FIVE hundred years ago the herds of deer who so gracefully parade on the lawns of this idyllic piece of rural England — a former hunting lodge of King Henry VIII — would not have enjoyed such impunity.
Today, however, the only thing likely to disturb their elegant forays across these rolling verdant fields and leafy grounds is the playful attentions of the resident husky, Buddy.
By any standards, Pricketts Hatch, a 14-acre estate near the village of Nutley in East Sussex, is an extraordinary and highly unusual property, with three separate homes offering more than 11,300sq ft of gracious living.
On the border of the Ashdown Forest, the original setting of the 100-acre wood in Winnie-The-Pooh, the three properties offer a total of 14 bedrooms, several huge living rooms and 13 bathrooms, together with a large indoor swimming pool and steam room, a dedicated snooker room (inset) and doors to outdoor paved patios where the views stretch towards Eastbourne and Brighton.
At the heart of it is the former Lodge, which dates to the 1400s, with its original oak beams, giant fireplaces in the living areas, as well as individual fireplaces in each of its seven bedrooms.
There is even the original, tiny wooden hatch — in a wall alongside the dining room fireplace — where centuries ago it was traditional to keep a musket ball and bread, the first symbolising defence of the property, the second the warm welcome visitors could expect to receive in the property.
‘It’s been our family home since mum and dad bought it in 1984,’ says current owner Steve Follett, who is selling it on behalf of his family with large pangs of regret. But the family has grown up and moved away and the property is now simply too large for their needs. ‘Our children used to come here for the whole of the summer holidays. It has special memories. It’s quite a magical place.’
Over the years Steve’s parents altered and adapted this sensational site, renovating a near derelict former Malt House in the 1990s to create The Oast House — now a pretty 1,505sq ft, two-storey, four-bedroom cottage which in recent years has been used for holiday lets — and The West Lodge, a 2,967sq ft expanse of open-plan luxury, with views over a pond (a haven for wildlife) and a vast living area where the fourth wall opens fully to reveal the picturesque countryside.
This too has been rented out commercially for weddings and parties. Nearby, former stables have been converted into storage units. There is so much history — and space — here, it is difficult to know quite where to start in describing it. Each property has its own distinctive charm.
The Lodge is historic yet modified, allowing natural light to flood into its ancient rooms. Original oak beams sit side by side with modern, engineered oak floors, and a bedroom on the ground floor has been designed to allow wheelchair access. Upstairs in this 6,847sq ft property the charming bedrooms each offer picture-postcard views of the rolling countryside around it. The Oast House, on the other hand feels intimate and cosy — a real country cottage — while The West Lodge is simply splendid, an uber-contemporary, lateral property which has been created from an old barn.
The growing herds of deer who visit, including prickett deer and roe — and one stag who came so close to the house his velvet antlers almost brushed the living room doors — add to the sense of tranquillity and remoteness, though in fact you are a short stroll from Nutley with its select group of restaurants, pubs and sports and social clubs. Railway stations with good links to London are also within easy reach.
‘We had the best holidays here,’ says Steve’s son, David, whose own children also spent the summers at Pricketts. ‘When we took them to Florida one year, instead of here, for the summer holidays, my daughter broke down and cried.’
So who will buy this incredible property? Steve has his own thoughts. ‘Almost certainly someone who loves entertaining as my parents did (there are several enormous dining room tables — one of which seats up to 16) — or perhaps someone who wants to run it as a business, with holiday lets and weddings,’ he says.
‘There are so many possibilities here you can take your pick.’
At the end of the morning it was a wrench to depart from this idyllic pocket of southern England — a sentiment Steve understands only too well.
Indeed, it is only Buddy the husky who ever tries to escape as he sets off on one of his long runs — even beyond this vast estate.
‘He’s an escapologist,’ says Steve with a sigh. ‘Nobody else ever wants to leave.’
■ £3.5million, fineandcountry.com
What you get for your money
■ Three separate properties — The Lodge, The West Lodge and The Oast House — spread over 11,300sq ft
■ 14 bedrooms and 13 bathrooms
■ 14 reception rooms
■ Leisure complex with an indoor swimming pool, Jacuzzi, steam room and sauna
■ 14 acres of gardens and grounds, featuring a pagoda and paved terraces, on the border of Ashdown Forest
■ Stables, which have been converted into storage units
■ Snooker room
■ Original features including oak beams and fireplaces