Guide to clever commuting

Moving as far out of London as you can go doesn't always get you the cheapest property or the best quality of life. Ruth Bloomfield takes a close look at your choices
Best-value commuting map
At some point, almost all Londoners will have played the game of fantasy house-swapping, researching the fabulous country piles that their basic Hackney flat would buy them, if only they were willing to move to the Highlands.

House prices plunge the further from the capital you go; the headline figure is that prices drop, on average, by £1,300 for every extra minute of travel time out of the city.

'There is no simple correlation between commuting time and prices'

But average is a dangerous word. New research today shows the devil is in the detail, and the direction in which you go. For example, if you want to go west, to Twyford - a journey of 31 minutes from central London - the average price plunges from £564,000 to £407,000, some 28 per cent cheaper or £5,064 per minute travelled.

But if you go due east, as far as Chatham, a journey of 36 minutes, the average price stands at £150,000, a whopping 74 per cent price fall, or £11,500 per minute travelled. A good saving for only five minutes more.

Seventeen minutes more takes you to Cambridge, with a 48-minute journey and average prices of £291,000 - 48 per cent less than London prices and £5,687 saved per minute of your journey.

Winchester, Hampshire
© Alamy
Winchester was recently voted the best place to live in the UK
If you do the same 48-minute journey and opt for Northampton, average prices crash to £132,000 - 75 cent less than London prices and £9,000 saved per minute.

But if you opt against Chatham and choose to travel a little further, to Canterbury West, prices start to rise again to £213,971. That's more than £50,000 more, despite the 58-minute schlep into town because Canterbury is a lovely city with all the facilities you could wish for.

And for a really chichi destination think Brockenhurst in the prime New Forest - then all bets are off. Despite the 93-minute train journey, prices there are, on average, a miserly two per cent cheaper than in London (at £554,000), while your saving works out at £107 a minute travelled.

So as our research shows, there is no simple correlation between commuting time and prices. Lucian Cook, director of research at Savills, drew up the table, concentrating on destinations that offer a good quality of housing stock and real lifestyle benefits, to flag up prices and, therefore, choices for would-be commuters.

If you look to the core areas such as Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells - incredibly popular with affluent high-earning commuters with quite a lot of equity to capitalise on when they sell up in London - prices are particularly high. If you are prepared to compromise you can find places such as Etchingham that are significantly cheaper.

If you forgo Cambridge for Ely, an extra 18 minutes on the train, you can save almost £90,000 on the average house. If you swap Sevenoaks (26 minutes) for the equally lovely market town of Berkhamsted (31 minutes) your commute will be five minutes longer, but the average house will be more than £40,000 cheaper.

The Kennet and Avon Canal at Newbury
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The Kennet and Avon Canal at Newbury. Homes on the south side of the river are popular


Famous for its racetrack, this market town has far more to offer than the thunder of hooves. Royal watchers will be interested to know that it is the nearest town to the Middleton family home in the village of Bucklebury, so the chance of spotting a certain duchess's mother doing her weekly shop at Waitrose is reasonably high.

The town is awash with good Victorian stock, with a two-bedroom terrace from £200,000, or a three-bedroom terrace from about £400,000, according to Rupert Reeves, a partner at Carter Jonas.

Large Victorian semis - those in Donnington Square are particularly pleasing - go for about £600,000 to £800,000, while you could buy a two-bedroom apartment from £150,000. The just-launched Parkway scheme of 147 flats (, with prices starting at about £250,000 for a two-bedroom apartment, launches in the autumn.

The town is split by the River Kennet. The south side is considered a little smarter - the best streets include Garden Close Lane and Tydehams. But if you want more rural, the best options - other than Bucklebury, of course - include the villages Highclere and Hermitage, five miles from the town centre, where a gorgeous country pile, with five or six bedrooms, is between £1.5 million and £2 million.

Environment: Newbury town has a real buzz with great countryside on its doorstep. To the south-east, along with the racecourse, is Greenham Common, and on three sides of the town are the North Wessex Downs - you can take a stroll across the real Watership Down to the south of town. Dance music comes to Newbury with the Keep off the Grass summer festival. There is also a spring classical music festival and annual comedy festival. The town's historic corn exchange is now a cinema and theatre, while a disused military building on the Greenham Common airbase is used as a performing arts centre.

Schools: there are three main secondary schools in Newbury, including St Bartholomew's School, Park House School and Sports College, and Trinity School. All three are rated "good" by Ofsted.


This ancient capital of Wessex is a city in its own right, perched on the western tip of the South Downs. Its key architectural landmark is, of course, the gothic cathedral that has dominated the skyline for more than 1,000 years, and it is also home to one of the UK's most famous public schools, Winchester College.

Winchester was recently voted the best place to live in the UK, and little wonder: it has great housing, schools, facilities and culture, and all within commuting distance of London.

Jonathan Lacey, manager of estate agents Goadsby, says commuters pay a 20 per cent premium to live within a short walk of the station: thus you might pay £700,000 for a four-bedroom Victorian terrace in the centre, but a similar property a mile away would cost about £600,000.

A Georgian town house close to the station would cost about £850,000, but if this is beyond your budget Lacey recommends hunting out one of the infill houses built in the town centre in the Seventies and Eighties. They may lack period charm but you could pick up a three-bedroom home from £300,000.

The prettiest streets in Winchester are in the old town. The 17th- and 18th-century cottages in Cannon Street, near the college, are particularly lovely, and cost about £500,000.

Schools: there are three state secondary schools: Kings' School Winchester and Henry Beaufort School, both rated "outstanding" by Ofsted, and The Westgate School, rated "good" with some "outstanding" features.

Shopping: the downside of Winchester living is probably the shops. While all the main chains are there, a lot of the independents have been squeezed out by high rents, and locals tend to go to Southampton or Basingstoke for a bit of variety.

Foodies, on the other hand, will find plenty of reasons to stay in town. The Black Rat restaurant serves modern British food and was recently awarded a Michelin star. Raymond Blanc has recently opened an eponymous brasserie, and The Wycombe Arms also serves excellent food.

Environment: in terms of open space, it is well worth the exhausting climb up St Giles Hill for panoramic views over the city, while Oram's Arbour, in the city centre, is desperately pretty, or you could simply stroll the towpath of the Itchen Navigation, or hire a rowboat if you prefer.

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Borders, a 16th-century Dudwell Valley estate, is one of Etchingham's glories


Further down the painfully expensive Sevenoaks/Tunbridge line, in fabulous countryside, is this truly charming village with a tremendous community spirit: there are toddlers' groups or the Brownies for young mums, jam-making for your mother-in-law and cricket for the boys.

Shopping: go to Etchingham Community Stores, an inspiring shop set up and funded by a collective of residents in 2003 after their existing shop closed down, and send your children to a well thought-of primary school and Sunday school at the pretty 14th-century church.

Cottages in the village date from the 16th century to the Victorian era and James Henley, a partner at Rush Witt & Wilson estate agents, says you could pick up a two-down house from about £250,000.

Alternatively, a three-bedroom semi-detached house - Victorian or Thirties - would set you back between £300,000 and £400,000. Grand farmhouses or manor houses on the outskirts cost between £2 million and £3 million.

Environment: Ray Mears, the survival expert, runs bushcraft courses for would-be explorers in the ancient woods near the village.

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