Wheel-free weekends

I love the idea of leaving the car behind for a weekend – not only is it less stressful, it also feels eco and carefree to be car-free. Sawday’s has also spotted the trend for travelling by train to escape the Big Smoke and has just launched a collection of properties dedicated to ditching the wheels – here are a few of my favourites.

The Potting Shed
The Potting Shed

A potting shed in Kent
There’s something about a potting shed and this one is exceptional. In the prettiest part of Kent, it stands in the former kitchen garden of Benenden Grange where plantsman Collingwood Ingram once lived. Largely open plan, on three floors, you’ve a sitting room, a natty little kitchen and a double bed up on the mezzanine. Tour the topiary garden, stroll to the idyllic village pub, visit sweet villages and gardens; Sissinghurst and Great Dixter (two of my absolute favourites) are close. Take the train to Headcorn and bus or taxi to Benenden.

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The Potting Shed , Benenden, Kent, from £264 for a 4 night stay (sleeps 2), www.sawdays.co.uk / 01580 240 308

 

Seascape
Seascape

Step out onto the beach in Sussex 
Miles of white sand and shoreline are yours. Rooms are sprinkled with wrought-iron candlesticks, portholes and shells. Awe inspiring to be so close to the sea, as dramatic views encircle the driftwood bed.

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The beach is an extension of the living room and the neutral palette does not compete with those views. Indulge in a spot of pampering: book a massage or reiki session. Take a train to Rye and a bus or taxi to Camber.

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Seascape, Camber, Sussex, from £125 per night (sleeps 3), www.sawdays.co.uk / 01797 224754

 

The Treehouse
The Treehouse

Sleep at tree level in Hertfordshire
While looking out at lofty pines, imagine Henry VIII thundering by… This whole area was part of the hunting estate of nearby Hatfield House. An attractive, white-tiled, living area awaits through the stable door and there’s a small pitch-ceilinged sitting area with Velux window, L-shaped sofa, faux fur throw and magazines to relax with. Look into birds’ nests, and watch deer forage below! Take the train to Ware and hop on the bus to Essendon.

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The Treehouse, Essendon, Hertfordshire, from £495 per week (sleeps 2), www.sawdays.co.uk / 01707271794

 

The Dundas Arms
The Dundas Arms

Canalside in the North Wessex Downs 
This classic inn sits in a stunning spot at the junction of the Kennet river and Kennet & Avon Canal. Check out the papers by the log fire in the Library, a civilised space with leather wing chairs, or have a drink in the modern-traditional bar before tucking into a pork sharing-board, local game pie or whole baked sea bass. Comfortable bedrooms open to gorgeous riverside terraces.Take the train direct to Kintbury and you’re just a stroll away.
The Dundas Arms, Kintbury, Berkshire, from £110 per night, www.sawdays.co.uk / 01488 658263

 

The Barn at Roundhurst
The Barn at Roundhurst

Beautiful barn stay on the South Downs
This 17th-century barn is contemporary with leather sofas, beautiful sculpture and cow hide rugs. Upstairs, there’s an honesty bar, then a library for books and maps, playing cards and poker chips!

20131011-_dsc9694.jpg_gallery_previewChic rooms spiral around a pretty courtyard with boarded floors, blond wood furniture, smart fabrics and the odd exposed beam. Great walks from the door and Petworth and Goodwood are close. Take the train to Haselmere and bus to Lurgashall.

_dsc1910.jpg_gallery_previewThe Barn at Roundhurst, Lurgashall, Sussex, from £130 per night, www.sawdays.co.uk / 01428 642535

 

Fox House
Fox House

Cotswolds country idyll
In this big stylish house, guests can relax in one of two super sitting rooms and take their pick from three immaculate, sunny bedrooms. Wake up to local produce, homemade bread, jams and juices from the orchard. The garden leads to pasture and horses, the countryside is dreamy in every season and footpaths radiate from the door. Take a train to Kingham and bus / taxi to Holwell.

 

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Fox House, Burford, Oxfordshire, from £100 per night, www.sawdays.co.uk / 01993 823409

 

The coach house at Colchester Hill House
The coach house at Colchester Hill House

Listed wooden coach house
This listed brick Coach House is rather special: light and airy with pale beams, oatmeal carpets and merry gingham blinds. Downstairs is a private entrance hall; upstairs a generous open-plan bedroom/living area with a queen-sized bed and en suite bathroom. Find two cream sofas that open into double beds and a balcony with stunning views across the Colne Valley. Take the train to Chappel and Wakes Colne, changing at Marks Tey.

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Colchester Hill House, Colchester, Essex, from £95 per night, www.sawdays.co.uk / 01787221561

 

Waterlock House
Waterlock House

Kent village meets Provencal style 
A stylish Georgian town house with an airy loft apartment on two floors.

hallway-kitchen-sawdays-013_gallery_previewThe vast bedroom/sitting room has French antique quirky pieces (owner, Sophie, has an antique shop next door), a painted black and white diamond floor, a sink-into sofa and a very comfortable big bed with a colourful cover.

garden-shots-009_gallery_previewTake some time in the fantastic, authentic Provençal-style walled garden behind. Take a train to Canterbury and bus or taxi to Wingham.

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Waterlock House, Wingham, Canterbury, Kent, £120 per night, www.sawdays.co.uk / 01227 721792

 

Blue Door Barns
Blue Door Barns

If you must have wheels, borrow better ones
Four charming flint barns hug a candle-lit courtyard, each has been stylishly restored for a relaxed, pampering stay; two have kitchens and living rooms; all are decorated in warm whites, with splashes of colour and vintage pieces.

bluedoor014.jpg_gallery_preview Al-fresco heaven with a rustic table under a rose-covered pergola, and a twinkling outdoor fireplace in the evenings. If you simply must have wheels, hire the stunning 1966 Triumph Spitfire MK1 to cruise the country lanes. Take a train direct to Lewes and walk / taxi to the barns.

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Blue Door Barns, Lewes, Sussex, from £110 per night, www.sawdays.co.uk / 01273 858893

 

 

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Manhattan meets East London

A raft of new sky-piercing towers is springing up at Canary Wharf – allowing new residents to live the high life, in more ways than one

South Quay Plaza
South Quay Plaza

Berkeley Homes has built a reputation on being a bit special, as their managing director Harry Lewis says “we don’t do any ‘standard’ products, each development is bespoke and hand-picked. We pick our projects very carefully – it keeps us honest and it makes what we do different and full of character. We don’t have a cookie-cutter approach.”

And there is certainly nothing cookie-cutter about their latest project. It is extraordinary: a gleaming, slimline glass tower designed by Foster + Partners sitting at the crossroads of two docks, right opposite South Quay DLR and on a direct path (once they’ve built a bridge across the dock) to the Jubilee line and Crossrail station.

It wouldn’t look out of place in downtown Manhattan or Hong Kong and in an instant it has made the rest of Canary Wharf look dated and clunky – which is no mean feat.

South Quay Plaza will be surrounded by "pocket" parks
South Quay Plaza will be surrounded by “pocket” parks

It is brave and bold and startlingly tall, soaring to 68 storeys, making it the UK’s tallest residential scheme (ahead of the Shard, whose penthouse sits on the 64th and 65th floors). Around the base of the two diamond-shaped towers, angled to make the most of the sunlight and dual-aspect position on the dock, there will be 10,000 square feet of retail and dining space as well as a public park and gardens for the apartments – in fact 1.6 acres of the three-acre site will be given over to the gardens and space around the buildings. “It will be really something unique for this neighbourhood where most sites occupy more than 90 per cent of the site that they are on, it will give something back to the area by offering space and public gardens, which will bring life into the area, too, so there will be a really buzzy atmosphere,” explains architect and master-planner Grant Brooker a senior partner at Foster + Partners. “Tall buildings are the right answer for this area, but you have to generate life around them and set the buildings in a ‘place’ – high rise is all about getting the design right and about what you give back, there has to be a trade-off.”

South Quay Plaza's retail and social space
South Quay Plaza’s retail and social space

And the glass towers certainly have the “wow” factor – they will be little wider than two average-sized houses once built, but the sheets of glass, with lots of angles cut in to bring even more light through the building, feel airy and transparent so that despite the height, it is incredibly elegant and unobtrusive. “I knew I wanted something really spectacular,” explains Lewis, “so we sent out the tender to six of the very best architecture firms, but the Foster + Partners’ plan was so brilliant, they had us at ‘hello’.”

It seems the Tower Hamlets planners were equally enamoured as the plans went through without any significant changes at all, bar a reduction in height by five storeys (“they were worried that planes might not see it,” says Brooker), which is virtually unheard of.

There will 888 homes at South Quay Plaza, from suites to three-beds and penthouses, but Lewis doesn’t look worried about selling them, the workforce in Canary Wharf is predicted to double by 2025 and average earnings here are the highest in the country, while property prices are expected to grow by 37 per cent over the next four years, compare to a London average of 29.4 per cent.

“This is the start of a new era for Canary Wharf,” Brooker tells me. “First came the office phase, and more recently is has been all about embracing retail and the emergence of entertainment and dining spaces. Now it is time for the residential story to develop – it’s the natural next step.”

A new bridge between the Jubilee Line at Canary Wharf and Marsh Wall will drive footfall through the space, creating a vibrant destination
A new bridge between the Jubilee Line at Canary Wharf and Marsh Wall will drive footfall through the space, creating a vibrant destination

The floor-to-ceiling windows, interiors also designed by Foster + Partners, and the inclusion of residents’ facilities such as a vast wellness centre with a pool and gym, and a club occupying the entire 56th floor with an outdoor terrace that will feature two bars, a lounge, screening room, dining rooms and meeting rooms, even a homework room for children and a crèche, all make this a building to live in, not just a trophy home.

And where Berkeley lead, the well-heeled, and other developers, follow. They are the Waitrose of the building world. So you can expect a small forest of shiny new residential towers to spring up in South Quay Plaza’s wake – in fact by 2020 there will be more than 5,000 residential homes here, that’s a whole new town. Get ready Canary Wharf, things are about to get a whole lot more lively.

South Quay Plaza launches on 14 July with suites starting from £490,000, www.southquayplaza.london

 

Towering in the East –  new developments reaching for the skies in Docklands

10 Park Drive
10 Park Drive
10 Park Drive
10 Park Drive

10 Park Drive

The current site of Wood Wharf will become a new mixed-use district of offices, retail, parks, a hotel, school and more than 3,000 apartments, filling a currently languishing site on the east side of the Canary Wharf Estate – incredibly these residential homes are the first ever to be built on the Canary Wharf estate in its 30-year history.

Numerous big name architects will be involved from Herzog & de Meuron to Grid, Make and Stanton Williams, who are responsible for 10 Park Drive, the first tower of some 30 buildings that will be constructed here. There are 345 studio, one and two-bed apartments with a residents’ roof terrace in the 13-storey tower that will adjoin another, 42-storey tower. Residents will also have membership to a health and fitness club. The apartments launch on 9 July with prices from £395,000, www.canarywharf.com/residential.

Harbour Central
Harbour Central

Harbour Central

Comprising five residential buildings, a leisure complex and park, Galliard Homes’ Harbour Central sits moments from South Quay DLR. Its flagship Art-Deco-style tower, Maine Tower, will be 42 storeys high and has been conceived as a “vertical village” with social spaces on various levels, from a library and cinema to a gym, spa and residents’ club. The interiors have been designed by Nicola Fontanella of Argent Design, bringing Miami glamour to Docklands.

The 297 studios, one, two and three bedroom apartments at Maine Tower, launched at the weekend, with prices from £350,000, www.harbourcentral.com

Dollar Bay
Dollar Bay
Dollar Bay
Dollar Bay

Dollar Bay

A little further down South Dock from South Quay Plaza, and sitting opposite the Wood Wharf site, developer Mount Anvil is constructing Dollar Bay, 111 apartments from studios to three bedrooms, with a winter garden for every apartment, a residents’-only garden, gym and lounge. The glossy, glass tower has been created by Ian Simpson Architects and will have unrivalled views over the river to Greenwich. Register an interest ahead of their launch at www.mountanvil.com

Newfoundland-2014-1-1024x576-741x417

Newfoundland Tower
Newfoundland Tower

Newfoundland Tower

On the western side of the Canary Wharf Estate, dubbed the diamond building because of its diamond-like supporting frame (rather like the Gherkin), Newfoundland Tower will be 58 storeys tall, housing 566 apartments, when it completes in 2017. www.canarywharf.com/residential

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Just beachy – 11 brilliant seaside escapes

It’s that time of year when nothing beats an ice cream, a paddle in the sea and a relaxing rest on a British beach, just watching the hazy horizon and breathing in the briny air.

Birling Gap, photo by John Miller, National Trust Images
Birling Gap, photo by John Miller, National Trust Images

I was at Birling Gap on Saturday with my kids throwing pebbles into the water and digging in the (tiny patch of) sand – the sun shone and a sea breeze rippled through the grassy cliffs above.

It’s a National Trust beach and so is wonderfully managed and clean – here are some of my other NT faves for a family adventure…

Kynace Cove, Cornwall, photo by John Millar, National Trust Images
Kynace Cove, Cornwall, photo by John Millar, National Trust Images

Lizard Point and Kynance Cove, Cornwall
When you think of Cornwall, you think of beaches and what better place to spend time as a family than this dramatic and historic stretch of the Cornish coast. Lizard Point, the most southerly part of the British mainland, is a great place to admire some spectacular views and to take a treasured family photograph. Kynance Cove is a hidden gem of the Cornish coast and is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. This beach is a must for all sun-lovers and sea-paddlers where you can experience incredible scenery, white sand and clear turquoise waters. At low tide you can descend the steps down to the sand and picnic on the shore. Facilities on the beach include the renowned green toilets and a fantastic café which serves food between Easter and November. The Lizard’s other top beaches include: Poldhu Cove, Gunwalloe Cove and Mullion Cove.

Best Beach Activities:
· Check out the crazy creatures in a rock pool
· Jump over waves
· Go on a barefoot walk
· Catch a crab

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lizard

 

Studland Beach, photo by David Levenson, National Trust Images
Studland Beach, photo by David Levenson, National Trust Images

Studland Beach, Dorset
Studland’s scenic four mile stretch of golden sand has something for everyone to enjoy. In the summer the beach comes truly alive, with many taking to the seas in the boats available to hire. This safe and friendly beach is perfect for picnics and for building sandcastles, and the heathland that lies behind it has a treasure trove of wildlife for kids to explore. With gently shelving bathing waters and views of Old Harry Rocks and the Isle of Wight, the beach is an ideal place for water sports and to watch the world go by. If you fancy making a day of it why not hire a National Trust beach hut and tick off some of those ‘50 things to do before you’re 11¾’ activities with the kids. Be sure to bring buckets and spades with you for a blissful day on the sands.

Best Beach Activities:
· Skim a stone
· Catch a fish with a net
· Hunt for fossils and bones
· Go swimming in the sea

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/studland-beach/

 

Woolacombe dog John Millar
Woolacombe Bay, photo by John Millar, National Trust Images
Woolacombe JOhn Millar
Walkers above Woolacombe Bay, photo by John Millar, National Trust Images

Woolacombe beach, Devon
This beautiful three mile stretch of coastline has plenty of things to see and do for all. Rolling hills provide a wonderful backdrop to a beach where many come to swim and surf on sunny days. In the summer holidays you’ll find National Trust beach rangers on hand to show little ones how to go on rock pool safaris and build the best sandcastles for miles around. Baggy Point and Morte Point – also known as the ‘stegosaurus back’ – are both perfect for rock scrambling. If it’s a walk that you prefer, the South West coastal path will take you on a journey around the enticing coves and distinctive slate cliffs that the area is so well known for.

Best Beach Activities:
· Create some wild art
· Check out the crazy creatures in a rock pool
· Catch a crab
· Jump over waves or go swimming in the sea

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/woolacombe-mortehoe-ilfracombe/

 

Dunwich Heath and Beach, Suffolk
Tucked away on the Suffolk coast, the peaceful, colourful heath-land of the Dunwich Heath Nature Reserve, with its shingle and sand beach, is rich with wildlife and ideal for birdwatchers, nature lovers, walkers, and families looking for a great day out. Head to the shingle beach for a walk along the shoreline where you can witness the constantly changing coastline. Late summer sees a patchwork of purple and yellow heather come into full bloom, making it an unmissable experience. The beach is rich in wildlife with Dartford warblers, nightjars, and woodlark ready to spot. There are plenty of activities to get involved with as well, especially for families wanting to keep the kids entertained, including geocache trails, scavenger hunts and flying kites in the summer sunshine.

Best Beach Activities:
· Skim a stone
· Jump over waves
· Go stargazing
· Fly a kite

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dunwich-heath-and-beach/

 

Sandy flats at Blakeney Point, photo by Joe Cornish, National Trust Images
Sandy flats at Blakeney Point, photo by Joe Cornish, National Trust Images

Brancaster and Blakeney, North Norfolk Coast
With four miles of golden sand, Brancaster beach is the perfect place for a family day out. Famous for its mussels, the fishing village of Brancaster Staithe lies on the shores of the beautiful north Norfolk coast. The Staithe offers a great place to start exploring the coast, and you can launch a boat and sail in the sheltered waters of Scolt Head Island.

Brancaster harbour, National Trust Images
Brancaster harbour, National Trust Images

If you continue a little further along the coast you can enjoy miles of golden sand for long or short walks, find great places for building sandcastles and designated areas for power kiting sports. There are so many things to see and explore at Blakeney; crabbing is a must for all ages or you can take time out and relax with a view at Blakeney Point.

Seal at Blakeney Point, photo by Joe Cornish, National Trust Images
Seal at Blakeney Point, photo by Joe Cornish, National Trust Images

The area is home to a colony of common and grey seals that can be seen most of the year from any of the seal boat trips that leave from Morston Quay.

Best Beach Activities:
· Catch a crab
· Make a mud pie
· Canoe down a river
· Skim a stone

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/brancaster-estate/
www.nationaltrust.org.uk/blakeney/

The beach at Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters Coast, photo by John Millar, National Trust Images
The beach at Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters Coast, photo by John Millar, National Trust Images

Birling Gap, East Sussex
Birling Gap is part of the world famous Seven Sisters chalk cliffs, one of the longest stretches of undeveloped coastline on the south coast. One minute you can be walking on ancient downland, the next you could be rock pooling below towering cliffs of chalk. Spectacular, unspoilt views of the sea can be seen for miles and the beach below is ideal for seaside picnics and exploring the craggy rocks. The whole family can hunt for fossils on the beach and this is a great time of year to uncover hidden treasures. With a south-west-facing beach, Birling Gap is also one of the best spots to surf in the South East. If you’re feeling a bit peckish after a day on the sands, head to the relaxed clifftop cafe where there’s delicious lunches, outdoor seating and uninterrupted sea views.

Best Beach Activities:
· Hunt for fossils and bones
· Check out the crazy creatures in a rock pool
· Fly a kite
· Skim a stone

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/birling-gap-and-the-seven-sisters/

Isle of Wight, photo by Joe Cornish, National Trust Images
Isle of Wight, photo by Joe Cornish, National Trust Images

Isle of Wight, Hampshire
Welcome to the 50 Things Island just a 30 minute ferry ride away from the mainland, where you can tick off lots of adventures in the great outdoors. Compton Bay is a spectacular spot along the Isle of Wight coastline showcasing some of the best beach side scenery around. It has a firm sandy beach – perfect for sandcastle building, and the tide doesn’t go out too far so it’s great for swimming. It isn’t too crowded either, and there are excellent views towards the Needles and Dorset beyond. This family friendly beach also has a section open for dog walkers all year round, making it a great trip out for a walk, whilst also offering a brilliant space for surfing and swimming. The bay is one of the best places on 50 Things Island to follow in the footsteps of dinosaurs. Look carefully and you can find many dinosaur footcasts on the sandy beach. Nodes Point near St Helens Duver is an excellent place for exploring the hidden wildlife in rock pools and if you look carefully see what you can discover in the pools once the tide’s gone out.

Best Beach Activities:
· Check out the crazy creatures in a rock pool
· Fly a kite
· Jump over waves
· Go swimming in the sea

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/isleofwight

Stackpole Head, photo by Joe Cornish, National Trust Images
Stackpole Head, photo by Joe Cornish, National Trust Images

Stackpole, Pembrokeshire
Stackpole has two fabulous beaches, Barafundle and Broadhaven South. This summer, get up close and personal with the Pembrokeshire coast with an adrenaline-fuelled session. Barafundle is regularly voted among the top beaches in the world and is a great place to go rock pooling, paddling and building sandcastles. This golden horseshoe backed by gorse-flecked dunes and woodland is accessible only via steep steps in the limestone cliffs on either side and is a great place for a swim. Freshwater West, six miles west of the estate, is a great surf beach and Stackpole Quay is the perfect place to launch your kayak or to try some coasteering along the rocky coastline.

Best Beach Activities:
· Camp out in the wild
· Check out the crazy creatures in a rock pool
· Catch a crab
· Go on a barefoot walk

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/stackpole/

 

Flying a kite at Rhossili Bay, photo by John Millar, National Trust Images
Flying a kite at Rhossili Bay, photo by John Millar, National Trust Images

Rhossili and South Gower Coast, Swansea
With some of the most splendid views on the Welsh coast, you won’t want to miss this magnificent three mile long beach. If you stand at Rhossili Down, you can see not only the peninsula, but the coast of west Wales and the north Devon coast visible on the horizon. With its breathtaking clifftops, and wonderful bay, it’s a perfect place to spend summer days with all your friends and family.

People walking above Rhossili Bay, photo by John Millar, National Trust Images
People walking above Rhossili Bay, photo by John Millar, National Trust Images

To stretch the legs, you can take the level walk from the National Trust shop and Visitor Centre along the cliff top to the Old Coastguard Lookout where they would have kept watch for ships in trouble on the high seas. This beautiful site is perfect for all kinds of activities, from walks and swimming to surfing and kite-flying.

Best Beach Activities:
· Jumping over waves
· Catch a fish with a net
· Go swimming in the sea
· Try rock climbing

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/rhossili-and-south-gower-coast/

 

 

Rockpooling, photo by John Millar, National Trust Images
Rockpooling, photo by John Millar, National Trust Images

Embleton and Newton Links, Northumberland Coast
Embleton Bay is a magnificent stretch of sand and dunes between Low Newton and the majestic ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle, perfect for an easy wander with the family. The fourteenth-century ruins dominate the horizon, but you will also find a whole variety of wildflowers living amongst the dunes. With the backdrop of the Castle, this fine sandy beach is one of the most spectacular in England. It’s popular for paddling, building sandcastles and has some great surf conditions as well. Low Newton by the sea has a natural rock harbour and golden beach sheltered from the tides by an offshore reef – it’s an excellent place for marine wildlife and spotting birds.

Best Beach Activities:
· Go bird watching
· Fly a kite
· Catch a fish with a net
· Jump over waves

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/embleton-and-newton-links/

 

Formby Point, photo by Joe Cornish, National Trust Images
Formby Point, photo by Joe Cornish, National Trust Images

Formby, Liverpool
The sweeping sands of Formby beach entice people from miles around to come and enjoy a bracing day out. With plenty of space for everyone, families can run and play to their hearts content. Spectacular sky-scapes can be glimpsed at sunset and if you stand on top of the sand dunes the beach stretches as far as the eye can see. The glorious sandy beaches of Formby are perfect for family picnics, coastal walks, wave jumping, kite flying or just lazy days at the beach. A closer look reveals thickets of pine woodland which are home to cherished local celebrities, the red squirrels. Check out the signage to find out about the surprising history of the beach from prehistoric footprints to asparagus farming. A coffee cart and ice cream van are onsite most days so why not enjoy a tasty treat with the sand between your toes.

Best Beach Activities:
· Jump over waves
· Fly a kite
· Create some wild art
· Find a Geocache

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/formby/

ALISON TYLER

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A new Wimbledon ace

For Catherine Beagley, the sales and marketing director at Berkeley Homes (West London), the restoration and conversion of the former Atkinson Morley Hospital in Wimbledon, couldn’t have come soon enough.

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A Wimbledon girl all her life, she can remember the days when this was a working neurosurgical hospital and the many years that it has been closed and neglected since the last patient was treated in 2003.

Some of that neglect is evident as we work our way around the Victorian building – graffiti on the walls, remnants of fires and teenage vandalism that come with a derelict building, can be seen. You’d never imagine that this was once one of the world’s most advanced brain surgery centres.

But when Beagley and the team of architects and developers first walked around the site they could instantly see the potential “As soon as we walked the site we were buzzing with ideas about what we could do with it, where you could instantly see an incredible duplex apartment with a mezzanine and a vaulted ceiling, or how you could convert the chapel into its own self-contained apartment complete with the stained glass windows and wood panelling. Seeing inside the building, it just made sense.”

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She’s not the only one who is excited to see the transformation of what is a landmark local building. “Local people are really excited about the historic project and the level of interest is really high – people are clawing at the door to get in,” says Beagley of the highly anticipated launch of the apartments in the hospital building. “If you live locally, you cannot fail to want to see this building restored to its former glory. Working on this project, it’s one of those sites that you just know you’re going to be really proud of when it’s finished.”

The development of the historic space, which opened in 1869, has not been easy – in some places, around the soaring double-height bay windows there are cracks large enough to put your hand through, in others the beautiful curved brick ceilings are being protected and supported by a form of spray-on concrete that will hold them in place so that the detailing can be retained.

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It will be worth it though as period buildings, with their characterful features and interesting spaces, are a real draw for buyers who want the charm and personality. But most modern buyers also want the security of a new-home guarantee, of double-glazing and efficient heating. Character conversions such as this are the ideal compromise.

“Everyone loves a conversion,” says Beagley. “There’s a status thing to live in a grand building, but you get the best of both worlds as you don’t have the upkeep and maintenance that comes with an old building.”

It doesn’t get much more grand than the penthouse triplex apartment, which will even come with its own turret and Victorian wrought-iron railings – and a glorious south-facing view over formal gardens, and then landscaped mature parkland, followed by open playing fields – you almost can’t see another house around.

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One of the most exciting things about working with an old building like this is that the architects have top work with what already exists, so you get some really unique spaces – the duplex apartments in the wings of the hospital will have double aspect windows and mezzanine floors to make the most of the extraordinarily high ceiling heights.

Under the building there will be parking with a lift, while the development will also house a gym, concierge and a business lounge with wifi and a meeting room. And as part of the redevelopment of the site, Berkeley Homes is refurbishing Morley Park spots pavilion, which will provide sports facilities for the pupils at Ursuline High School which neighbours the parkland. As a former Ursuline girl herself, it’s no wonder Beagley feels proud of the project. “This site has got everything,” she says, “it’s a dream to work on.”

And for a very lucky few, it will be a dream to live in, too.

Wellington Row, the centrepiece historic hospital conversion at The Wimbledon Collection, launches this September. Two bedroom apartments at the development start at £1.15 million.  Find out more at www.berkeleygroup.co.uk or to register an interest call 0208 003 6139 or email sales@wimbledonhillpark.co.uk.

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Is this the future of housing?

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When Toyota launched its eco-friendly Prius car, Hollywood A-listers including Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio clamoured to be seen driving the green machine.

Now developer FABRICA is hoping to set a similar pioneering trend in the homes market as they launch Elmsbrook this month, the first true large-scale zero-carbon residential development in the UK, on the outskirts of Bicester in Oxfordshire.

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Architects Farrells has a reputation for blazing a sustainability trail and their work on Elmsbrook has won it a global award for eco efficiency and sustainable living.

“With Elmsbrook, we are anticipating the future of house building. The technology that we are implementing might appear cutting edge today, but eventually this will become the norm and we anticipate that everyone will be living eco consciously,” explains Sir Terry Farrell, partner at Farrells.

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So while it may please you to learn that the 393 homes will be built with zero waste to landfill, developed with 30 per cent less carbon than a typical building and with sustainable materials, or that rainwater harvesting will reduce your water use, while solar roof panels and triple-glazing will make them super-energy efficient, the burning question is still: will you want to live there?

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What will probably sell the homes to most people – aside from the smaller bills and smug conscience – will be the idyllic countryside, on the edge of the Cotswolds, where Soho House is about to open a new outpost this month, and the Cornbury music festival will be on your doorstep.

The homes themselves will be sleek, modern and feature hotel style bathrooms, Siemens kitchens, ridiculously fast broadband (100mb per second), and an energy-tracking tablet in each home, that will tell you everything from how much energy you are using to when the next bus is due. Your garage will come with a green meadow roof.

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It doesn’t end with the houses – a new primary school, nursery, community hall, shops, cafes, business centre and even an eco-pub are all part of the plans.

As Rosie Nesbitt, group director sales and marketing at FABRICA comments: “While the eco-credentials inherent to Elmsbrook will appeal to eco-conscious purchasers – indeed, the electric car charging points will power a Prius – the houses have been designed to offer hassle-free, environmentally friendly homes for those who are simply looking for an attractive setting in which to purchase their first property, bring up a family or enjoy their retirement.”

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Perhaps the best part of the plan is what the developer isn’t doing: 40 per cent of the land will be left as green space – think communal orchard, allotments, and children’s play areas – with “wildlife” corridors running through the development.

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A neighbourhood with herb boxes on every street and an electric car club? We could certainly live with that.

Prices from £295,000, www.Elmsbrook.co.uk