The routes on which you are least likely to find a seat are South West Trains services into Waterloo, according to the latest statistics. During the morning rush almost a third of passengers — 28 per cent — have to stand. But elsewhere you can get a seat. We have chosen three winning lines.
Train line: East Coast Trains to King’s Cross.
Travel time and annual season ticket costs: from 52 minutes; £5,800.
Average property price: £165,442.
Local knowledge: this cathedral city on the edge of the Fens was recently named as one of the best commuter destinations in a study by Carter Jonas. The King’s School is rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, while fee-paying parents are within a school run of the famous trio of Oundle, Stamford and Uppingham schools.
The town centre, with chain stores aplenty, is rather Sixties-ugly, but Terry Lucking, managing director of Belvoir Peterborough, said the precinct in front of the cathedral recently had a £12 million facelift, with good new restaurants moving in, and the station is in line for a revamp. Cambridge is less than 40 miles away.
“For £250,000 you could buy a detached house, and for £400,000 you can live in the best part, two miles from the centre in pretty, villagey Longthorpe in a four-bedroom period home.” In the picturesque satellite villages of Castor and Ailsworth, £250,000 will buy a three-bedroom cottage, while £500,000 buys a four-bedroom family house with a large garden.
Train line: First Capital Connect to King’s Cross.
Travel time and annual season ticket costs: from 46 minutes (Hertford North station); £2,556.
Average property price: £328,332.
Local knowledge: young families priced out of the London market make up about half of new business in this thriving market town, said Phillip Godfrey, director of Churchills estate agents. They come for the good train links, good schools and affordability.
There’s a Saturday market, a monthly farmers’ market and enough boutiques and gastropubs to keep an exiled Londoner happy. Hartham Common has tennis courts, and there’s fishing, kayaking and canoeing on the River Rib.
Bengeo, a verdant suburb on the west side of town, offers quality turn-of-last-century homes. Expect to pay from £350,000 for a three-bedroom house, and from £400,000 for four bedrooms. Tim Stranks, associate at property finder Garrington said schools are the main reason parents love Hertford, both state — particularly Abel Smith and Mill Mead primaries, with Richard Hale School and Simon Balle School for seniors — and private — St. Joseph’s in the Park and Duncombe prep schools, with Haileybury for boarders.
Train line: Virgin Trains to Euston.
Travel time and annual season ticket costs: from 49 minutes; £5,240.
Average property price: £182,653
Local knowledge: train links and very affordable homes cancel out the large commuting cost. Modern four-bedroom detached houses are available in the town for below the £250,000 Stamp Duty threshold.
Alex Clarke, associate partner at Howkins & Harrison estate agents, said villages outside town are the most sought-after areas for their peace, quiet, access to countryside and good looks. These include Churchover and Easenhall, both four miles from the town centre, where a substantial five-bedroom period house is between £500,000 and £600,000. Neither has many facilities, other than a pub apiece, but they virtually abut the town.
Education is a strong point. There is, of course, Rugby School, for fee-paying parents, or Lawrence Sheriff School (boys, grammar) and Rugby High School (girls, grammar) which are rated “outstanding” by Ofsted. Stratford-upon-Avon is less than 30 miles away for culture, with Birmingham’s shops 35 miles off. And with a last train leaving at 11.30pm, a night out in London is not difficult with the quick commute.