Commuter watch: Romney Marsh

Bleak and beautiful Romney Marsh - a speedy train journey from London - is now on the commuter map
18-century St Thomas à Becket Church
© Alamy
The beautiful 18-century St Thomas à Becket Church at Fairfield is one of many on Romney Marsh
There is nowhere in England quite like Romney Marsh. It is as flat as the Fens, but somehow more intimate, thanks to its hedgerows and trees.

Its tiny villages are pretty, but not chocolate-boxy; it is bleak and beautiful and its huge skies stretch over 100 square miles of salt marsh on the Kent/East Sussex border where smugglers transported illicitly obtained cargoes by moonlight.

This is life on the edge of the home counties. And now, with the high-speed Ashford International to London train link, it is commutable. Alex Davies, of estate agents Hobbs Parker, says: "If you drive 20 minutes to Ashford, London is less than 40 minutes. In the past it took an hour and a half to two hours."

Lifestyle on the Romney Marsh is all about the great outdoors — perfect for walking and cycling. The RSPB has a fine bird reserve at nearby Dungeness. Romney Marsh is famous for its network of tiny, isolated villages, each decorated with a medieval church. Davies recommends Ivychurch, which as well as St George's Church has a decent 16th-century pub, The Bell, but no shops. A 17th- or 18th-century three-bedroom cottage in the village costs £300,000, or a four-bedroom house with a few acres is about £750,000.

Ivychurch is a 12-mile drive to Ashford International station along the A2070. London is 40 minutes away and an annual season ticket is £5,192. Children go to Ashford's grammar schools, or The Marsh Academy in New Romney, rated "satisfactory" by Ofsted, but improving.

Ivychurch, Romney Marsh
£550,000: Ivychurch, Romney Marsh. Cottage with heated swimming pool, detached garage and equestrian facilities (01233 506223)
Nearby Newchurch is quiet, has a small restaurant and a church with a dramatically listing spire. Steve Hutchens, at Ward & Partners estate agents, suggests a barn conversion in the village for about £500,000 to £550,000, or a late-Victorian cottage from about £150,000. Or if you really want to get away from it all, a farmhouse plus smallholding costs £900,000 to £950,000.

Ashford International is about nine miles away and children go to New Romney, or Ashford's grammars.

Brookland has shops, an annual festival, a pub and one of the oldest churches with a wooden steeple — built at ground level as the marshy ground could not be trusted to take its weight. House prices are similar to Newchurch and there are trains from Appledore, five miles away. The journey to London is an hour and 10 minutes.

New Romney, listed in the Domesday Book, was a port until its harbour silted up in the 13th century. Londoners love its period housing, with 18th-century cottages for £250,000 or a four- to five-bedroom Georgian pile for a maximum £650,000. Davies recommends 17th-century houses in Cannon Street or Church Road conservation areas but there are more cottages than anything else. The Cinque Ports Arms is very pretty and the eccentric Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch light railway, 13.5 miles long, is said to be the world's smallest public railway.

Huggitt Cottage in Stone, Kent
£725,000: Huggitt Cottage in Stone, Kent, is a Grade II-listed five-bedroom detached property with equestrian facilities (01233 506223)
It is a couple of miles to the sandy beaches of Littlestone, for sailing and sea fishing. For brighter lights head south-east to Hythe.

"This area is also posh," said Mark Backhurst, at Ward & Partners, based in Hythe. "You can buy a three- or four-bedroom Victorian or Thirties detached house for between £350,000 and £450,000. Earlsfield Road is smart, and lovely Victorian semis cost £350,000 to £370,000.

"Hythe is traditional, friendly and thriving, with a Waitrose. It is 15 minutes' walk to the beach and close to the Royal Military Canal, which winds through the marshes and has a wonderful towpath." Folkestone has two grammar schools. The commute from Sandling, two or three miles from Hythe, takes about an hour to St Pancras. An annual season ticket costs from £4,328.

Follow us on Twitter @HomesProperty and Facebook