Go wild in the country

Moving to the country does not mean living miles from London. Anthea Masey finds five rural villages an easy commute away
Thomas Wiggins and his dogs outside his Epsom home
Thomas Wiggins and his dogs outside his Epsom home
Live in the country without giving up on the pleasures of the city by exploring the wonderful pockets of countryside within the boundaries of the M25. Here you will find hills and valleys, rivers and streams, protected commons and country parks as wild and as remote as destinations a long way beyond. We have located five magical locations all within 25 to 45 minutes from central London.

EPSOM


Epsom in Surrey is an attractive market town on the edge of the North Downs. In the surrounding countryside there are the wild and open acres of Epsom and nearby Ashtead downs.

The Shabden Park Estate in Chipstead, a beautiful and little-known dry chalk valley, is owned by the county council and managed by the Surrey Wildlife Trust.

Commuting: six morning rush-hour trains to Waterloo with journey times of between 36 and 39 minutes; three morning rush hour trains to Victoria with journey times of between 40 and 45 minutes; two morning rush-hour trains to London Bridge with journey times of between 47 and 56 minutes.

Annual season ticket: £1,592.
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Red Hill Farm, Denham, Middlesex
£1.2 million: Red Hill Farm, Denham, Middlesex. A three-bedroom farmhouse in need of a revamp. Through Savills (01923 725500)

DENHAM


At the heart of this south Buckinghamshire town is a pretty village with historic buildings and a village green surrounded by country-style pubs. The landscape is a patchwork of woods, farmland, rivers and canals, criss-crossed with paths open to the public. The Denham Country Park is part of the Colne Valley Regional Park with more than 50 miles of river and canal banks along the rivers Colne and Misbourne and the Grand Union canal, with herons and kingfishers.

Commuting: Four morning rush-hour trains to Marylebone with journey times of between 24 and 47 minutes.

Annual season ticket: £1,760.

Annual season ticket: £1,592.

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West Hill, Downe, Kent
£999,950: West Hill, Downe, Kent. A five-bedroom, conservation-area house. James Millard (01959 565756)

DOWNE


Downe is a small Kent village, with only 315 homes, in the London borough of Bromley. It is home to Down House, the home of Charles Darwin, whose bicentenary is this year. Downe and the surrounding area, where Darwin did much of his botanising, is in line to become a World Heritage site. The steep slopes of the Cudham valley are home to many rare plants.

Commuting: Six morning rush-hour trains to Charing Cross with journey times of between 30 and 37 minutes; three morning rush-hour trains to Cannon Street with journey times of between 30 and 34 minutes; one morning rush-hour train to Victoria with a journey time of 38 minutes.

Annual season ticket: £1,448.

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HAVERING-ATTE-BOWER


Historic royal connections abound at Havering-atte-Bower in Essex one of the three parishes comprising the Royal Liberty of Havering.

The village occupies one of the highest points within the M25 with views to the city and the Essex and Kent countryside. There is plenty of country parkland with open public access at the Hainault Forest Country Park, which has more than 300 acres.

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Commuting: Hainault is in Zone 4 on the Central line with trains leaving ever four minutes and a journey time to Oxford Circus of 40 minutes.

Annual season ticket: £1,472.

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RADLETT


A prosperous Hertfordshire village between St Albans and Watford situated on the old Roman road of Watling Street. The nearby Aldenham Country Park has a lake with sailing and windsurfing and a farm with rare-breed animals. There are walks along the River Colne and the pretty villages of Aldenham and Letchmore Heath are close by.

Commuting: Seven morning rush-hour trains to St Pancras with journey times of between 22 and 28 minutes.

Annual season ticket: £2,060.

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Thomas Wiggins and his dogs outside his Epsom home
Walk on: Thomas Wiggins moved to Epsom from Chelsea. Walking his dogs on the Downs is a favourite passtime

‘Epsom has the best of town and country’


Interior designer, Thomas Wiggins, 42, moved to the Surrey town of Epsom six years ago because this former Chelsea resident was looking for some green open spaces within easy reach
of London.

He found The Hylands, a fine listed Georgian house. “The house, which has a lovely sweeping staircase, has been a labour of love. It has now been carefully restored, which included digging out the old wine cellar with its beautiful vaulted brick ceiling.

“I designed and installed a formal garden and built a folly, which in summer acts as an outdoor living room,” explains Thomas.

“Epsom has a 35-minute train journey to London and it is three miles from junction nine on the M25.

“I also have two dogs and, with the wide open spaces of Epsom Downs on my doorstep, it has given them such a huge sense of freedom.”

Thomas is now embarking on the restoration of a château in the south of France and has put Hylands on the market.

“I shall buy a little cottage in Epsom as my English bolthole. Epsom offers the best of both town and country,” says Thomas.

The Hylands is on the market for £1.25 million through Knight Frank (01372 464496).

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