An analysis of the best of the commuter destinations reached from King's Cross station highlights four distinctly different options in the east of England.
They range from the beautiful but pricey Cambridge to the duller, but sensibly priced, city of Ely. Then there are the neighbouring small towns of Hitchin and Arlesey — towns which, says Marcus Dixon, a director of Savills, in his experience represent the classic commuter conundrum.
Arlesey is more than 25 per cent cheaper — but less lovely — than its smarter neighbour Hitchin with all its facilities and pretty shops.
"But," says Dixon, "you have to carefully weigh up your needs and lifestyle, against your budget. If you are a commuting couple who shop and entertain with friends in London, then you are better off going for the better house and bigger space in the less expensive town."
Journey time: 48 minutes
Annual season ticket: £3,764
Average property price: £292,000 (saving compared to London average price is £47,000)
Average detached property price: £532,000 (saving compared to London average is £66,000)
10-year price growth: 141 per cent
Almost a third of the commuters who depart from Cambridge station are King's Cross-bound. Many are parents who were lured by good-value property and schools, a cosmopolitan atmosphere and the sheer extraordinary beauty of the university city.
Close to the city centre is Mill Road, where a fine three-storey Victorian semi would cost between £750,000 and £900,000. Alternatively a smaller, two-up, two-down house in the area could be yours for around £250,000.
Another popular area is De Freville, to the north of the River Cam and therefore slightly less convenient for the station, where a three- to four-bedroom town house would sell for around £650,000.
A little further out - perhaps 15 minutes' walk - a four- or five-bedroom detached house in the Hills Road area, with large garden and up to 2,500sq ft of living space, would cost about £1 million.
The city is surrounded by a number of pretty necklace villages, notably Great and Little Shelford. A manor house would set you back £2.5 million, but a two-bedroom cottage may be a more realistic choice at £250,000.
A key reason to decamp to Cambridge is, of course, education. There are plenty of private schools (The Leys and The Perse are the swankiest), while Parkside School, in the city centre, is one of the best state schools in the region. For sixth formers there are two colleges to choose from, Hills Road and Long Road, both highly rated.
Journey time: 67 minutes
Annual season ticket: £3,924
Average property price: £180,000 (saving £159,000)
Average detached property price: £231,000 (saving £366,000)
10-year price growth: 115 per cent
Ely is the third smallest city in Britain, sitting on the River Great Ouse. The prize houses are close to the river. A modern town house on Cardinals Way would cost from £350,000, a Georgian terrace with four to five bedrooms on Waterside would cost around £600,000. In terms of schooling, the posh option is The King's School (alumni include Alan Yentob), while City of Ely College, the main state senior, is rated as okay but not brilliant by locals.
Ely is very much a dormitory town for Cambridge, although more than four in 10 season ticket holders using the station are heading to London.
"Why do they come here? It's all about the house prices," says David Clarke of David Clarke & Co. "Ely has got all the basic facilities and the national names — Starbucks, Pizza Express — are starting to crop up, which could be a good or a bad thing depending on your viewpoint." For the more rural life, Haddenham, seven miles away, is a thriving village with a decent high street. A big family house with a couple of acres would cost around £750,000, while you could secure a three-bedroom Victorian double-fronted cottage from around £350,000.
Journey time: 38 minutes
Annual season ticket: £2,988
Average property price: £179,000 (saving £160,000)
Average detached property price: £240,000 (saving £357,000)
10-year price growth: 152 per cent
Certainly not the most beautiful town in Britain, but a super-fast train link to London plus impressive house price growth make Arlesey a serious commuter contender.
Arlesey claims to have the longest high street in Britain — some five miles — but the down side is that if you live at the wrong end the station is a long trek. Plus its shops are a long way from London standards.
On the other hand Steve Monaghan of Wilson Peacock says you could buy a two-bedroom Victorian cottage from £120,000 and a four-bedroom modern family house from £250,000.
For schooling most children travel by bus to Shefford, about seven miles away. The Samuel Whitbread School has a good reputation.
Outside Arlesey are a number of good villages, most notably Ashwell, where you could pick up a converted barn for around £200,000, a four-bedroom character cottage for around £500,000 or a gorgeous manor house for about £1.5 million.
Journey time: 32 minutes
Annual season ticket: £3,144
Average property price: £244,000 (saving £95,000)
Average detached property price: £391,000 (saving: £206,000)
Ten-year price growth: 135 per cent
A quick commute, good facilities and schools, a pretty town centre and good period property make Hitchin a magnet for Londoners.
The prime street is The Avenue, studded with big detached Edwardian and Victorian villas, selling from £500,000 to £800,000. It's close to the station — as is Bearton Road, a cheaper option with two- to three-bedroom terrace period houses from £220,000 to £280,000.
The schools attract parents to the area, particularly the oversubscribed Hitchin Girls and Hitchin Boys Schools, although The Priory is also well-liked.
Outside town are pretty villages including Pirton and Shillington. In Pirton — complete with the traditional pub, green and duck pond — you could secure a two-bedroom terrace for £200,000, a barn conversion for about £600,000, or — if you are lucky — a handsome and substantial manor house with rolling gardens for about £1 million.
All savings figures are calculated based on the London average price of £339,000, and the London average for a detached house of £597,000.