The Malvern Hills may lack the kudos of the Cotswolds, but this designated area of outstanding natural beauty that straddles the counties of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and northern Gloucestershire has good schools and beautiful homes, and you can buy more for your money.
In the past five years, while house prices in the Cotswolds — home to prime minister David Cameron and the Chipping Norton set — have risen 18.6 per cent, in the Malvern Hills growth has been just 6.1 per cent, according to research from Knight Frank. In the Malverns the average price of a home in 2014 was £272,914 — 19.34 per cent lower than a property in the Cotswolds, where the average price was £338,365 last year.
Mention the Malvern Hills and for many this will call to mind spring water. The Queen was once reported to stock up on these bottles ahead of her travels, refusing to drink any other brand.
Composer Edward Elgar and author CS Lewis are two other famous exports of the area. Lewis would frequently walk in the hills with his friend JRR Tolkien, and Elgar sought musical inspiration here. “The trees are singing my music,” he once said to a friend, “or have I sung theirs?”
Malvern itself is a former spa town that grew rapidly after the railway arrived in 1860. As a result, there is no shortage of imposing Victorian villas, which were once guesthouses or B&Bs but have now been converted into large family homes with much appeal for Londoners seeking greener pastures.
One obvious draw for buyers is prices. An average detached property in inner London costs £1.53m, according to a report by Strutt & Parker. Yet for less than £1m, it is possible to buy a nine-bedroom, former hotel in Malvern. The Victorian-era, detached property is on the market with local agent Philip Laney & Jolly for £929,950. It is a short walk from both Great Malvern train station and the town centre.
Tom Grant, of local agents Grant & Co, says that 29 per cent of buyers using his agency this year have been from London or the south-east. “It’s that little bit too far to commute daily, but many of our clients will cash in [their property] in the capital, buy a large family home here and a pied-à-terre in London.”
Alternatively, according to Charles Probert of Knight Frank’s office in Worcestershire, buyers are professionals with more flexible working arrangements who might need to travel into London once or twice a week. The direct train from Great Malvern to London Paddington takes two-and-a-half hours.
The local schools are another big draw for families. The highly respected independent secondaries Malvern College and Malvern St James, along with prep schools The Downs and The Elms, are all in or near the town centre, while the prestigious Cheltenham Ladies College is less than an hour away by train. “Malvern has the kind of schools that parents move across the country to send their kids to,” says Probert.
Properties in Great Malvern, the historical centre of Malvern, are most in demand, with many buyers seeking amenities close to hand, say agents. These include the mainline train station, renowned for its ornate Victorian ironwork, independent shops and the Malvern Theatres, an arts centre.
At the southern end of the hills, an eight-bedroom Grade II-listed house with a pool and three acres of land in Ledbury is on the market for £1.1m with Grant & Co. Another rural property — on the Gloucestershire-Worcestershire border — is on the market with Knight Frank for £1.25m. It features six bedrooms, several outbuildings and 17 acres of land.
“Larger places in Herefordshire, where you get much more for your money but are 20 minutes [from] school or town, aren’t selling quite as well. You may get more bedrooms, more outbuildings . . . but buyers want the lifestyle,” says Probert.
There are compromises to be found: a three-bedroom church conversion, on sale with Knight Frank for £485,000, overlooks the hills but is still within two-and-a-half miles of the town centre.
In Malvern buyers might appreciate the convenience of being able to walk to Waitrose or catch a train to Cheltenham for a shopping trip, but the lower values of properties suggest something is lacking in comparison with the Cotswolds’ coveted country scene. Unlike its trendier neighbour, it is that little bit too far from London to attract the Kate Moss crowd, and Soho House won’t be opening there anytime soon.
Yet the Malverns are by no means a rural backwater. Tim Fletcher, a writer who lives in the area, says: “It’s peaceful, which is a large part of its appeal, but there’s enough going on. There are some great gastropubs — The Wellington in Colwall and the Michelin-starred Butcher’s Arms in Eldersfield.”
There is also the aforementioned arts centre; this month it is showing a live screening of Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench in The Winter’s Tale.
Such attractions make Malvern popular for retirees and downsizers, as well as younger families. For many, the town’s lack of commutable proximity to London is its downfall, while for others, that is precisely its appeal.
● From Great Malvern rail station there are direct links to London Paddington (two hours 30 minutes) and Birmingham New Street (one hour). Birmingham is about an hour’s drive away
● Eighty-one crimes were reported in August 2015 in the Chase and Priory district of Malvern, down from 100 crimes reported the year before
● The independent schools Malvern College and Malvern St James, as well as state school The Chase, draw buyers to the area
What you can buy for . . .
£500,000 A four-bedroom Victorian townhouse house in Great Malvern
£1m A six-bedroom house with land in a village in the Malvern Hills
£2m A property with eight bedrooms and extensive land in one of the prettiest villages near Great Malvern
For more properties, please visit ftpropertylistings.com
Photographs: Peter Lewis/Getty Images; Alamy