Join the inbetweeners: commuter homes between London and the sea

Make a clever choice and you can have it all - an easy commute to London and time to enjoy the coast. Ruth Bloomfield discovers the "inbetweener" lifestyle in Haslemere, West Malling, Colchester and Lewes
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The photo albums of the Hardie family are stuffed with images of their four children messing about by the seaside.

The family live inland in the pretty West Sussex village of Kirdford but their home is less than 30 miles’ drive, through the South Downs National Park, to the excellent beaches of West Wittering.

But their home is also close enough to London for Christopher Hardie, 55, to make it from front door to his desk in the City within an hour and 15 minutes.
Put simply, the Hardie family are “inbetweeners” — families who have selected a commutable home within striking distance of the coast.

“When the children were little we would often go for the day. You only needed the sun to come out and you could just jump in the car,” says mum Emma, 54, an interior designer. “A lot of our neighbours go sailing from Chichester and Bosham, so you can really do it all.”

Kirdford is a lively little village with two pubs and an award-winning shop. It is about 12 miles from Haslemere, which has train services to Waterloo taking 49 minutes (annual season ticket: £4,456).

After 12 years in Kirdford and with three of their children living away from home and the fourth poised to go to drama school later in the year, they are staying in the area and downsizing from their spacious family home of 4,811sq ft six-bedroom house with swimming pool, separate cottage, stabling and paddocks, set in 8.27 acres. It is now on the market for £2.25 million with Knight Frank (homesand

If the inbetweener lifestyle enjoyed by the Hardies sounds appealing, then their nearest town, Haslemere, which is across the border into Surrey, is worth exploring in its own right.

© Alamy
Haslemere is a vibrant small town with good schools, excellent sporting facilities and excellent pubs

“It is a vibrant small town with a lot of little eateries and cafés,” says Chris Hebert, manager of the Haslemere branch of Hamptons International. “The schools are brilliant, there is great walking country and for children there are lots of clubs and societies, the sports facilities are excellent with good pubs within a three- or four-mile radius. Guildford has clubs but that tends not to bother the young families moving here.”

Surrey is, of course, expensive but you could buy a period town-centre cottage, dating from the 16th or 17th century, from about £500,000, or a large detached brick and tile-hung house, dating from the Fifties, with four or five bedrooms for about £1 million.

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This great inbetweener option is an ideal staging post for days out on the Kent coast — it is only 30 miles to Whitstable, with its great seafood restaurants, beach and water sports, but also only 48 minutes by train to Victoria (annual season ticket: £3,876).

West Malling
© Alamy
West Malling is well positioned: only 30 minutes from the coast and 48 minutes by train from Victoria

West Malling (pronounced “Mauling”) is much smaller than better-known Kentish commuter magnets such as Sevenoaks. “But it is absolutely gorgeous,” says Jill Mitchenall, a director of Jackson-Stops & Staff.

The Old House, West Malling
£500,000: The Old House in King Street, West Malling, comes with three bedrooms and a Grade II-listing
“There is a long high street of glorious Georgian houses, some great little shops and restaurants such as The Swan.”

It is also better value than other parts of the county, with two- or three-bedroom cottages, some dating from the 1400s, priced at between £500,000 and £600,000.

Six-bedroom Georgian homes with substantial gardens sell for between £1 million and £1.3 million.

A key advantage to West Malling is that it benefits from Kent’s grammar- school system (local seniors tend to travel to Maidstone), while the village primary is considered “good” by Ofsted.

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four-bedroom house in St Peter's Street, in Colchester's Dutch QuarterColchester has plenty going for it. The newly opened Firstsite arts centre, a metal-clad £28 million building known locally as the golden banana, has a great programme of exhibitions and films (and a trendy café). The town centre is something of a clone town, and traffic is a problem, but there are plenty of useful shops, gastropubs and restaurants such as The Lemon Tree.

The prettiest part of town is the Dutch Quarter, just north of the centre, full of Tudor and Georgian properties. A three-bedroom terrace in this area would cost from about £200,000. The best suburb to consider is Lexden, around 15 minutes’ walk from the high street, where a smart five-bedroom Victorian villa would cost from £600,000. Just out of town are pretty villages including Dedham and Nayland, where a five-bedroom period house would cost £800,000.

Many London exiles move out in search of good schools, and Colchester does not disappoint with two high- achieving grammar schools: Colchester County High School (girls) and the Royal Grammar School (boys).

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Londoners love Brighton because it is coastal living with a city buzz, plus fantastic shops, restaurants, bars and cafés. But if you don’t need to be too near the crowds of summer tourists, go 10 miles inland to Lewes, firmly on the music map with its famous Glyndebourne Opera House. Trains to London take just over an hour (annual season ticket: £3,860).

Lewes, just on the South Downs, is a peach of a place with real community spirit: each autumn the residents celebrate Bonfire Night with a parade and showstopping fireworks display. It is beautiful and peaceful with interesting shops and good cafés, pubs and restaurants, and that has attracted opera singers who have sung there and stayed. Dame Kiri Te Kanawa bought there; comedian Sean Lock is also local.

There is a romantic castle, a thriving market, and the grandest houses priced up to £1.5 million, but £750,000 would buy a beautiful, period five-bedroom house, and £350,000 to £400,000 would secure a quality three-bedroom Victorian terrace.

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