Commuter homes: live the cottage dream in East Sussex

Take the train journey times on the chin and select the perfect East Sussex home for less than £600k.
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Seriously thinking of moving to the country? Then there are easier and less expensive places to commute to than East Sussex. But if you can cope with at least an hour each way a day — and can dig deep to pay for the privilege, then you can be compensated by good-value house prices and a fine quality of life.

With a ceiling of £600,000 under the Government’s Help to Buy scheme, which offers 95 per cent mortgages to first-time buyers and those struggling to move up the property ladder, there is plenty of choice in East Sussex and your new home could prove a sound investment.

According to Land Registry figures, prices rose in the county by 1.8 per cent last year to an average £179,986, making it one of the most affordable options for commuters. And East Sussex is pulling out of recession fast.

If you like your country towns historic and delectably pretty then Rye, located on a hilltop at the edge of the Weald, will bring you happiness. This medieval town with cobbled streets and timbered buildings is full of antique shops and art galleries, there are stacks of cute cafés, and a weekly market.

On the downside is the commute from the easternmost tip of the county to St Pancras. It takes from one hour and seven minutes and an annual season ticket costs £4,304. But Rye is a Cinque Port worth its toll. Good beaches are nearby at Winchelsea and Camber Sands, and the whole area is dotted with nature reserves.

There is still a working fishing fleet in the town, so the seafood is excellent, and each September there is a two-week arts festival. Another highlight of Rye’s annual social calendar is Bonfire Night, with a torch-lit parade through town and full-on fireworks display.


£540,000: The Old Vicarage at East Guldeford, Rye, has three bedrooms and lovely views over Romney Marsh. Available through Hobbs Parker

Because Rye is popular with tourists it has really good pubs and restaurants. The Mermaid Inn has a wonderful inglenook fireplace, while The Ambrette at Rye has won rave reviews for its modern Indian food.

Rye Community Primary School, and the town’s senior school, Rye College, are rated “good” by government schools inspector Ofsted, and the average property price is £299,500, up eight per cent in the last year, according to Zoopla.

Jason Stubbs, manager of Phillips & Stubbs estate agents, says about a quarter of his clients are now commuters. The high-speed rail link from Ashford to London has cut journey times by up to 45 minutes, appealing to Londoners taking advantage of the disparity between prices in the capital and the home counties. A historic two-bedroom cottage in the old town of Rye would cost between £250,000 and £300,000, says Stubbs, while a four- to five-bedroom detached Victorian or Edwardian house a little further out can be had for about £600,000.

This market town in stunning countryside sits on a high ridge of the Weald, two and a half miles from the giant Bewl Water reservoir offering sailing, windsurfing, rowing, fishing and a great circuit for runners and cyclists.

Wadhurst High Street is affluent and thriving — the town was recently named as one of the top 4x4-owning UK hotspots — with a traditional butchers, bakers and ironmongers, a café and several established pubs. Tunbridge Wells is seven miles away for a wider range of shops and restaurants.

Wadhurst residents include TV presenter Davina McCall and Hans Rausing, 87, billionaire scion of the Swedish Tetra Pak family. The average property price is £379,194, up 8.5 per cent year on year according to Zoopla. Sue Carne, director of The County Homesearch Company, says £600,000 will go a long way in a town where homes range from 15th century to modern. “Whether you want a small character cottage, a cosy farmhouse, a new maintenance-free family home or a multimillion-pound mansion, Wadhurst offers a wonderful variety of beautiful houses.”


£245,000: Chewton Rose has a two-bedroom cottage in Sparrows Green, Wadhurst

Chloe Boumediene of Savills agrees Wadhurst has masses of choice. She estimates a two-bedroom flat would cost from £200,000, a three-bedroom detached house would start at about £450,000, and a four-bedroom detached home from £500,000.

Schools include Uplands Community College for seniors and Wadhurst CofE Primary, both rated “good” by the government schools inspector. Given the proximity to Tunbridge Wells, children may be able to win a place at one of Kent’s fiercely competitive grammar schools, though Carne stresses this cannot be relied upon.

Trains from Wadhurst to Charing Cross take from one hour and three minutes, and an annual season ticket costs from £4,432.

Historic Lewes’s two main claims to fame are its Bonfire Night fireworks display every year, the UK’s biggest, and nearby Glyndebourne opera house’s annual international-quality summer season. But this beautiful town has more going for it than fireworks and high notes.

It’s a short hop to Brighton but Lewes is far quieter. It has boutiques, antique shops, plenty of cafés and restaurants,  plus a monthly farmers’ market. It is a haven for culture vultures with an art gallery, film club, comedy club and annual arts festival, and many pubs host live music. There are also cricket, football, cycling and golf clubs.

Lewes sits within the South Downs National Park, and since it is only 10 miles inland, a day out at the seaside is simple — choose from heaving Brighton or laid-back Saltdean.


£355,000: a two-bedroom cottage in Ilford, near Lewes, through Strutt & Parker

Residents tend to be a mixture of commuters and retirees, plus students and staff from the University of Sussex. Kiwi opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa owns property in the area and the comedian Sean Lock is also local.

Commuters have a choice of trains to Victoria or London Bridge, both taking just over an hour. An annual season ticket costs from £3,860.

"South Malling CofE, Western Road Community and St Pancras Catholic primary schools are among the best of the local bunch, all rated “good” by Ofsted. The watchdog rates Priory School, for seniors, “outstanding”.

The average property in Lewes costs £381,476, up 7.5 per cent year on year according to Zoopla and there are some lovely town-centre period houses, from Tudor onwards. 

At estate agents A Wycherley, partner Charles Wycherley says a £600,000 budget buys a three- to four-bedroom modern or Thirties house on the outskirts of town, or a three- to four-bedroom Edwardian semi-detached within 10 minutes of the town centre — an area named The Wallands is particularly popular thanks to its proximity to a great park and good schools. In the centre of Lewes you could opt for a three-bedroom Victorian townhouse.

“About 30 per cent of our buyers are coming out from London,” adds Wycherley. “We do seem to have been found by Londoners in recent years.”


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