Look at a map and you would be tempted to dismiss the home of the Grand National as a non-runner. Aintree looks too entangled in the urban tentacles of Liverpool to have enough breathing space for horses.
Not so, says Ben Legget of Denton Clark estate agent: “It’s riding clubs and Pony Clubs nearly everywhere.”
And, far from being a hindrance, the connection with Liverpool puts Aintree on the equestrian map. Although racing had been held in the area since at least 1696, when a newspaper advertised a meeting at Martin Mere, Aintree Racecourse was the brainchild of Liverpool entrepreneur William Lynn, who was looking for an innovative way to attract more clients to his Waterloo Hotel.
It is true, however, that buying a home near the home of the Grand National is next to impossible. The river Alt, the racecourse and the railway constrain the village into a triangle that has roughly the acreage and shape of its 1930s origins. Space is a premium — so much so that the racecourse itself risked being sold and turned into rows of houses until the Jockey Club stepped in and bought it in 1983 with the help of public donations.
The Land Registry reports that no detached house exchanged hands in the Aintree postcode over the past year. However, prospective buyers with the Grand National bug will find plenty of suitable acres north, south and west of the village.
“You either go due north, up the coast, which starts at Ince Blundell and moves up to Freshfield and Southport. Or you hop over the Mersey to the Wirral peninsula to Haswell, Caldy and Hoylake. If you come south towards Cheshire, you have an enormous arc, with Manley, Tarvin, Tattenhall and Tarporley, then you come round to Chester,” says Legget. “The travelling time for the farthest of these is 45min, which in this part of the world is deemed lots of commuting.”
The Wirral peninsula has “nearly more horses than people”, jokes Leggett. A former agricultural heartland, it has found a new lease of life as a countryside haven. A range of Pony Club branches and riding clubs attracts “pony parents”, who pander to their children’s wishes, or people in search of a secluded rural lifestyle.
In Cheshire, buyers are a “combination of people,” according to Jonathan Major of Strutt & Parker. Some are “at Pony Club stage, there are quite a lot with horses at livery and, because of the motorways, you get international equestrian competitors. There are good eventers, international show jumpers and we have racing
The M6 corridor is the most sought-after location among both professionals and private buyers, according to Rebecca Fifield of Jackson Stops & Staff.
“Because equestrian properties are so few and far between, people are non-specific, so long as it’s in the M6 corridor. They want good hacking, but they are prepared to look anywhere,” she says.
Demand ensures that a house with good riding facilities in this area can easily command £1million or more, according to Fifield, who reports an active mailing list of prospective buyers. “Proper acreage of more than 10 acres always sells extremely well,” she says.
But buyers’ interest has picked up across the wider Aintree region. Although the Rightmove.co.uk property index for March showed a month-on-month decrease in prices of about 2% in Chester and Bolton, agents report that the market is now extremely buoyant.
“We’ve had a much more promising start to the year than we anticipated,” says Vivian Matson of Jackson Stops & Staff.
Equestrian properties with stables and maneges start at about £500,000 and go up “as far as you want”, according to Legget.
Despite the surge in demand, realistic pricing remains the key to a fast sale. “Similarly to the rest of the country, anything priced correctly and competitively is selling,” says Edward Oldrey of Rural Scene. “Anything priced optimistically is not.”