Strolling through Thornborough and pausing on the village green in the late summer sunshine it is hard to imagine a more idyllic setting, and should that watery sun not hold, then taking shelter with a glass of wine at The Two Brewers pub is always an option. What's more, the cows grazing in the fields nearby are clearly of the living and breathing variety.
How unlike the herd of famously concrete cattle to be spotted at nearby Milton Keynes, the London overspill new town built in 1967 on a radical grid system in anticipation of a world of universal car ownership. "MK's" benchmark architecture is harsh, its iconic modernist homes often likened to prefabs by those who fail to cope with a town made up of serried rows of unromantic boxes, where streets look empty as people disappear into underpasses to cross pavementless roads.
Milton Keynes was the name of an original village, one of four that were encircled by the new town. But the publicity that drew people to the area opened the eyes of the traditionalists to the quintessential English village architecture of the Buckinghamshire countryside. These are villages within easy reach of London via the station at Milton Keynes, where the journey time to Euston is less than 40 minutes (annual season ticket: £4,140).
Homes in these pretty rural communities remain surprisingly affordable for Londoners looking for family life with trees and fields. And while the proposed high-speed railway linking London to the Midlands is causing angst for those with homes along its path, High Speed 2 could have some great benefits for Milton Keynes.
The Association of Train Operating Companies pledges that the multi-billion-pound project will free up space on the existing network, meaning that the number of peaktime trains from Milton Keynes could rise by 125 per cent. On this basis, earlier this month, Milton Keynes council voted to give High Speed 2 its backing, though it is lobbying for a stop on the super-fast service closer to the town, which would bring even greater benefits for its commuters.
Slightly larger than its close neighbour Adstock, and centred around a village green. It could be from a Constable painting. The Two Brewers is the centre of activity for adults, and parents and children head for the sports pitch for football and cricket matches. Thornborough Infant School leads to the Royal Latin School - if candidates can pass the entrance exam. The Buckingham School, also in Buckingham town, only managed a "satisfactory" Ofsted report. However, there are also a number of private schools within striking distance, including Thornton College and Stowe School.
You can buy a period cottage in the village from £250,000 or a four-bedroom barn conversion for about £600,000. There is plenty of walking country, and four miles away is Stowe Landscape Gardens, one of the finest Georgian gardens in Britain. Claydon House, also four miles away, has some wonderful 18th-century rococo and chinoiserie decoration to admire. The Cotswolds is only a 40-minute drive, and Milton Keynes is 11 miles away.
If you like your villages tiny and picture-postcard pretty, then Adstock could be for you. From its 12th-century church to its breathtaking thatched cottages, this is the real deal. Catherine McAllister, regional director of Stacks Property Search, and an expert in rural charm, describes the village in four words: small, picturesque and beautifully kept. "The thriving Old Thatched Inn, with outstanding food, is well-used by locals for catching up on the gossip." The market town of Buckingham is only five miles away. Milton Keynes is about 13 miles and with little traffic the drive will take under half an hour.
Two-up, two-down Victorian cottages in Adstock are about £200,000 but the real prizes are the 300-year-old thatched cottages going from anything from £400,000 to £900,000. A visit to the annual Adstock Open Garden Weekend confirms the high level of community spirit, and a bunch of keen parents are drawn to the village because it is in the catchment area of the Royal Latin School in Buckingham, a grammar school rated "outstanding" by Ofsted. Juniors can go to Padbury CE School, also in Buckingham, and rated "good".
For sports fans Addington Manor Equestrian Centre has a regular programme of competitions. Its facilities are so good that members of the UK equestrian team will train there for the 2012 Olympics.
Aspley Heath, Bedfordshire
The unique selling point of this village is its location, in ancient woodland which is part of the Duke of Bedford's estate. Aspley Heath is four miles south-east of Milton Keynes, and it's posh. One of the most exclusive postcodes in the area, it has large Victorian homes with woodland views on Church Road that sell for £1 million-plus.
Terry Bulley, of Taylors Executive Homes, says you could buy a thatched cottage for £400,000 or a Seventies detached house for between £550,000 and £750,000. "And there is easy access into Milton Keynes or on to the M1, though you can't hear it."
The Royal Oak pub, at Aspley Heath, is enjoyed by golfers from Woburn Golf Club and Aspley Guise & Woburn Sands Golf Club. Woburn Sands village is within walking distance and has good shops, restaurants and schools. Swallowford Lower School and Fulbrook Middle School are both rated "good" with some exceptional features by Ofsted. Woburn Sands also has a direct train link to Bedford, and many senior pupils go to either Bedford Modern School (independent) or Bedford High School, rated "good".
Only five miles from the centre of Milton Keynes, Beachampton has more to do including a shooting club, golf society, gardening society and an annual fête. There is the Bell Inn, but no shop. However, Stoney Stratford has shops; it's the nearest district of Milton Keynes, three miles away.
Chris Durrant, of Michael Graham estate agents, says you could buy a traditional four-bedroom stone cottage in the village for between £300,000 and £350,000, or a modern four-bedroom family house for between £375,000 and £400,000. Larger family homes with a couple of acres sell from £800,000. There is a lack of "middling" homes, priced around the £500,000 mark.
Young children can opt for nearby Whaddon CofE First School, rated "good" by Ofsted. The nearest middle school is Great Horwood Church of England Combined School, for pupils aged three to 11, rated "satisfactory". Damian Gray, of Knight Frank, says fee-paying parents have a choice. The celebrated Oxford schools, including St Edwards, The Dragon and Headington High School are also easily reachable.