Homes for Londoners who want to keep fit in the country

Londoners staying in the UK this summer can search for commuter homes where they can enjoy their favourite sport
Cycling in West Sussex
West Sussex: the best bike riding in the South East, with both easy and challenging trails, can be found at Bedgebury Forest
Estate agents report a surge in enquiries from city dwellers seeking country homes where they can enjoy their favourite sports. Interest is particularly strong in areas reasonably close to the capital.

With the city/country gap in house prices growing, and mortgage rates falling, ever-active Londoners are able to seriously consider buying a home that allows them to enjoy their pastimes, not only during "staycations", but all year round.

So what are the most popular outdoor pursuits of the moment and where are the best places to buy property to enjoy them? We asked sports specialists for their insider knowledge.

Cycle fans


Bedgebury Forest, West Sussex
According to British Cycling (britishcycling.org.uk) the South East's top spot for bike riding is Bedgebury Forest, with miles of easy - and not so easy - trails.

The nearest village is Goudhurst, one of the Weald's gems and about 12 miles south of Maidstone. Not only is this a gorgeous chocolate-box location but it is within the catchment area for Cranbrook School, which makes it a perennial favourite with families.

Goudhurst property
£995,000: chocolate-box glory near Goudhurst with four acres (01580 715400)
"Goudhurst is a 'live' village," said Jane Beard, owner of estate agent Harpers & Hurlingham. "It is an old village but it still has all its amenities - a store, a butcher's, baker's and two pubs."

Property in the village ranges from cute 17th-century cottages with two bedrooms, which you can pick up for around £250,000, to grand manor houses with decent gardens for around £1.5 million.

* Trains from Tunbridge Wells, 10 miles from Goudhurst, to Charing Cross take just under an hour and an annual season ticket costs £3,748.

Blackwater Valley, Hampshire
On the other side of London another British Cycling-recommended haven for riders is the Blackwater Valley.

The valley runs from near Aldershot in the south to Swallowfield, near Reading, to the north and you can cycle almost its entire length. Best of all, for those who like their exercise low-impact, it is almost completely flat. One of the prettiest and most sought-after villages along the valley is Eversley in Hampshire, where a pint at the Frog and Wicket pub can be followed by a game of cricket on the green.

Steve Goss, manager of Waterfords estate agents, said a cottage in the village would cost from £300,000, and if you decide to move out completely you could pick up a double-fronted redbrick family house with four bedrooms for between £500,000 and £750,000. The gold-standard alternative would be a spacious barn conversion, priced from £1 million.

* Trains from Reading, 10 miles from Eversley, to Paddington take half an hour and an annual season ticket costs £3,584.

Walkers and hikers


Old Amersham - perfect for walkers
Bucks: Old Amersham, seen here from Parsonage Wood, is perfect for walkers
Old Amersham, Buckinghamshire
The Ramblers Association (ramblers.org.uk) highlights Amersham, in the heart of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, as "a wonderful place to stride through the open air" and expore Buckinghamshire countryside at its best.

Old Amersham is an exquisitely pretty village, 400 years old and full of Tudor cottages and Georgian houses hidden down cobbled alleys and fronting the long and pretty beamed High Street, with the old coaching inn, inspiring brick-and-flint church and solid corn exchange at the entrance to the town.

Richard Watkins, a partner at Robsons estate agents, says a period two-bedroom cottage would cost about £350,000, while a larger, three- or four-bedroom double-fronted cottage in an equally good Old Amersham location, would cost from £650,000.

* Amersham is at the furthest-flung point of the Metropolitan line; a train to Baker Street will chug along in about 45 minutes.

Eastbourne, East Sussex
If you want a cheaper option then Eastbourne is also a wonderful staging post for the South Downs National Park. The town in East Sussex marks one end of the South Downs Way; a National Trail which traverses the length of the park, crossing some 99 miles of countryside from Eastbourne to Winchester.

Five-bedroom townhouse in Eastbourne
£410,000: five-bedroom townhouse in Eastbourne (01323 727527)
Neil Gamble, a senior negotiator at Emslie & Tarrant, says he has seen confidence returning slowly to the market this year - and that includes the moribund second homes market. "Eastbourne prices did not rocket like they did in Brighton, and so they have had less far to fall," he pointed out.

Eastbourne is a Victorian town, and you could buy a two- to three-bedroom house in the pretty old town for between £200,000 and £275,000.

* Trains from Eastbourne to Victoria take just under an hour and a half and an annual season ticket costs £3,868.

Horse riding heaven


Windsor, Berkshire
If it's equestrian grandeur you crave then Windsor Great Park offers 5,000 acres of prime Surrey/Berkshire land - and the spectacular backdrop of Windsor Castle. You might even pass the Queen hacking out.

All that swankiness comes at a price. Windsor is an impressive town, but it's tourist-logged from early summer, and agents say prices are almost at London levels.

The classic Windsor home is a two- to three-bedroom Victorian villa. Barry Marner, manager of Hamilton Chess, says these are currently changing hands for between £400,000 and £550,000, while you would pay £600,000 for a four-bedroom property.

Epping forest - horse riding
Essex: Epping Forest is bliss on the Circle line for jeans-and-wellies riders
Excepting the castle, homes with stables in Windsor itself are scarce, if not non-existent. But you could look in the nearby village of Taplow where around £1.2 million would buy you a large period house with about five acres of land plus stables.

Keeping a horse at livery anywhere in the South East is akin to keeping a child at a half-decent private school - about £800 a month, plus inevitable extras. For information about riding stables contact the British Horse Society (bhs. org.uk).

* Trains to Paddington from Windsor take about half an hour, and an annual season ticket costs £2,316.

Epping Forest, Essex
If you would prefer something a bit more rural, then Essex may be more to your liking. It is also more jeans and wellies than hacking jacket and jodhpurs.

In Epping you and your horses could live on a similar scale with access to the forest for £1 million-plus. Epping Forest has about 50 miles of tracks to explore and during the summer you can go "off piste" and make your own way through parts of the ancient woodland.

Gavin Surtees, an associate at Savills, lives in Epping and is full of praise for it. He says the premiere streets in the centre of town - close to the Tube station, which will take you to Liverpool Street within 45 minutes - include Kendal Avenue and Hartland and Bury Roads. A nice Victorian detached house with four or five bedrooms in one of these popular streets will cost from about £800,000.

* Epping is on the Central line and you could be at your desk in the City within an hour.


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