhouse at the foot of Great Mell Fell, three miles from Ullswater lake. The property has five bedrooms, a wood-panelled staircase and five acres of land. It is on sale through Eden Estate Agents for £795,000.
According to Ran Morgan of Knight Frank, there are about 60 properties on sale for £1m or more across the Lake District, although these are concentrated in the south of the park around Windermere, the largest lake.
Properties in and around Eden Valley offer more value: a six-bedroom, late-Victorian home with a large garden at Sebergham Castle, just outside the northern boundary of the national park, has an asking price of £520,000 (through H&H Land and Property). It is a short drive from Caldbeck, a village within the park.
The property is also 18 miles from Carlisle airport, where commercial passenger flights are likely to start in the first half of 2014. According to Andy Judge, manager of Carlisle airport, the £25m revamp of the facility – currently mainly used by private jets and RAF search-and-rescue helicopters – will take about 12 months to complete. Although Eden Valley is well-connected by rail (Penrith is three hours from London by direct train), the nearest commercial airports are in Blackpool and Manchester to the south, and Newcastle and Glasgow to the east and north.
Aer Arann, an Irish carrier, has shown interest in starting routes from Carlisle to London Southend and Dublin. “London Southend has a good direct link to Liverpool Street, plus onward flights to Europe; and a connection to Dublin would feed into services to North America,” says Judge.
A revival in traditional Cumbrian food is also helping to put Eden Valley on the map. A number of gastropubs have opened over the past decade, although the Sharrow Bay Country House Hotel on Ullswater is currently Eden’s only Michelin-starred place. The inaugural Eden Foodival – a festival celebrating local food – was held in Brough in August.
Home-seekers looking for a bargain should consider the farming communities east of Penrith. The dark, slate-like stone often seen in the Lake District proper is less common in these parts, where many homes are built of deep-red sandstone.
In the popular village of Great Salkeld, five miles from Penrith, a three-bedroom period sandstone home with a large garden is available for £399,950 through Cumbrian Properties.
In the centre of Penrith, J&J Graham is a favourite shop for second-home owners stocking up on local sausages and cheeses. The grocery store, in business since 1793, typifies Eden’s rustic charm. Perhaps the pace of life is too sedate for some, though; the council recently advertised for entertainers to perform at the Penrith farmers’ market to liven things up a bit.
Beautiful, unspoilt scenery
Many pretty villages
Low crime rate
Period homes often need upgrading
Summer weather can be poor
Property values are falling slightly
What you can buy for …
£100,000 A two-bedroom cottage outside the Park in need of renovation
£1m A four-bedroom home in the National Park with lake views