Peace and quiet are worth searching for with care. How many Londoners have bought their “silent” rural retreat only to discover after they have moved in that there is a relentless background hum from a motorway they thought was too far away to be heard?
Then there is the revelation that the church bells, so charming on a Sunday morning, also chime the hour - all day and all night.
So, before you buy, take a little time to stand and listen. The rewards for your research will be tremendous. To help your search, we find five pretty villages where the silence is truly golden.
This small village sits between Hungerford and Newbury on the Paddington to Castle Cary train line. The Kennet and Avon canal runs through Kintbury and, according to Nick van Zeller of estate agent Knight Frank, the stations at Little Bedwyn, Hungerford and Kintbury all have a distinctly branch-line feel to them.
The quietest area away from the hum of the M4, is south of the A4 where Berkshire, Wiltshire and Hampshire meet. Here there are rolling downlands and large agricultural estates with a genuine feeling of remoteness. The only noise that might disturb you is the occasional helicopter from the military base at Middle Wallop. The most popular villages are Woodhays (East and West), the Chutes (Upper and Lower), Vernham Dean and Inkpen.
Commuting: two direct trains between 7am and 9am take 65 and 70 minutes to reach Paddington. Annual season tickets are £3,892.
© John Lawrence
In Oxfordshire, on the edge of the Cotswolds, Charlbury is on the line to Evesham from Paddington via Oxford. Villages in the Evenlode Valley are among England’s prettiest, built from honey-coloured stone and forming a necklace along a river dotted with quiet picnic stops.
According to Nick Rudge at the Banbury office of Savills, the locals are fond of a spot of crayfish trapping - sadly these days, of the giant and alien American variety rather than the meeker indigenous kind. Buyers tend to make a beeline for Kingham, Churchill, Bledington and Spelsbury, though there are no second-class villages.
At Cornbury Park - where there is a gentile annual music festival favoured by David Cameron - you can find remnants of the ancient Wychwood that has given its name to a number of local villages. You might spot a jet from RAF Brize Norton tracing the horizon but these are rarely heard.
Commuting: two direct trains between 7am and 9am take 71 and 80 minutes to reach Paddington. Annual season tickets are £5,236.
Headcorn is a pretty village with a railway station on the lines from Charing Cross and Cannon Street to Canterbury West. This is the Weald of Kent, wooded, green and hilly with lovely villages tucked into its folds.
Villages such as Ulcombe, Egerton and Pluckley sit on a ridge with views over the surrounding countryside. Other equally desirable villages are Biddenden and The Forstal.
According to Ian Standen of Cranbrook-based estate agents Calcutt Maclean Standen, the only noise that might possibly disturb your peace is from light aircraft and parachute planes that take off from the little airstrip at Headcorn.
Some commuters are now abandoning the “low-tech” train journey from Headcorn in favour of the new superfast services from Ashford to St Pancras aboard Japanese Javelin trains - a journey that takes a mere 37 minutes.
Commuting: four direct trains to Cannon Street between 7am and 9am daily take 66 and 70 minutes; six direct trains to Charing Cross over the same two hour period take between 66 and 77 minutes. An annual season ticket will cost you £3,580.
The distinct “end of the line” feel about Burnham-on-Crouch (the title actually goes to Southminster further along route from Liverpool Street) implies steadfastness rather than a dead end.
A favourite with boat owners, Burhnam has become famous for its yacht clubs. One side of the town faces the River Crouch; the attractive high street runs parallel to it.
Charles Rowe, in the Chelmsford office of estate agents, John D Wood, extols the beauty of the Dengie peninsula, the remote area between the Crouch and Blackwater estuaries.
Southminster and Tillingham are lovely villages, as is Bradwell-on-Sea with its ancient chapel of St Peter’s perched on the sea wall. A proposed new nuclear power station at Bradwell is promised to be as quiet as the decommissioned one it would replace.
Commuting: two direct trains to Liverpool Street, leaving between 7am and 9am, take from 67 to 70 minutes. An annual season ticket will cost you £3,400.
Bures (pronounced “Buwes”), between Colchester and Sudbury, is split in two by a bridge over the River Stour: one side being in Suffolk, the other in Essex. The village is on the branch line between Sudbury and Marks Tey; its train service is known locally as the “Sudbury Slug” and connects with a service to Liverpool Street.
Caroline Edwards of the estate agents Carter Jonas in Long Melford says “The Slug” at least gets commuters talking to each other. “The villages here are lovely; there are medieval timber-framed houses and grand classical Georgian houses,” she says. Sought-after villages include Wissington, Nayland, Boxford, Bures itself, the Hennys (Henny Street and Great Henny), Lamarsh and Middleton.
Commuting: two trains to Liverpool Street, changing at Marks Tey, between 7am and 9am, take between 75 and 84 minutes; there are six trains over the same period from Marks Tey to Liverpool Street taking between 56 and 65 minutes. Annual season tickets will cost you £3,880.