Commuting to London: three of the best High Weald villages with good-value homes, top schools and hour-long commutes to the capital
The High Weald, which occupies swathes of Kent, Sussex and Surrey, covers 560 square miles of woodland and heathland and includes Ashdown Forest, the setting for Winnie the Pooh stories.
It is the largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to have been designated since we began giving special protection to our loveliest, most unspoiled landscapes in 1949.
It is one of six so-designated areas within an easy commute of London, and all of these are key locations for buyers looking for an outdoorsy — but convenient — lifestyle.
For the sheer kerb appeal of its charming but vibrant towns and villages, High Weald is hard to top.
Poohsticks Bridge: Ashdown Forest, pride of the High Weald and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is the setting for tales of children’s favourite, Winnie the Pooh (Alamy Stock Photo)
1. Buying in Lamberhurst: good looks and loads to do
Exquisite Lamberhurst, set in the valley of the River Teise, is as idyllic as it comes. “It is basically a very pretty village with lots of Grade II-listed houses and barns, surrounded by orchards and vineyards,” says Mark Sparrow, sales manager at local estate agents Wood & Pilcher.
By the standards of the capital, prices are appealing, too. A historic three-bedroom cottage close to the high street would cost about £400,000, or you could buy a four-bedroom Victorian or Edwardian semi-detached house a little further out for around £450,000.
What buyers like about the village, apart from its looks, are its amenities.
There’s a quartet of good pubs that serve food, while this part of High Weald is also very much the heartland of Kent’s winemaking industry. Wineries to explore include the Hush Heath Winery and Lamberhurst Vineyard. There is also a bakery, general store, and monthly market, and Tunbridge Wells is seven-and-a half miles away with a more extensive range of shops and restaurants.
The M25 is close by, and you can be at the south coast in around half an hour. Locals organise a summer fair, a Bonfire Night celebration and a New Year’s Day fun run, plus a music festival.
The evocative ruins of Bayham Old Abbey, owned by English Heritage, are close to Lamberhurst, as is the National Trust’s lovely Scotney Castle. And as well as walking, running, and cycling, the proximity of Bewl Water reservoir means you can also learn to row or sail.
Schools: the village school, Lamberhurst St Mary’s CofE Primary School, has just over 200 pupils and is rated “good” by Ofsted. Seniors’ closest options include the Ofsted “outstanding” options of The Skinners’ Kent Academy, Cranbrook School and Tunbridge Wells Girls’ Grammar School.
The commute: the nearest station is at Frant, about three miles from Lamberhurst. Services to Charing Cross take just over an hour, and an annual season ticket costs from £4,836.
Period charm: dating to the 14th century, The Peacock Inn at Goudhurst, one of the glorious satellite villages around Cranbrook (Alamy Stock Photo)
2. Buying in Cranbrook: farmers’ market and café culture
Known as “the capital of the Weald” Cranbrook has a vibrant town centre, with part-timbered and weather-boarded shops lining its high street and a skyline dominated by the Union Mill windmill, a relic of the Weald’s medieval cloth-making days.
Cranbrook’s good schools and reasonable commute make it a favourite with exiting Londoners. It’s a lively kind of place with café culture in full swing, a monthly farmers’ market, a regular literary festival, plus live entertainment at The Queen’s Hall Theatre. When the weather is bad there is a pool and gym at the Weald Sports Centre. When it is not, the glorious grounds of Sissinghurst Castle Garden will provide greenfingered amateurs with plenty of inspiration.
Rupert Newcomb, director of Jackson-Stops, says most Londoners heading towards Cranbrook and satellite villages, such as glorious Goudhurst, are after a “forever” home with a bit of land — which would cost anything from £900,000 to £1.5 million-plus. But in the town are quaint period houses, Victorian and older, in and around the high street, selling from £500,000 for a four-bedroom home. A little further out you could pick up a five-bedroom detached Thirties house for £600,000 to £700,000. “One of the good things about Cranbrook is its very eclectic mix of properties,” says Newcomb.
Schools: Cranbrook School, one of the UK’s top-performing state schools, was founded in 1518. Unusually this selective grammar school takes boarders as well as day pupils, and its top marks from Ofsted make it a huge pull. The town’s three primary schools all get “good” reports from the government education watchdog.
The commute: it’s a 15-minute drive to Staplehurst to pick up a train to Charing Cross. The journey takes just over an hour and an annual season ticket costs £5,188.
£1.75 million: a five-bedroom house with lovely gardens in Mayfield. Call Batcheller Monkhouse (01892 323085)
3. Buying in Mayfield: for community and a scent of lavender
This ancient village is still going strong. Andrew Burnett, partner at Burnetts estate agents, believes Mayfield’s charm is down to its “really special feeling of community” — but it also has more tangible assets.
The pretty high street has useful shops including a chemist and a butchers, a couple of cafés and a historic pub, the Middle House. Traffic volumes are low thanks to the A267 bypass around Mayfield. Locals are sporty: there are tennis, badminton, cricket, football and golf clubs. In summer, 25-acre Mayfield Lavender farm is a fabulously aromatic place to visit and has its own café that sells, among other things, home-brewed lavender cider.
A three-bedroom cottage in Mayfield costs from around £350,000, while a five-bedroom house with a good garden would require a budget of £600,000-plus.
Schools: there is a choice of four primary schools in and around the village. Seniors can try for a place at one of the cracking grammar schools in Tunbridge Wells, or the non-selective Bennett Memorial Diocesan School, which holds an “outstanding” Ofsted report.
The commute: trains from Crowborough, seven miles away, to London Bridge take just over an hour and an annual season ticket costs from £3,092.