Thursday, 05 April 2012

Life above the ocean waves

Perched on a granite rock and reached by a 70ft-high privately owned suspension bridge, Cornwall’s House In The Sea is one of the most spectacular properties in the country. Katy Pearson gets a gull’s eye view of the high life…

Written by Katy Pearson
Surrounded by water at high tide, the 1930s three-bedroom house on Towan Island, just off Newquay beach, enjoys 360-degree views. No one can venture on to the 100ftlong suspension bridge – let alone into the house – without permission.

sea3nLord and Lady Long

It's a blustery day when I negotiate the bridge (the only privately owned suspension bridge in the country) to visit Lord and Lady Long at their island home. Lord Long, 83, invites me through a door set into the cliff face. 'I hope you've brought your sea legs – or, rather, bridge legs,' he says as my hair whips at my face.

The bridge, built in 1901, moves more than you would expect. Stand in the middle and you can almost imagine you are a gull – it's an extraordinary experience. But what's it like trying to cross in the depths of winter? 'There have been occasions when it has been very, very windy and we've thought, "Oh dear," says Lady Long. 'But we've never failed to get across. The worst occasion was a few years ago when we had an enormous storm. We had been to the opera in Truro, were late back, and the wind had blown up while we were away. As we came across the bridge, the wind whipped his lordship's spectacles off his face and into the sea. And my raincoat went too! That was quite exciting.

sea4nThe sun deck which wraps around the building

'On a wild night, you can hear the roof tiles rattling and the waves crashing, but the house was built quite cleverly. It's quite low, and the surrounding cliffs are higher. So although it gets a buffeting, it's not as bad as you think. We have double glazing, and all the bedrooms are triple-glazed.'

On a summer's afternoon there can be few places to rival the views from Towan Island, especially from the House In The Sea's sun deck, wrapped around the building, which allows you to follow the sun all day. 'Sitting on the terrace in the summer is absolutely gorgeous,' says Lady Long. 'If it's a nice day, you could be in the South of France. The conservatory faces south, and even in the winter, it's as warm as toast. Of course, in the summer it's delicious to sit out there with your glass of wine.'

sea5nThe 100ft long suspension bridge

And those views. Even on a day like today, when the sun is nowhere to be seen, they're simply spectacular.

'We see everything, and not only down on the beach,' Lady Long tells me. 'We have a bedroom that faces the town, and we can see everything that goes on there, too. Then there are the sailing boats to watch, and the surfers, not to mention the occasional skinny-dipper. We sometimes even see dolphins.'

An unexpected advantage of living here turns out to be the almost complete absence of wasps and flies in the summer.

sea6nThe views are spectacular

'Our house in Hertfordshire was surrounded by trees and fields, and if we sat out to have a picnic lunch, the flies would be buzzing around and being annoying,' says Lady Long. 'I noticed, as soon as we came here, that if we sat outside, we weren't bothered at all. It's one advantage that we hadn't really thought of.'

So why are the couple planning to move out of this idyllic place? Although they originally bought the house as a holiday home, they haven't left for 10 years. It's currently on the market for £1m, only the third time it has been offered for sale in 40 years.

'It is a remarkable little place,' agrees Lady Long. 'And I don't think we would be giving it up, except that Lord Long is now 83, and it might be time to think of moving on to the mainland.'

sea7nTraditional decor with wood flooring and antique furnishings

Lady Long would love to see the house sold to a surfer – with dogs. Or a family. 'It's a fantastic, magical place for children,' she tells me. 'It would be nice to have young people here enjoying it.'

Island living has been ideal for the Longs, who, to quote Lady Long, are 'slightly eccentric' and 'don't like to be too close to people. We are used to having our own land around us,' she explains. 'And although this island is very small, it's terribly private. Nobody can come calling without an appointment.'

The couple moved to Towan Island after selling Earls Hall, their 'big place in Hertfordshire', when Lord Long left the House of Lords. 'He stopped sitting when Mr Blair decided he didn't want hereditary peers,' says Lady Long. 'Lord Long thought this was awful. So we decided to sell up because it was a massive house, and keeping it going was silly when we didn't need to be near to London.'

The couple are now very much at home at their spot just off the west coast. 'We would quite like to stay somewhere in Cornwall, as we have made a lot of friends since we've been here,' says Lady Long. 'It would be a bit of a wrench to move completely away. But on the other hand, it's always fun to try something new...'

For further information on The House In The Sea:

Other amazing holiday houses in the UK

The House In The Clouds, Suffolk

One of the country's most famous follies, this provides spacious holiday accommodation, with five bedrooms, three bathrooms, a drawing room, a dining room and the 'room at the top' with the finest views of Suffolk.

Loop Head Lightkeeper's House, Co Clare, Ireland

The Lightkeeper's House is right next door to the lighthouse on Loop Head Peninsula, in splendid isolation. Amenities are basic (no telephone, television or microwave), and the nearest town, Kilbaha, is three miles away.

Pixie Nook, Devon

A Grade II-listed cottage on the edge of Bodmin Moor, offering a mix of cottage charm and kitsch appeal. Granite-walled, with huge fireplace, beamed ceilings and wooden floors, plus a hot tub in the garden. 

Prince Park, Devon

With a heritage spanning more than 900 years, this ancestral family home in Devon oozes historical charm. A live-in butler and chef will administer to all your needs, while your hosts, Lord and Lady Clifford, will be on hand to give you the old-fashioned 'house party' experience.

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