The Queenford Lakes, Oxfordshire
Enjoy a weekend swim, a scenic walk or for the more energetic, a membership to the Oxford Wakeboard & Ski Club, if you buy a home near Queenford Lakes, a cluster of freshwater lakes in the Oxfordshire countryside.
The super-pretty village of Dorchester-on-Thames is less than a mile away and it is something of a hidden gem, with the Chilterns, Berkshire Downs, Oxford, Blenheim and Henley all within easy reach. It has a lovely abbey, tea shops for tourists, good pubs and a popular annual village music festival.
The village school, St Birinus CofE Primary School, is only rated “satisfactory” by Ofsted but the plus is that the village is just seven miles from Didcot Parkway station, with trains to London Paddington in 42 minutes (annual season ticket: £5,272).
Stephen Puddifoot, director of In House estate agents, says Dorchester is one of the area’s most sought after villages. Two-bedroom Victorian cottages are a reasonable £290,000 while four-bedroom, detached period homes sell for around £650,000. Of course, if you have £2 million you can buy a substantial five-bedroom thatched house with large gardens.
Buyers are a mix of aspirational locals and London commuters attracted by the area’s good looks and proximity to the M49 motorway.
If you would prefer something larger but not as pretty, there is the market town of Wallingford, with its town square, shops, pubs, local theatre and cinema. There are two parks (one containing the ruins of Wallingford Castle), a golf course on the outskirts, a library and community hospital as well as several local schools including, for seniors, Wallingford School — rated “good” by Ofsted. The town is 5.5 miles from Didcot Parkway.
Alternatively, trains from Cholsey, three miles away, have services to London in 62 minutes. Houses are less quaint — think bay- fronted homes built in the Thirties and Forties. Three-bedroom semis cost about £300,000, or opt for a four- to five-bedroom detached house for around £500,000 to £600,000.
Leybourne Lakes, Kent
In 2004, a series of gravel pits between the M2 and M20 motorways were flooded and landscaped, creating the Leybourne Lakes Country Park, a 230-acre haven for fishing and wildlife with trails for walkers and cyclists. Sports include windsurfing, canoeing, kayaking, diving and fishing.
Leybourne has little in the way of facilities and traffic noise from the M20 can be a problem. But West Malling, less than two miles away, is packed with Georgian and Tudor buildings, independent shops, has a monthly farmers’ market and some good pubs and restaurants, most notably The Swan, led by Gordon Ramsay’s former right-hand man Mark Sargeant.
Adding to its appeal, West Malling is 48 minutes by train to Victoria (annual season ticket: £3,876) and its primary school is rated “good” by Ofsted.
Sandra Brown, manager of Ibbett Mosely estate agents, estimates a three-bedroom Victorian semi in West Malling would cost from £350,000, while a five-bedroom period detached house would cost from around £700,000. At the top end, manor houses sell for well over £1 million.
If you want to live right on the waterfront, Berkeley Homes has New England-style houses and apartments at Holborough Lakes. Five-bedroom houses are priced at £449,950 (berkeleygroup.co.uk) and the lake has a sports club with diving, swimming and canoeing on offer. The nearest village is Snodland, which fails the picture-postcard test but does have its own station. Trains to St Pancras International take from 52 minutes (annual season ticket: £3,828).
Dorney Lake, Berkshire
Dorney Lake is a world-class centre set in the 450-acre park which hosted the rowing and kayak events during the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.
It is home to Eton’s rowing team, and has a junior boat club for talented youngsters. The grounds are private but spectators can enjoy regular regattas and triathlons, and entry to the grounds for waterside walks is free. Tim Hubbard, a partner at Property Vision, describes the area as a mecca for water sports enthusiasts.
The pretty village of Dorney abuts the lake. Property rarely comes on to the market, says Bradley Horler, of Horler and Associates, and when it does, prices range from around £400,000 for a two-bedroom cottage to £700,000-plus for a four to five-bedroom farmhouse. The adjacent village is Eton Wick, with more modern and ex-local authority property.
Very slightly further away is Fifield, a grander option with its own polo club, where £325,000 buys a three-bedroom Thirties semi. Large period family houses with a couple of acres can cost well over £2 million. Although it stands in open countryside, it is only four miles from Maidenhead, and five from Windsor. Trains from Windsor to Paddington take from half an hour (annual season ticket: £3,300).
The village of Bray, with its cute cottages and Michelin-starred restaurants, is two miles up the road — just far enough to walk off a dinner at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck.