Commuter homes in the Chilterns: unspoilt villages with pretty chocolate box houses and plenty of green space on offer an hour away from the capital
For top-notch market towns and idyllic villages, all just north-west of London, look no further than the Chiltern Hills.
Forming a 45-mile green spine, the Chilterns run through Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire and it’s all much closer to the capital than the trendy Cotswolds — often cheaper, too.
Walkers love the Chilterns because it is possible to hike all the way from Hitchin in Hertfordshire to Goring-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, and then on into the North Wessex Downs. It is equally perfect for horse riders and cyclists.
The average price of a property in the Chilterns stands at £664,000 according to research from Savills, and over the past five years values have increased by 24 per cent.
One storm cloud on the horizon is the HS2 rail link, under construction between London and the North, which will effectively dissect an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
This means choosing locations carefully to avoid those towns and villages that will be worst affected by high-speed rail. But with 322 square miles to choose from there are still plenty of unspoiled options.
£725,000: this three-bedroom detached house in Church Street
Buying in Chesham: in the country — and on the tube
This is a glorious choice for those who like to get active in their downtime. One of the National Cycle Network routes passes right by this good-looking town on the very edge of the Chilterns, and the Chess Valley is a particularly beautiful and peaceful landscape to explore on foot, too.
London buyers like the fact that you can live in the Buckinghamshire countryside and still hop on the Tube. Chesham station is at the upper reaches of the Metropolitan line in Zone 9 and the journey to Baker Street takes about an hour.
Often overlooked in favour of affluent neighbouring Amersham, property in the centre of Chesham is mainly late-Victorian terraces and semi-detached houses.
A three-bedroom house would cost about £325,000, says Dan Hemsley, sales manager at Gibbs Gillespie estate agents, who estimates that property in the town is around 10 per cent cheaper than in Amersham.
- The posh people’s social event of the year is the annual open-air Garsington Opera — now very expensive.
- There are cricket clubs, tennis and rowing clubs all around the area. Running and cycling events are regular features for weekend activity.
- Local grammar schools are hugely popular. The Royal Grammar, for boys, in High Wycombe and Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School which is co-ed, in Marlow, are particularly sought after.
- Commuting is a bit of a drag since none of the villages has astation. Most commuters end up driving the five or so miles to either Henley or High Wycombe, or to Maidenhead or Beaconsfield and paying the car park fees. Trips to London are all under the hour into Marylebone station.
- The coming of Crossrail will increase commuting options, because journeys from Maidenhead, which is 11 miles east of the valley, to Bond Street will take 39 minutes and there will also be direct services to the City and Canary Wharf.
The town centre is nice-looking with a pedestrianised market square, the location of an excellent monthly farmers’ market. Hemsley feels the pedestrianisation of the high street in the Nineties was a mistake, saying: “There is no passing trade.” However, there are more than a dozen places to eat and drink, a couple of supermarkets and a range of useful shops.
After 6pm Chesham empties out and most locals head to Amersham or Berkhamsted for a more lively feel.
Unlike many out-of-town options, though, Chesham has a lively arts scene centred on The Elgiva Theatre & Cinema, which stages everything from ballet to drama and is run by the town council.
There is a choice of primary schools, led by Brushwood Juniors with an “outstanding” Ofsted rating, while the prize for seniors who pass the 11-plus could be a place at top-rated co-ed Chesham Grammar School.
The average property in town costs £415,000, according to Savills.
Buying in Wallingford: a classic market town with music
A historic riverside town with a photogenic medieval road bridge over the Thames, Wallingford has plenty going on, including a twice-weekly street market, a cinema and theatre housed in the Corn Exchange, and an annual folk music festival, BunkFest, now the UK’s largest free multi-day music festival.
Sports fans will also find plenty of action at Wallingford Sports Park, which is the base for hockey, rugby, and football teams. There is also a squash club, a golf club and several rowing clubs, while every year cyclists turn out in force for the Wallingford Festival of Cycling.
“It is a classic market town,” says buying agent Mark Parkinson, of Middleton Advisors.
The average price in town is £354,000 but Parkinson says a four-bedroom period house in the town centre would cost about £800,000. Similar homes in better-known riverside towns such as Henley or Marlow would cost 10 to 15 per cent more because of their slightly quicker commutes.
Buyers looking for a riverside home might also prefer Wallingford, where a detached family home with a water view would cost about £1.5 million. In Henley a waterfront home in a prime site could cost £10 million-plus.
While both Henley and Marlow have a bit of a London village vibe, Wallingford’s narrow High Street and St Martin’s Street are perhaps more useful than interesting.
But they do have a full complement of pubs, cafés, chain restaurants and independent eateries, such as Shellfish Cow for seafood and steak.
There is an excellent Waitrose and the presence of an Oxford Brookes University campus gives the town a bit of buzz.
Wallingford, which was the home of Agatha Christie, is right on the border of the Chilterns and is a perfect spot for cycling and walking, or you could take a lazy boat trip down the river towards Reading.
Nearby Dorchester Abbey is a lovely day trip, not least for the fab homemade cakes in its tea room. There are half a dozen primary schools with “good” Ofsted reports, and a senior school also rated “good” by the schools watchdog.
The closest station is at Cholsey, about two miles away. Trains to Paddington take from 56 minutes and an annual season ticket costs £5,468.
Wallingford is 12 miles north of Reading where, in a couple of years, fast Crossrail services into central London and the City will be in reach.
£649,000: this period cottage with garden in the pretty village of Turville
Buying in the Hambleden Valley: Vicar of Dibley country
This particularly glorious swathe of Buckinghamshire countryside, dotted with gorgeous villages and terrific country pubs, was the setting for classic TV sitcom The Vicar of Dibley.
The four main villages are Hambleden, Fingest, Skirmett and Turville, and there is not a dud among them.
In the current market, with shortage of stock a real problem, the choice between them might well be dictated simply by what is for sale.
Prices are premium in these rural gems: according to Savills the average sale price over the past 12 months was £884,000.
But between them these villages have pretty much everything you need for country life and the perfect Sunday lunch.
The Bull and Butcher, at Turville is a favourite, as is the Stag and Huntsman in Hambleden, a perfect village with an ancient flintstone church and very active cake makers supplying Sunday tea for walkers and raising funds.
The lovely centre of Hambleden has a well-stocked store, a village hall and pretty cottages.
These villages are between the Thames-side towns of Henley and Marlow for great shopping, dining and, in Henley’s case, a cinema.
Marlow has a big riverside sports centre, plus Higginson Park, with ducks to feed and swings and slides for families to enjoy.