Summer and our thoughts turn to living in the countryside, but if you are going to turn into a commuter, you might as well make it worthwhile.
There are a handful of proper, picture-postcard English villages, complete with cricket matches on the village green, pretty pubs and miles of proper countryside only 60 minutes from the concourse of a main London station.
The residents of Tatsfield are a tenacious bunch and recently celebrated the opening of a new primary school in the village after a long and determined campaign.
Tatsfield is close to the Surrey border, and has all the prerequisites of village life: a green with a pond, a shop and a popular pub. It also boasts a green-
grocer’s and restaurant, The Old Bakery. Residents wanting serious shopping head to Bromley (seven miles) or Croydon (10 miles) for all the chains.
Social life - pub aside - centres on the village hall, which puts on an active programme of activities, from yoga to line dancing. Tatsfield also comfortably meets the 60-minute criteria. The nearest station is in Woldingham (five miles away, or a 15-minute drive), and trains to Victoria take just over half an hour. A weekly season ticket costs £37.70 (not including Tube fares).
Property in the village is surprisingly affordable. Robert Barber, of Park and Bailey (parkandbailey.co.uk) says a two-bedroom period cottage costs from £200,000, a three-bedroom bungalow is £350,000, or a really grand detached house on the best street in the village, Ricketts Hill Road, will cost between £500,000 and £1 million.
Now that the village has its own primary school, parents of young children are spared the school run, and seniors can go on to Oxted County, a former grammar school with a good reputation about five miles away.
From the ducks in the pond on the village green, to the fiercely contested cake-baking contest at the annual summer fête and - of course - the fact that there are more pubs than shops, Blackmore in Essex is every inch the quintessentially English village. Trains run from Ingatestone station, just over four miles away, or Shenfield, just under six miles away, to Liverpool Street and take 30 minutes and 25 minutes respectively. A weekly season ticket from Ingatestone costs £68.70, and £61.70 from Shenfield.
Richard Wilson of Ashley & Peck (ashleypeck.co.uk) says the prime houses are around the village green. A three-bedroom Georgian semi would cost about £450,000, while the older houses, dating from the 1800s, would cost anything from £850,000. Some modern houses, built in the Seventies and Eighties, start at about £300,000 for three bedrooms.
In terms of schools, Blackmore Infants and Juniors is right in the village, and parents are eligible to apply to any of the four Brentwood schools, of which St Martin’s in Hutton, six miles away, and Shenfield High, five miles away, are the most favoured.
The striking thing about Blackmore is just how much there is to do. The three pubs - The Leather Bottle, the Bull and Prince Albert - are always packed, there is a convenience store, post office and a golfing holiday shop. There is also a mobile library, a community and sports centre and some locals have set up a youth club.
“There is a lot going on in Blackmore,” says Wilson. “You can get really involved, people who live there tend to be very busy, although it is not thrust into your face. But it’s not a place where you will be sitting about bored.”
Little Gaddesden and Ringshall, Herts
Visitors to the Ashridge Estate will inevitably be tempted to climb the 170 steps to the top of the Bridgewater Monument, a folly of a tower built in the heart of this National Trust estate.
From there it is possible to enjoy a panoramic view of the 5,000 acres of landscaped gardens laid out by Capability Brown, and across to the rooftops of the picture-postcard village of Little Gaddesden and its neighbouring hamlet, Ringshall, in Hertforshire close to the borders with Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire. Despite their middle-of-nowhere feel they are only three miles from the fast train (30 minutes) from nearby Berkhamsted station to Euston. A weekly season ticket costs £76.30.
These villages have become something of a location-of-choice for filmmakers seeking authentic bucolic bliss, with Cranford and Harry Potter among the many movies shot there. Emma Kibble of Fine & Country (fineandcountryberkhamsted.com) says many of the properties that come on to the market are traditional two-bedroom cottages originally built for estate workers and costing about £350,000. Larger cottage-style homes with three or four bedrooms go for between £500,000 and £600,000, and a really substantial house with a couple of acres would set you back more than £1 million.
Ringshall is only a five- to 10-minute walk from Little Gaddesden, which has the Bridgewater Arms, a village shop and a primary school. Most of the entertainment is outdoors: there are tennis courts and bowling in the village, and several golf clubs nearby.
Not only is it a short hop to Berkhamsted with its cinema - the lovely Art Deco Rex - wine bars, restaurants and shops, but Hemel Hempstead, with its artificial ski slopes and shopping, is a 15-minute drive away. Whipsnade Zoo is a 10-minute drive. The nearby senior school is the popular Ashlyn’s School in Berkhamsted, which is particularly strong on languages. Private Berkhamsted School is also well-regarded.
The quickest way to country life in Kent is to follow the high-speed rail link out of St Pancras. Forty minutes to Ashford and 20 minutes in the car and you arrive at Tenterden, home to 7,600 people overlooking the valley of the Rother river.
Tenterden is famous for wine and railways, with the vineyards of the Chapel Down Winery and the start of the Kent & East Sussex Railway. In town you can admire the 12th-century St Mildred’s Church, attend the Tenterden Folk Festival or join active sports clubs. Martin Oakes of Stevens & Co (stevensandco.co.uk) says Victorian town houses with four or five bedrooms are priced from £400,000 to £450,000.
There are a few detached houses from the Thirties, priced from £500,000, but very few flats. A one-bedroom flat will go for between £130,000 and £200,000. The high-speed commute to London from Ashford costs £115.20 a week.