London’s commuter hinterland is seeing a ripple effect as rising prices in hot spots push house-hunters in search of an affordable rural idyll further out of the capital. And nowhere is this trend clearer than on the line out of Paddington.
© John Lawrence
'The trend seems to be that commuters are now moving further out, and as a result areas such as Kintbury in Berkshire could see big growth'
The pretty commuter village of Taplow is in Buckinghamshire - 40 minutes from London and with prices on average £10,000 more than in the capital. Compare that to Kintbury, an equally pretty village but 23 minutes further along the track.
Here prices are on average £34,000 less than in London (and detached homes are more than £130,000 cheaper). Moreover, experts believe it is these more far-flung locations that have the greatest price-growth potential.
"Places that are 50 minutes or less from London have always been on the commuters' radar and so prices have been pushed up," explains Marcus Dixon, a director of Savills, who has researched the best commuter options from Paddington.
"Taplow has been desirable for a long time as it is an 'acceptable' distance from London. But I suspect if you sold a two-bedroom flat in Zones 2 or 3 these days you wouldn't be able to get a detached house in Taplow. It is a dilemma because commuters want the dream of living in a nice village. The trend seems to be that they are now moving further out, and as a result areas such as Kintbury could see big growth."
"Another option is Didcot Parkway, an area that immediately conjures up rather depressing images of vast, monolithic cooling towers. But if you are willing to drive five or 10 minutes from the station you can find nice villages," says Dixon.
Journey time: 40 minutes
Annual season ticket: £2,272
Average house price: £349,000
Average detached house price: £523,000 (London saving: £74,000)
10-year price growth: 106 per cent
Taplow’s status as a star commuter village is down to its quick links to London, gorgeous surrounding countryside and picture-postcard looks. The village is somewhat low on amenities, although there is a pub (The Oak & Saw) and the primary school, St Nicholas's.
Senior pupils move on to schools in Maidenhead or Burnham, with Burnham Grammar rated "good" by Ofsted. The village's resident star is Terry Wogan, and its beautiful church was the scene of Ant McPartlin's wedding to Lisa Armstrong in 2006.
Luke Lambourne, of agent Lambourne Carmody, says property is scarce and sought-after: a two-bedroom 1800s cottage in the heart of the village would set you back around £300,000.
Taplow has a small development of Sixties "span" houses, at Cedar Chase, which were considered terribly avant-garde in their day. The three-bedroom homes would cost between £300,000 and £375,000, although some locals aren't keen on the white-brick properties. The village sits close to the east bank of the Thames, and sprawling riverside houses cost £1 million-plus.
Although Taplow is tiny, its location is wonderful. You can walk to the Thames, it is 10 minutes' drive to Bray, home of Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck restaurant, or you could choose to visit Cliveden, also about 10 minutes away. Maidenhead and Windsor are within easy reach for shopping and socialising.
The most sought-after village nearby is Dorney. Expect to pay a minimum of £400,000 for a family house, which range from Georgian piles to Seventies executive homes. The village is quiet and pretty but will be the focus of the UK's Olympic hopes in 2012 when Dorney Lake hosts the Games' rowing events.
Journey time: 63 minutes
Annual season ticket: £3,780
Average property price: £305,000
Average detached property price: £463,000 (London saving: £134,000)
10-year price growth: 115 per cent
Kintbury's longish commute is compensated for by its delightful village atmosphere, good range of property and fabulous countryside.
The village is in the valley of the River Kennet, with Lambourn Downs and the Ridgeway to the north and the North Hampshire Downs to the south. It was recently named as one of England's 10 most sought-after villages. The village is home to designer Terence Conran and writer and historian Robert Harris.
"It is a lovely, proper village," says estate agent Simon Downer of Downer & Co. "You have got a village shop, a butcher and a couple of pubs. It has got the river and also the Kennet and Avon Canal, which just makes it very, very pretty."
Kintbury's school, St Mary's Church of England Primary School, is rated "satisfactory" by Ofsted. Senior students need to travel to either Hungerford or Newbury. Park House School and Sports College and St Bartholomew's School, both in Newbury, are rated "good".
Property in the village ranges from two-bedroom Victorian cottages, which sell for about £250,000, to modern executive family homes, priced at about £500,000. Big period manor houses, on the outskirts, sell for £3 million to £4 million.
"What is lovely is that it has a complete cross-section of property and people," says Downer. "It is not a pretentious village at all, and it has got a very good atmosphere."
DIDCOT PARKWAY, OXFORDSHIRE
Journey time: 43 minutes
Annual season ticket: £3,880
Average property: £235,000
Average detached property price: £344,000 (London saving: £253,000)
10-year price growth: 120 per cent.
The vast cooling towers of Didcot Parkway were recently named Britain's third-worst eyesore by Country Life magazine. But if you can overlook the towering chimneys then Didcot, and the villages around it, have much to offer.
Didcot is a utilitarian town about 10 miles south of Oxford. It is, to be frank, not going to set the world alight but it does have a useful shopping centre (The Orchard Centre), three leisure centres and an arts venue, The Cornerstone.
The two state secondary schools in Didcot are St Birinus School (a boys' school rated "good" by Ofsted) and Didcot Girls' School (Ofsted "satisfactory"). Didcot has been the focus of a huge burst of house building over the past three decades, with thousands of new builds on the Ladygrove, just north of the station. A one-bedroom house on the estate would cost about £150,000, while a three-bedroom property would set you back more than £300,000.
Negotiations are ongoing to expand Ladygrove. Meanwhile, Taylor Wimpey (taylorwimpey.co.uk) has just gone on site with a 10-year, 3,300-home development, Great Western Park, to the west of town. The first homes are due to go on sale next spring.
For fans of period housing, Old Didcot has some decent turn-of-the-century property. Will Peddie, of Allen & Harris, says Lydalls Road is particularly popular, with three-bedroom houses selling for £300,000-plus. The real gems, however, are the trio of pretty villages just out of town.
Harwell is said to be the most vibrant and lively of the three. A barn conversion would cost from £350,000, while a five-bedroom manor house would cost in the region of £750,000 to £1 million.
The enchantingly named Blewbury is equally pretty, with some really good period stock. A three- to four-bedroom timber-framed house would cost about £650,000, but you could pick up a two-bedroom Thirties house for about £250,000.
East and West Hagbourne are also terribly picturesque, but you would need £300,000 to buy a two-bedroom cottage, while family houses start at £500,000. A little further away is another lovely village, Aston Tirrold, home of tennis star Tim Henman.