Best commuter market towns: Bishop's Stortford, Wendover and Horsham

Planning to leave the city? These are the market towns that won't give townies culture shock
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Wendover historic town square
© Biblio photography/Alamy
As well as its historic town, Wendover offers a high street full of shops and cafés
Abandoning city life in favour of rural bliss - think wide open spaces, complete peace and quiet, and a 15-minute drive for a pint of milk - can be a terrifying prospect for a die-hard townie.

Which is why so many defecting Londoners opt instead for a bustling town or well-stocked village in the hopes of having it all: affordable homes, a more peaceful way of life, but with good shops and services right on their doorstep.

Of course this type of lifestyle usually comes at a price, especially if your search is confined to "usual suspect" towns. Take St Albans - just 19 minutes to London by train and with great facilities, but where a detached home costs an average £680,000.

The solution, should this bust your budget, could be to opt for the nearby but lesser known Bishop's Stortford. Admittedly the commute to London is stretched to 43 minutes, but the longer journey brings prices down to £444,000 - effectively a saving of £9,875 a minute. Research by Savills has identified the three best "Cinderella" towns outside London. They may not be as well known or - in some cases - as well equipped with artisan delis as their more famous neighbours, but they all provide quality housing stock, good schools and good facilities within an easy commute.

So if Beaconsfield (where average detached house prices are just shy of £1 million) is too rich for your blood, consider Wendover. True, it is 16 minutes further from London by train and not quite as chi chi, but prices collapse to £475,000. Or swap Horsham for Guildford and save 24 per cent on the price of a family house.

"The decision that you have to make is that you either compromise on space and buy something small somewhere like St Albans - but probably the majority of people who move out of London need extra space - or you accept a slightly longer commute," says Marcus Dixon, associate director of residential research at Savills.

"These places have a similar quality of life but they are an extra 15 or 20 minutes down the line from the "usual suspects". If you can accept the longer travel time you can still get the nice period house in the quality location but you are not paying a premium for a really quick commute."

Georgian house
£550,000: Georgian house in Bishop's Stortford has a walled garden (01279 755400)

Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire

Journey time 43 minutes
Annual season ticket £3,100
Average house price £296,000
Average detached house £444,000
Ten-year price growth 87%
Price differential compared with St Albans (19-minute journey) -30%

Search for homes for sale in Bishop's Stortford

Bishop's Stortford is a pretty market town with lashings of charm and quick links to London. If you yearn for a truly historic home then the 15th and 16th century timbered cottages along Wind Hill could be just the ticket - and priced at around £450,000 for three bedrooms. There are also streets of good Victorian and Edwardian terraces close to the town centre, for between £275,000 and £300,000 for two or three bedrooms.

In general the town's "north corner" is the most sought after, according to Martin Nash, senior negotiator at Mullucks Wells. Maze Green Road, with its mix of period and modern houses, is the most expensive address, with properties priced around the £1 million mark. But you could buy a 1960s or 1970s house in the north corner from £300,000. There has also been a rash of new apartments built in Bishop's Stortford, most notably Barratt's Riverside Wharf overlooking the River Stort. A two-bedroom flat here would cost between £200,000 and £220,000.

Bishop's Stortford town centre is very much a game of two halves: North Street is pretty and quaint, while South Street is littered with Fifties and Sixties buildings and dominated by the major chains. Locals recommend gastropub Host, just above the town's Corn Exchange, for a meal and/or a drink, while the newly opened Italian restaurant Il Gardinio is going down well.

In terms of regeneration there is talk of a development on the Old River Lane car park, bringing a new complex of restaurants, cafes and a hotel. For entertainment all paths lead to the Rhodes Arts Complex, which has a theatre, cinema and dance studio.

There is also a weekly market, and masses of choice for the sports-mad, including the Grange Paddocks swimming pool and gym; and active cricket, rugby, hockey, football, squash and golf clubs.

In terms of education there is an attractive choice of state secondaries, including The Bishop's Stortford High School (boys) and the Hertfordshire and Essex High School and Science College (girls), both rated "excellent" by Ofsted.

Aylesbury, Wendover house £425,000
£425,000: Four bedroom family house in Aylesbury Road (01296 625050)

Wendover, Buckinghamshire

Journey time 46 minutes
Annual season ticket £2,800
Average house price £354,000
Average detached house £476,000
Ten-year price growth 71%
Price differential compared with Beaconsfield (30-minute journey) -53%

Find a property for sale in Wendover

Nestled in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at the foot of the Chiltern Hills, Wendover is half the price of its snazzier Buckinghamshire neighbour Beaconsfield.

Technically a large village rather than a town, Wendover nonetheless has a very useful high street full of restaurants, pretty cafés like the White Water Café Deli, and the heavenly chocolaterie Rumsey's where you can learn to make your own chocolates - or just relax and eat theirs.

The oldest homes in the village are Tudor, and it also has two- to three-bedroom Victorian and Edwardian semis close to the heart of the village, priced from around £400,000. If you want something larger, an executive home with four or five bedrooms would cost between £500,000 and £600,000, according to Martin Ward, a director of Hamnett Hayward.

The top end of the market would be a Thirties family house with a large garden on one of the best streets, like Ellesborough Road or Dobbins Lane, for around £1.5 million.

Education is a strong point of life in Wendover, which is in the catchment area for the very good grammar schools of Aylesbury. If not, then parents rave about the town's secondary school, John Colet School, which Ofsted describes as "good" with some outstanding qualities.

A fly in the ointment is the proposed High Speed 2 rail line which will pass to the west of the town and will inevitably impact on prices. Ward believes only those properties within eye or earshot of the new line will be affected, and says that currently homes within a quarter of a mile of the proposed track are selling with "barely" an impact.

Horsham street shot
© Barry Phillips
Good-quality homes in Horsham start from about £450,000

Horsham, West Sussex

Journey time 52 minutes
Annual season ticket £3,300
Average house price £316,000
Average detached house £466,000
Ten-year price growth 84%
Price differential compared with Guildford (37-minute journey) -24%

Homes for sale in Horsham

Horsham sits close to the Surrey borders and right in the heart of the Weald. But despite its proximity to the most expensive of the home counties, its property prices are distinctly un-Surrey.

Ross Dealhoy, senior sales negotiator at Connells estate agents, says buyers can pick up a two bedroom Victorian terrace in this market town from around £225,000, or a good sized detached Victorian house for around £525,000. The best streets include New Street, and Bedford and Devonshire Roads. To the north of town you will find quality newish homes, priced at around £450,000 for four bedrooms, or £650,000 for five or six bedrooms.

Horsham's millionaires row is Kerves Lane, where you would pay £1 million plus for a sprawling contemporary house with up to 5,000sq ft of living space plus a huge garden.

The town centre would pass the coffee shop test, but sadly it is crammed full of chain stores. Many independent businesses have floundered during the recession. Still the newly pedestrianised West Street is a most pleasant spot for an al-fresco supper, and if you want character head to The Black Jug for a pint.

The town also has its own theatre, a hospital and lots of (chain) restaurants, while Horsham Park is well equipped with football pitches, tennis courts and wildlife ponds. The town's swimming pool and gym are nearby.

State schooling is a mixed bag. Millais School (girls) is rated "excellent" by Ofsted. However, The Forest School (boys) gets only a "satisfactory" report. Tanbridge House School (mixed) is rated "good" by the Government's schools inspector.

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