Commute to London in 90 minutes: three picturesque villages ideal for those splitting their week between town and country
Here is the landscape of Watership Down, where Downton Abbey drama unfolds at Highclere Castle and early risers can watch as racehorses train on the gallops at Lambourn.
Nearby, Bronze Age artists carved giant white horses into the chalky hillsides, which you can admire to this day.
The North Wessex Downs, a 760-square mile Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty just west of London, has a special magic.
It is also among the most affordable options for those keen to buy in glorious, protected countryside in commuting distance of London. The average price of a home in the Downs is £501,000, Savills research finds.
Buying agent Charlie Wells, MD of Prime Purchase, has lived in the area all his life.
“The best thing is the walking, it is just fantastic,” he says. “You could walk for days if you wanted to. You can also take children out cycling and not fear for their lives. There is a really nice mix of people, and because historically this was a wealthy farming area you’ve got good-quality housing stock.”
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The Downs are blessed with some fabulous villages but accessibility is an issue, so it’s a perfect choice for those dividing their time between home working and a London office.
There are seven stations with direct London trains dotted around but the services are often slow or irregular.
For faster London trains, those living north of the M4 go for Swindon or Didcot Parkway trains to Paddington. Those south of the motorway go to either Hungerford or Newbury.
Buying in Great Bedwyn, Wiltshire
By the River Dun and the Kennet and Avon Canal, this picturesque village is girded by the Savernake Forest and its lovely walks. It is also near the market town of Marlborough and its historic High Street and lovely shops.
Great Bedwyn has a primary school rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, a shop and a station, a couple of pubs and The Harrow restaurant in Little Bedwyn for special dinners — the AA’s 2019 restaurant guide rated its wine list the best in England.
All of which makes Great Bedwyn the focal point for a series of pretty surrounding villages, including Shalbourne.
Locals run plenty of clubs, field a cricket team and are setting up a community cinema in the village hall. There are pretty Georgian red-brick cottages and small houses.
A three-bedroom semi-detached or terrace cottage would be £500,000. A four- to five-bedroom house would be £800,000 to £1.1 million.
Buying in Overton, Hampshire
A free-range peacock lives on Overton’s streets — but some locals do complain about the bird’s night-time screeching.
The village’s other claim to fame is its Scarecrow Festival, when locals make straw effigies to place on park benches and hang from shops and street lights to raise money for charity.
“Overton is small and quaint with some nice little shops and places to eat,” says Hannah Titcomb, manager of Brockenhurst Estate Agents. “It feels lively and it’s safe.”
Waterloo trains take from 55 minutes, there’s an Ofsted “outstanding” primary school and “outstanding” Testbourne Community School, for older pupils, is three miles away in Whitchurch.
£365,000: this three-bedroom characterful house in Overton
The excellent recreation ground hosts tennis, football, an outdoor pool and several cricket teams. Walk along the River Test to The Greyhound, praised in pub guides.
Homes range from 16th-century cottages to new build but Overton has been strangled by boxy late-20th century housing on its outskirts.
A three-bedroom cottage in the historic centre would cost £350,000 to £400k, with a five-bedroom period house around £600,000.
Buying in Pewsey, Wiltshire
This bustling, good-sized village has pubs and a wine bar, a sports centre with a pool, a wetland nature reserve and a parade of useful shops.
There’s an annual carnival, a music festival, plus tennis, running, football, cricket and rugby clubs. It’s also great for day trips to Bath, Stonehenge or Longleat.
Pewsey Primary School has a “good” Ofsted report but Pewsey Vale School (seniors) “requires improvement”, which might mean a run to Marlborough’s several top-performing options or the eponymous private school.
Trains to Paddington take from 75 minutes but after 8am there are big gaps between services. Late risers might end up driving 14 miles to Hungerford to catch a train there.