When couples are expecting their first baby, they move to a bigger house. It’s part of the nesting process, so it’s no surprise that Prince William and pregnant Kate, with eight weeks to go, are abandoning seclusion in Anglesey to move into imposing Anmer Hall on the Queen’s Sandringham estate.
© Mark Large
The Duke of Cambridge is giving up his job as an RAF search-and-rescue helicopter pilot in North Wales and will perform his royal duties by commuting between Norfolk and the couple’s new apartment complex in a private wing of Kensington Palace.
Low-lying Norfolk is a beautiful county, more demanding than its softer and smaller neighbour Suffolk, with wide, windy beaches and open skies along its coast — a contrast to the quiet backwaters of the Norfolk Broads. Its market towns and villages can thank bad roads and poor rail services for keeping them unspoilt — a plus for those wanting an affordable country property rather than a super-fast commute. The royal couple will, presumably, travel by chauffeured car or helicopter.
Alastair Brown, of estate agent Strutt & Parker, says commuters cluster between Norwich and Diss, thanks to their direct lines to Liverpool Street.
- © Alamy
- © Alamy
Norfolk's peaceful homes
Good villages include Starston, 10 miles from Diss, where trains to the City take 92 minutes. An annual season ticket costs a hefty £7,600 — but it’s a property trade-off. In this picturesque village, with lots of traditional timber-framed 17th-century houses, a substantial, detached, five-bedroom period home, with half an acre of garden, will cost no more than £550,000.
Starston is perfect for those who like the quiet life. There is a church hall for toddlers’ groups, and a community wildlife meadow on which regular events, from fireworks to dog shows, are held. But that is about it. Children go to Harleston Primary School, rated “good” by Ofsted, which is a mile away in the neighbouring village.
Banham is six miles from Diss. It is also close to the A11, which is being turned into a dual carriageway. This will mean easier road links to Newmarket and the M11. This is a livelier place, with a pretty green, a shop, post office and, crucially, a couple of pubs including the Banham Barrel, which offers real ale and live music most nights. Banham Primary School is rated “good” by the government schools inspector.
Properties here range from 17th-century two-bedroom cottages, priced at about £200,000, to barn conversions at £500,000, and substantial five-bedroom farmhouses that sell for between £650,000 and £800,000.
Downham Market is an exceptionally pretty “gingerbread town” — so called because of its 16th-century cottages built from umber-hued sandstone. The town centre has some useful shops, and several pubs, every other one of which seems to be called a hotel, including Crown Hotel and Castle Hotel.
The town is next to the Fens, and sits on the River Great Ouse. It is popular with professional families. Trains to London take one hour and 26 minutes (annual season ticket: £6,120).
The old town has lovely Georgian and Victorian houses, particularly in Park Lane and Ryston End — expect to pay up to £170,000 for a three-bedroom property, or £400,000 for a detached home.
The local schools are a bit of a mixed bag, though Hillcrest Primary and Denver Voluntary Controlled Primary are both judged “good” by Ofsted. However for seniors, Downham Market High School is on special measures, which might mean shipping older children to a private school in King’s Lynn or Norwich.
Mike Howland, of Keystone Estate Agents, said the area’s other advantages include its location — half an hour by train to Cambridge for shopping and nightlife and less than 40 miles’ drive to the lovely seaside town of Wells-next-the-Sea.
“We have got one of the only successful markets in the area, there are 106 local clubs in Downham Market, so whatever your interest there is something to do, and there is good walking on the Fens and some of the best fishing in the country,” he said.
For would-be second-home owners, Norfolk is far away enough to feel like you are getting away from it all, but not so far that a weekend away feels like more time spent in the car than the fresh air.
Homes beside the seaside: Loddon
A top choice as a staging post to the Norfolk Broads is Loddon, which has its own marina where boats can be moored. The town has a good stock of Edwardian and Georgian houses — £250,000 to £300,000 will buy you a smart three-bedroom period terrace in the town centre.
Neil Russell, a property consultant at Musker McIntyre estate agents, said Loddon is not only a picturesque town, but has plenty of facilities — including the award-winning Rosie Lee’s tea room, The Swan pub and restaurant, a film club, and interesting shops. It is also only about 12 miles to Norwich, for shops and nightlife, as well as trains to London (from an hour and 47 minutes to Liverpool Street). It is also about 20 minutes’ drive to the beach at Gorleston-on-Sea.
If you believe that a second home must equal a view of the sea, then the exquisite Wells-next-the-Sea is the pick of north Norfolk’s coastal villages, with lovely sandy beaches, cracking pubs, and country walks on the doorstep. The vibe is peaceful, though the rising number of second-home owners is prompting the arrival of new cafés, boutiques and restaurants.
In terms of price, you could secure a dream holiday retreat — a chocolate-box two-bedroom cottage — for about £275,000, or a three- to four-bedroom house in the town centre for about £350,000. And Wells is only 25 miles from Sandringham, so it’s perfect if you want to walk in the 240-acre country park or take a tour of the royal country retreat.