Commuter watch: Cherwell Valley

A new £250m super-fast commuter service brings the chance to buy in the good-value Cherwell Valley
Bicester village
© Alamy
Bicester's Outlet Village brings bargain hunters to the town in search of discounted designer homeware and fashion
The Cherwell Valley, which sweeps between Oxford and Banbury, is increasingly popular with Londoners who cannot quite stretch to a commuter home among the high-priced, golden-stone homes of Chipping Norton in north Oxfordshire's "Cameron Country".

The valley offers not only better value for its pretty stone cottages and commanding country houses, but also a faster commute into the capital. At present, trains from Bicester to London take a shade under an hour. But from September, thanks to a £250 million upgrade of the line between Marylebone and Birmingham Moor Street, the journey time will be cut to an eminently commuteable 45 minutes.

While the town of Bicester may most kindly be described as "functional", the villages surrounding it appear increasingly alluring and the town itself does have the bargain bounty of Bicester Outlet Village - a mecca for cheap designer homeware and fashion.

Houses and flats for sale in Bicester
Houses and flats to rent in Bicester

Fritwell


One of the largest villages, some six miles from Bicester, is Fritwell. By local standards Fritwell is something of a metropolis: two pubs (The George and Dragon and the King's Head) and a butcher. There is also Fritwell Church of England Primary School, which, however, only manages a "satisfactory" rating from Ofsted.

Though there are some rather unpretty Fifties houses on the outskirts of the village, the centre is stuffed with exceedingly lovely traditional 16th- and 17th-century cottages, built of either Hornton stone (otherwise known as gingerbread stone, thanks to the warmth of its spicy colours) or classic golden Cotswold limestone. There are also large former farmhouses and converted barns to hunt down.

Houses and flats for sale in Fritwell
Houses and flats to rent in Fritwell

Nick Rudge, a director of Savills, says you might pay £200,000 for a two-up two-down cottage, about £350,000 to £400,000 for a three-bedroom house, circa £650,000 to £700,000 for a barn or about £1 million for a large family home with a bit of land.

"It is becoming quite a sought-after part of the world by the London crowd," said Rudge.

Nonetheless prices are five to 10 per cent less than in and around Chipping Norton, in part because it has failed to register on commuters' radar until recently.

Happily, the Government's proposed High Speed Rail Link between London and Birmingham will pass out of earshot to the east but a potential downside is that a planning inspector recently gave consent for a wind farm to be built close to the village, despite a heated local campaign and the opposition of Cherwell district council. The four turbines will stand 125 metres high and will be, says Rudge, visible from many parts of the village. Work could start next year.

Disappointing though the development is to the campaigners who battled against it, the experience has encouraged the council to bring in a policy to prevent wind farms being built close to homes in future. In February it agreed to establish an 800-metre exclusion zone between new turbines and homes.

The new policy has yet to be tested - and it runs in the face of the Government's enthusiasm for renewable energy - so it will be an interesting battle. But it is a move certain to be monitored by other rural councils around the UK that are also attempting to block wind farm development on open land.

Rachael Hodnett, a sales negotiator at Kemp & Kemp Residential, specialises in the Cherwell Valley area and firmly believes the development will not blight the area. "I am a believer in green energy - my family farm has a wind turbine and I think it is beautiful," she says. "People want to be five minutes from the M40 and five minutes from the station, but not hear any noise or see anything. That just isn't being realistic."

Souldern


Another village in the heart of the Cherwell Valley, but a little further from the prospective wind farm, is pretty-as-a-picture Souldern, which may not have a school but does have a sports ground, village hall - and crucially - a pub, The Fox, along with a church. House prices are similar to those in Fritwell.

Houses and flats for sale in Souldern
Houses and flats to rent in Souldern

North Aston


A slight step up, in cost terms at least, is North Aston, which is unspoiled by more modern developments and exceptionally well-maintained. A three-bedroom cottage will cost about £400,000, a barn conversion around £800,000 and a five-bedroom house £1.25 million to £1.5 million. It also has Nicholsons, a fabulous plants nursery, which is simply heaven for the horticulturally inclined. A little further from the M40 than some of the other villages in the valley, it is therefore less impacted by noise.

Houses and flats for sale in North Aston
Houses and flats to rent in North Aston

Hodnett says the local market has been encouragingly strong this year, with prices only a little shy of their previous peak, though the number of sales is clearly still much lower than in the heady days of 2007.

"At the moment people from London tend to look south of Oxford, around Abingdon. But I think the faster trains will encourage more of them to look around here," she adds.

As well as trains from Bicester, the M40 offers commuters an 80-mile trip into London and a 10-minute journey to Oxford.

For days out, Blenheim Palace is on the doorstep. With its 2,100 acres of parkland to discover, it is a great day out for families. However, it is the Aga and Fired Earth factory outlets at Adderbury that have become an essential rite of passage for decamping Londoners updating their newly discovered country pads.






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