There are two distinct breeds of London commuter: those in search of the idyllic country life with a character filled cottages or period home on the village green. And then those who have been priced out of London in search of that popular trinity - quick commute, community life and schools.
Charing Cross offers services to both convenient commuter dormitories and the "real" countryside.
Frant pretty much ticks all the boxes in terms of a perfect village location
Since the launch of the high-speed line from St Pancras to Kent, Charing Cross services have become less appealing to people living in Ashford, Canterbury and the Medway towns. Nonetheless it is still the quickest way to reach some prime destinations — and not just commuter stalwarts such as Sevenoaks.
Research on the best locations to be reached from Charing Cross, carried out by Savills, highlights Staplehurst, Frant and Tonbridge. Despite being just three minutes apart, an average home in Staplehurst will cost you £133,000 less than in Frant.
"Frant pretty much ticks all the boxes in terms of a perfect village location and will attract your real lifestyle commuter who could probably afford to buy well in the London suburbs but really wants to live in the country," says Marcus Dixon, an associate director at Savills. "Staplehurst does not have the same cachet, and because of that it is cheaper, although I think it is really nice and has very good schools."
Tonbridge is the closest location to London yet the cheapest of the three. "Tonbridge is a stepping stone to somewhere like Frant. It has got all the suburban London facilities, and it is definitely a place for people who have been priced out of London but are not quite ready for the country."
Journey time: 61 minutes. Annual season ticket: £3,596. Average property price: £356,000 (saving on the average London price: £17,000).
Average detached property price: £524,000 (London saving: £73,000). Ten-year price rise: 78 per cent. Staplehurst is a village on the cusp of becoming a town. It has a small cluster of useful shops, a couple of pubs, a thriving village school and a plethora of associations — from a snooker club to a Women's Guild.
The oldest houses in the village date from the 13th century but, on the outskirts, there is a less lovely sprawl of post-war housing. These more modern properties are the budget option: a two-bedroom mid-terrace costs from £165,000 or a four-bedroom detached house from £350,00 to £550,000.
If you want a traditional cottage, dating from the 17th or 18th century, and awash with beams and inglenook fireplaces, Geoff Radford of Radfords Estate Agents suggests you should expect to pay between £350,000 and £450,000 for a three-bedroom property, or £500,000 plus for a four-bedroom detached version. Outside the village, on quiet country tracks, are more remote options: four-bedroom houses with perhaps an acre of garden for between £600,000 and £700,000.
Children can attend Staplehurst Primary, and a key appeal of the village is that it is in the catchment for the sought-after Cranbrook School in Cranbrook.
For fee-paying parents, Bethany School in Goudhurst and Sutton Valance School in Sutton Valance are popular and close by.
Staplehurst is well located in mid Kent, with the shops of Tunbridge Wells and Maidstone a quick drive away. And there is not one but two castles — Sissinghurst, with its spectacular gardens, and Leeds — within five miles.
FRANT, EAST SUSSEX
Journey time: 62 minutes. Annual season ticket: £3,352. Average property price: £489,000 (London saving: £150,000). Average detached property price: £680,000 (London saving: £83,000). Ten-year price rise: 106 per cent.
Frant, about two miles outside Tunbridge Wells, is everything an English village should be, with a pretty green, a shop, village hall and two wellthought-of pubs, The George and the Abergavenny Arms.
It also has its own junior school — Frant Church of England Primary School, which is rated good by Ofsted. Seniors need to take a bus to Uplands Community College, about five miles away in Wadhurst, also rated good.
Frant's station is about a mile from the centre of the village, in a neighbouring hamlet, the entrancingly named Bells Yew Green. The best Frant properties are the grand Georgian houses around the green. A six to seven-bedroom house would cost around £2 million but a small cottage in the village would cost between £150,000 and £250,000. Large family houses in more rural areas, with a decent amount of land, start at about £2.5 million.
"Frant is quintessentially English," says Catriona Scanlon, of Savills' Tunbridge Wells office. "Drive past on a Sunday and they are playing cricket on the green." Frant is surrounded by spectacular countryside, and Bewl Water is about five miles away, a huge reservoir where you can enjoy sailing or even dragon boat races.
Journey time: 42 minutes. Annual season ticket: £3,048. Average property price: £281,000 (London saving: £58,000). Average detached property price: £437,000 (London saving: £160,000). Ten-year price rise: 100 per cent.
Not to be confused with its snootier neighbour Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge is an altogether more down-to-earth market town although it does have its own 11th century castle built by a cousin of William the Conqueror.
Tonbridge also has all the facilities of a middle-class London suburb: a decent swimming pool and leisure centre, a busy mile-long High Street and a small theatre housed in an original Kentish oast house.
The local schools are a huge draw. There is the fee-paying Tonbridge School, but also a trio of top-end grammar schools: The Judd School, Weald of Kent Grammar School and Tonbridge Grammar School.
The south end of the town is popular with commuters, close to the station and with a good stock of Victorian and Edwardian homes. Howard Kingsnorth of Barnes Kingsnorth estate agents says you could pick up a two-bedroom terrace from £180,000, or a substantial Victorian villa for between £500,000 and £700,000. Many of the largest houses are unfortunately on the A21 or A26, and suffer from traffic noise, but The Drive and Goldsmith Road are popular choices.
The town centre is full of modern homes, and you could pick up a twobedroom flat for as little as £210,000. Popular villages include Shipbourne, Plaxtol and Leigh. Prices are similar in all three, starting at around £300,000 for a two-bedroom cottage and rising to £1.5 million plus for a large house.
All savings figures are calculated based on the London average price for a flat of £339,000, and the London average for a detached house of £597,000.