Sporting estates are the greatest prize

Every self-respecting billionaire should own their own country estate – it’s the ultimate prestige purchase, discovers Caroline McGhie.


It is one of the things we do best. Our sporting estates offer more romance, spectacular landscape and historical resonance than any in the world. The great salmon rivers of Scotland, the dancing chalk streams of Hampshire, the majestic hills of Leicestershire where the Quorn Hunt rides out, the woodlands and pastures of rural England teeming with pheasants – these are crucial ingredients in this highly specialised niche market. What new billionaire doesn’t dream of being monarch of the glen to his own Glenbogle?

In these harder economic times, very few sporting estates come to the market, but when they do they attract some of the richest buyers in the world. “Some, particularly the grouse moors, sell privately – under the radar so no one knows about them,” says Alex Lawson, director of Savills country department. “The likelihood is that the buyers and sellers will know each other anyway. Grouse moors are pretty exciting to international buyers because they are unique to this country.

“Really good driven shooting is also hard to find anywhere else in the world. They are idiosyncratically British and symbolise the old aristocratic lifestyle.”

What makes the perfect estate? There must be a big country house, a few cottages, outbuildings and land, with the value split roughly half and half between the house and the land. Magic dust is supplied by a spectacular setting.

“Some people want remoteness, some want hugely challenging sport,” says Lawson. “As a rule, the more dramatic the scenery, the more impressive the shoot is. But at the same time, it means the quality of the farmland is not as good.” As the price of good arable land in England has soared in the past few years, reaching an average £6,000 an acre and performing better than gold, a balance has to be struck.

These trophy purchases for the super-rich are the property equivalent of fine art or fine wines, bought and sold when they fancy. The stars currently for sale are Noseley Hall, a beautiful historic estate with a Grade I chapel, cottages, shoot and more than 1,000 acres in Leicestershire at £12 million, and the Hoddington Estate, “a Hampshire jewel” with a Grade II star mansion, cottages, land and shoot at £20 million, both through Knight Frank (020 7629 8171).

Some buyers like fast access to London. On the borders of Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire, 45 minutes by car from the capital, the Kingston Wood Manor Estate is being offered by Savills (020 7016 3780) and Carter Jonas (020 7493 0676) at £8.5-£9 million. “It has enough land, enough contours, enough cover for a good shoot and a nice house in the middle,” says Lawson.

The house has seven bedrooms, plus four cottages and 740 acres. The well-placed woodlands, ponds and game covers provide up to 10 days’ shooting a year – mostly pheasant and partridge, with the odd mallard and woodcock.

Another plum on the Northumberland borders is Castle Heaton and Shellacres, with a seven-bedroom house, tower house, cottages, farm and more than 1,000 acres, being sold as a whole (or in two lots) by Strutt & Parker (01670 500870) at £11.5 million. There is a pheasant shoot, roe deer stalking and more than two miles of salmon and sea trout fishing on the River Till, with picturesque twists, turns and pools.

Small can be beautiful, too. At the other end of the country, in Cornwall, nine-bedroom Hamatethy farmhouse, with a pair of cottages, more than 500 acres and fishing rights on the River Camel is priced at £4 million.

“It is the perfect small country estate, which is exciting the interest of Londoners in search of a new lifestyle,” says Jack Mitchell of Chesterton Humberts (01823 331234). “The fishing rights make it desirable and the shooting is informal – woodcock and snipe.”


One of the most famous chalk streams in the world runs just a few feet from Robert Brydges’s kitchen door. Most days he has breakfast sitting beside it, and when the wind drops he can hear wild trout sipping insects from the surface. His home, Oakley Farmhouse, sits in the idyllic village of Mottisfont in Hampshire on one of the most prized fishing beats on the River Test, the Oakley, after which the house is named.

It is a setting fit for one of the three outright winners of Chris Tarrant’s Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Brydges triumphed in 2001, the first winner after the coughing incident, and he attracted attention because he was a millionaire already. He had made his money in the City and owned a house in Holland Park as well as Oakley. It is such a prized piece of unspoilt England that it is no wonder he chose not to move on. With a friend in the village he founded the Mottisfont Fishing Club, so the rhythms of the streams, the weed-cutting and the nymphing have become as important to him as breathing.

He explains the network of beats. “The Test forms two channels as it flows through the village, one much wider than the other, which is called the main, while the western carrier is the Oakley. Then it goes through Mottisfont Abbey grounds, where we don’t fish and there are many visitors. Below the abbey it runs past the church and the rectory and we have the rectory beat. Then the River Dun comes in there and joins the Test.”

Opposite Oakley Farmhouse is the preserved atmospheric thatched fishing hut that once belonged to the high priest of fly fishing, FM Halford, who fished these waters a century ago and wrote the definitive works on fly fishing.

Brydges is now selling the house on a 65-year lease from the National Trust, which owns the Mottisfont Estate. It has six bedrooms, five acres including a wild flower meadow, 89ft (270m) of riverbank and a running track. Strutt & Parker (01722 344010) is pricing it at £2.2 million. “A long lease in the country is unusual, so the price is much lower than you would expect. It is really a £3.5 million house,” says Brydges.

He no longer works in the City but has been doing an MA at The Shakespeare Institute. A copy of Chris Tarrant’s million-pound cheque is framed in the loo. So what was his little millionaire indulgence?

“I planted 50 truffle-inoculated oak saplings, which take around eight to 10 years to produce, so they are just about ready now.” The new owner of Oakley Farmhouse could rustle up truite aux truffes straight from the garden.

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