Affordable seaside havens

Longing to escape to the coast but think the prices are out of reach? Setting the bar at properties under £200,000, we’ve come up with plenty of ideas on how to bag that bolthole. Words: Lesley Gillilan

The definition of bolthole is ‘a place for hiding and seclusion’, or an escape from everyday life. And in a recent report compiled by estate agent Jackson Stops, a third of us Brits dream of owning a hideaway by the sea – if only we had the money to buy one. The same report listed Burnham Market in North Norfolk as one of the most desirable places to buy but prices in this flinty fishing village are beyond the means of most. With teeny terraced cottages priced from £350,000 many buyers would struggle to afford a home in Burnham, let alone a bolthole.

The same goes for properties in much of Cornwall, South Devon, West Dorset and East Anglia – to name just a few coastal hotspots. Add a hefty premium for properties with sea views, shrinking salaries and the high cost of living (national average house prices now hover around £300,000) and it begins to look hopeless for buyers on a small budget. But don’t give up. With more than 7,000 miles of British coastline, there really is something somewhere to suit all pockets. For those prepared to compromise on size, location or convention, the seaside refuge is an affordable reality.

The most obvious compromise is location: steer away from big-ticket places and look at cheaper areas within the same radius. In many cases you don’t have to travel far. Lowestoft in Suffolk is only 13 miles from pricey Southwold, but less than half the price. Buying in Crail in Fife, saves around £100,000 compared to des-res St Andrews, 10 miles up the road. Low-budget Hayle is much cheaper than uber-expensive St Ives, yet these two Cornish towns are only six miles apart.

National estate agent Savills lists more than 100 coastal hotspots that offer properties with an average price of less than £200,000. You might be surprised to learn that Scarborough in North Yorkshire, Bridlington in East Yorkshire, Aberystwyth in West Wales and Morecambe in Lancashire are all within easy reach of gorgeous beaches and offer average house prices well below
the national norm.

A 2018 Halifax house-price survey suggests a move to the north: nine of the most expensive areas were in the south, and of the most affordable, all but one was in Scotland (in Girvan or Millport in Ayrshire, average prices are around £90,000). And it’s worth noting that happiness levels (measured by the same survey) are actually higher in some of the cheaper towns.

Scale down your aspirations and think small; not just studio apartments and backstreet cottages, but holiday lodges and chalets. The days of the ramshackle holiday chalet snapped up for pocket money are almost over – such gentrified communities of vintage real estate can be as expensive as bricks and mortar these days. But there are exceptions.

The famous Humberstone Fitties near Cleethorpes on the coast of Lincolnshire offer full-time homes from £50,000. Around £100,000 buys a two-bedroom holiday hut on privately owned Dunster Beach on the North Somerset coast.
And if you’re not too fussy about aesthetics, there are numerous holiday parks offering small villages of utilitarian, post-war lodges at shoestring prices: flat-roofed, two-bedroom villas at Lanteglos near Camelford (six miles from Tintagel, on the North Cornwall coast) sell for less than £20,000.

Other options include caravan-like park homes (otherwise known as mobile homes or ‘statics’). They are rarely pretty, but holiday parks often boast wonderful locations and ocean views and are brilliant for families (indoor pools, play areas, club house and other amenities are usually included). Award-winning holiday company Haven has 37 park-home sites all over the UK, from Perran Sands in Cornwall to Berwick in Northumberland. Re-sale prices range from £17,995 to £188,800 depending on location, age and condition. Around £100,000 is the average.

Be aware, however, that generally it’s not possible to raise a mortgage on chalets and park homes and they come with restrictions, including limited use (between eight and 11 months of the year). Some are held on a limited tenure (like a renewable licence) and all are subject to ground rents and service charges. Make sure that the site owners, permit holiday sub-letting if you need to cover costs.

Traditional properties with holiday letting potential usually demand a higher investment, but they are worth considering – particularly if you are prepared to take a long view. Basically, you raise some capital (you’ll need at least 25% of the purchase price) then buy a picturesque property in a popular holiday location, furnish it, and put it in the hands of a letting agent.

From a tax perspective, a furnished holiday let (FHL) is quite different than a run-of-the-mill buy to let property, as you can claim capital allowances and some expenses: to qualify, the property has to be available for at least 30 weeks a year and let for at least 15 weeks. However, that does leave you with spare weeks for your own use, an income that should cover the mortgage and a cottage or apartment, ready to move into when you finally decide to downshift or retire.

Holiday letting agents are very exacting these days, so your choice of property is key. ‘It has to cut the mustard in every way,’ says Paul Young of The Travel Chapter (the mothership of Like many holiday letting companies, The Travel Chapter offers a wealth of advice to potential buy-to-letters, including what kind of place to buy and how to improve it.

As a rough estimate, building your own home costs 30% less than buying a ready-made equivalent, but first you have to find the land. And coastal plots with outline planning consent can cost more than the build – assuming you can even find one. Again, compromise is the key: building plots on the Scottish isles are plentiful and affordable for example; in Dorset they are rare and expensive.

There is potential in urban-infill plots,
or run-down buildings that can be demolished and replaced but, given the complexities of planning permission in sensitive rural areas improvement might be the better bet. Renovating a ruin is
a money pit, but doing up a dated or down-at-heel cottage need not cost a fortune. A Google search for homes that ‘require improvement’ unearthed a list of project properties at prices below £150,000. Even in Cornwall or Devon, they do turn up.

New-home buyers can also look at buying off-plan – before the development is built. You’ll get first dibs of the best plots, often at introductory prices, but
in an uncertain market bear in mind that final prices can go down as well as up.

A bolthole doesn’t have to be traditional, in fact the quirkier the better. If you have the vision to turn an unconventional building into a habitable home then monitor auction houses or online sites such as the Unique Property Bulletin (find islands, lighthouses, sea forts and the like at

A good example of thinking out of the box is the conversion of a semi-derelict toilet block on the seafront at Sheringham in Norfolk. The owner bought the disused public loo at auction for £105,000 – double the guide price – spent another £85,000 on the conversion and now rents the ‘Wee Retreat’ through Norfolk Cottages from £600 a week. The views are unbeatable.

For the ultimate in unconventional, go off-grid or glamp. Safari tents, yurts, shepherd’s huts and Airstream caravans require a relatively low outlay and, in the case of canvas structures, can be pitched almost anywhere without planning consent. A quirky alternative to the static caravan is a ‘mobile tin tabernacle’ made to order by Love Lane Caravans in South Cornwall from around £28,000.

Consider buying – or even renting – a corner of a field and setting up camp in the summer months. At the sharp end of compromise, you might have to make do without running water or electricity (think camp fires, torches and a chemical toilet) but as places for hiding and seclusion goes, it doesn’t get better, or cheaper, than this.

Five affordable bolthole hotspots

Isle of Bute, Scotland
Remote, beautiful and only
40 miles from Glasgow (via a ferry from Rothesay) there are one-bed flats from £25,000.
Average price: £140,000

Filey, North Yorkshire
This place is cheaper than Whitby, quieter than Bridlington or Scarborough, and home to The Times’ Beach of the Year 2018.
Average price: £179,000

Harlech, North Wales
In lovely Gwynedd at the foot of Snowdonia, with spectacular sea views and a world-class castle, you will find cottages for less than £100,000.
Average house price: £200,000

Looe, Cornwall
This south-coast fishing village set on the banks of a steep river valley offers affordable homes with spectacular views – and here they are at least 30% cheaper than in nearby Fowey.
Average house price: £255,000

Ramsgate, Kent
The Isle of Thanet’s up-and-coming port town (below) is a sliver away from pricier Broadstairs and offers two- and three-bedroom period houses for under £200,000.
Average house price: £240,000

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