Cowes commuter watch

As the island resort only two hours from London prepares for its annual yacht race, Ruth Bloomfield finds the town set fair
Sailing during Cowes Week
Homeowners can rent to sailors during Cowes Week
August marks the beginning of Cowes Week. It is a high point in the social calendar - and not just for the sailing set - when 8,500 competitors from all over the world descend on the Isle of Wight for a little yacht racing and a great deal of partying.

Cowes will be alive with the popping of Pol Roger and the tread of Dubarry deck shoes along its narrow streets. But Cowes is not simply a cute seaside resort prone to a midsummer frenzy. It is emerging as something of a property hotspot with excellent transport links to London.

In the past year, according to data assembled by Savills, house prices in the town have increased by almost 11 per cent, to an average £215,000. But as they are still 3.4 per cent below their 2007 peak this might be a good time to buy.

The island can seem a million miles from London yet it takes only two hours to commute - and that includes the short ferry hop to Southampton Town Quay from West Cowes, a bus to Southampton Central, and an 80-minute train journey to Waterloo.

"Cowes is a pretty seaside town with a lot of nice restaurants but it is very accessible," said Sam Biles, managing director of Creasey Biles & King.

Ian Bolton, manager of Marvins estate agents, says he regularly sells homes to London commuters as well as to second-home owners, who often work part of the week at home - a good idea when you discover that season tickets are not available on this journey and a single fare costs about £45.

A three-bedroom townhouse in Cowes Old Town
£699,000: a three bedroom townhouse in Cowes Old Town (01983 200880)
In Cowes, all roads tend to lead to Old Town, the heartland of West Cowes, thanks to its proximity to both the high-speed ferry terminal (22 minutes to the mainland) and to the Royal Yacht Squadron - the smartest of all the sailing clubs on the island.

Where to buy in Cowes


Biles says the best streets in the Old Town are Castle Road, Sun Hill and Market Hill, where a two- to three-bedroom sailor's cottage will cost from £250,000 (compared with £130,000 to £140,000 further out).

At the top end are landmark homes such as Ivy House, which was recently reduced in price from £1.6 million to £1.35 million. This Grade II-listed pile (creasey-biles-king.co.uk) has uninterrupted harbour views, perfect for watching the yachting action.

Alternatively, the double Olympic sailing champion Sarah Gosling - one of the "three blondes in a boat" who took gold in Athens and Beijing - and her husband Adam are selling their Cowes home for £3.25 million. For that you get six bedrooms, a bunk house for crew, a boat store and a mooring. Visit knightfrank.com.

Ivy House
£1.35 million: Ivy House overlooks the harbour and has six bedrooms (creasey-biles-king.co.uk)

A sticky market


Despite the town's recent price rises, Bolton finds the market in Cowes quite sticky. "We are in a tough market that is very price-conscious. We are running at fairly normal levels of stock but sellers and buyers are not really meeting.

"Second-home owners are not under pressure to sell. If they don't get their price, they may just take it off the market, though some will move for a good offer and a quick sale." Charles Spence, director of Christopher Scott, says the change to the market is that few are buying second homes and more are keen to relocate entirely.

Cowes has three Blue Flag beaches and 11 others recommended by Keep Britain Tidy, and the old town is stuffed with interesting shops. And even non-sailors like to get involved with the social side of yachting in the Coast Bar on Shooters Hill. There is also a trio of fun pubs, the Pier View, The Union and The Anchor, and the Michelin-starred Hamborough Hotel.

Schools also do well on Cowes, with Northwood Primary School and Solent Middle School both given top marks by the Government schools watchdog Ofsted. It rates Cowes High School "good" and there are hopes of standards improving still further when the school takes on Academy status and a new building in September.

Flats at Number One The Parade
£160,000: a one bedroom flat at Number One The Parade, near the yacht clubs (01983 527744)
West Cowes is the obvious place to house hunt but there are signs that cheaper East Cowes may be making a comeback. An ongoing regeneration scheme has seen its marina expanded. Developer David Wilson Homes has just launched its Victoria Walk development there, priced from £119,995 (dwh.co.uk). And Waitrose has recently opened a branch.

A fringe benefit of Cowes Week for non-sailors is the opportunity to rent out your house and pay for a holiday while the event is running. A five-bedroom home would attract up to £5,000 for the week and a two-bedroom cottage fetches about £1,500.


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