Spotlight on Ascot

If you like horse racing, it’s on your doorstep in this little Berkshire town surrounded by parkland and lakes – and it’s only an hour from Waterloo, discovers Anthea Masey
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Right Of Passage ridden by Pat Smullen (in purple and yellow) winning The Ascot Gold Cup 2010
© Getty Images
The Ascot Gold Cup 2010 was won by Right Of Passage ridden by Pat Smullen (in purple and yellow)
Ascot, an hour by train from Waterloo, is in the London Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. This surprisingly small Berkshire town is separated from Windsor by the 5,000-acre Great Park. With its wide open spaces, its well-heeled inhabitants enjoy a comfortable lifestyle, part of a community that includes many commuters who head both west to Reading as well as east towards the City.

Its major claim to fame is its racecourse and it is still the races, and in particular Royal Ascot week in June, which bring the town alive. Royal Ascot week is one of the high spots of the social calendar.

The Queen and other members of the royal family cross Windsor Great Park in open carriages to be greeted by the cream of London society in all its flowery-hatted, morning suited finery in the exclusive Royal Enclosure. Ascot races have been a royal favourite ever since the first race was run in 1711, after Queen Anne, out riding one day on Ascot Heath, spotted the perfect place for a racecourse.

In June 2006 the present Queen opened a new £185  million grandstand, which has become the glamorous backdrop for a parade of Jimmy Choo and Louboutin shoes and spectacular hats from Philip Treacy.

Ascot and its impressive surrounding neighbourhoods of Sunninghill, Sunningdale and Cheapside have benefited from a good deal of royal stardust. Prince Edward lives with his wife, the Countess of Wessex, and their two children in nearby Bagshot Park.

Cottages in Sunninghill village
Cottages in Sunninghill village
Prince Andrew and his former wife, Sarah Ferguson, lived at Sunninghill Park, the house given to the couple by the Queen on their marriage in 1986, and which was sold to a Kazakh businessman for £15 million, some £3 million over the asking price.

- Homes for sale in Ascot, Sunninghill and Sunningdale

What there is to buy

This is one of those corners of London’s commuterland where large houses are routinely demolished to make way for even larger houses secured by electronic gates, high fences and hedges. The most expensive house currently on the market is a new seven-bedroom, 7,300sq ft mansion on London Road in Sunninghill which has an asking price of £7.25 million. As well as an indoor swimming pool, there are spacious grounds and a tennis court. The estate agent is Barton Wyatt (01344 843000).

This is also an area where spacious flats are being built in blocks which mimic the area’s large new mansions. Brockenhurst House, in Brockenhurst Road, Ascot is one such. In this large mansion by Millgate Homes there are 14 flats ranging in price from £695,000 for a two-bedroom flat to £995,000 for a two-bedroom penthouse. The selling agent is Edward & Elliott (01344 876363).

However, the area does offer more modest homes, as average house prices indicate. In Ascot, Sunninghill and Sunningdale, there are pockets of Victorian housing where it is possible to buy a three-bedroom semi for about £450,000. There are also one- and two-bedroom flats for first-time buyers in modern blocks which start from about £175,000.

Executive houses in The Links, Ascot
Executive houses in The Links, one of the new estates built to house Ascot’s population of well-heeled commuters
Locally based estate agent James Heron, of Knight Frank, says it is hard to categorise the property market. “Price per square foot varies from about £300 to £1,000 for the very best houses in the best locations.”

Who comes and who likes to stay

Easy access to the motorway network and Heathrow airport attracts wealthy Londoners and international buyers. The American Community School and the American School in England, both in nearby Egham, are a great attraction to overseas buyers with children. Families from overseas often get posted back home but retain their UK property as an investment.

Ascot is in the postcode of SL5, which is otherwise one of the less unglamorous Slough postcodes. But that has no significance when it comes to house prices. The best roads are Titlarks Hill, Ridgemount Road, Shrubbs Hill Lane, Cross Road and Woodhall Lane in Sunningdale; St Mary’s Road, Horsegate Ride, Greyfriars Drive, Coronation Road, Monks Walk and Friary Road in Ascot.

What’s new?

At any one time large, one-off houses are being built by developers such as Octagon, but there are also a number of large lock-up-and-leave flats in developments aimed at empty nesters. For example, Villiers House on London Road, Sunningdale, is a development of 15 flats by Banner Homes. Prices range from £495,000 for a two-bedroom property up to £700,000 for two bedrooms and a study. The selling agent is Waterfords (01276 66566).

Also on London Road, Boxwood Grange is a development of 15 apartments by Bellway Homes. Prices range from £395,000 for a two-bedroom flat to £745,000 for two- to three-bedroom properties. The selling agent is Hamptons (01344 627555).

Shops in Sunninghill
Sunninghill has a variety of shops
Sunninghill is a charming Victorian village with a community hall and primary school. Look out for pretty, red-brick, semi-detached Victorian houses with pale brick decoration.

Getting educated

The local state schools provide an excellent education; there is no shortage of top-performing primary schools and the local comprehensive, Charters in Sunningdale, is judged “outstanding” by government education watchdog, Ofsted. However, this is an area where many parents prefer to educate their children privately. Papplewick (day and boarding) in Ascot, and Sunningdale School (boarding only) are top prep schools for boys age seven to 13. There is a good choice of girls’ schools: St Mary’s in South Ascot (ages 10 to 18); St George’s School in Ascot, where Princess Beatrice was a pupil (ages 11 to 18); Marist, a Catholic school in Sunninghill (ages two to 18), and Heathfield, a boarding school in Ascot (ages 10 to 18). Co-ed schools are: the Licensed Victuallers’ School (age four to 18) and Hurst Lodge (two to 18), both in Ascot.

Leisure time and open spaces

Shops and restaurants: there are small local shopping centres in Ascot and Sunningdale offering a mix of independent shops, chain stores and restaurants, with a large Waitrose conveniently close to Sunningdale station. Fego is a popular coffee shop in Ascot and Sunningdale and the newly opened Ascot Grill has brought a touch of glamour to the local restaurant scene. Sunninghill has village shops. John Campbell at Coworth Park (now part of the Dorchester Group of hotels) in Ascot is best locally for fine dining. For Michelin-starred dining, Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck and the Waterside Inn, run by Alain Roux, are in nearby Bray.

Virginia Water lake in Windsor Great Park
Virginia Water lake in Windsor Great Park
Open space
Ascot is separated from Windsor by the vast green space that is Windsor Great Park which includes Virginia Water, a large lake. The park, which is mostly open to the public is managed by the Crown Estate.

Leisure and the arts: the nearest council-owned swimming pool is in Windsor, which also has a theatre and cinema. Golf and polo are big draws. Local golf clubs — many very exclusive — include Wentworth, Sunningdale and Swinley Park.

Guards Polo Club, the most exclusive in the world, hosts the Cartier International Polo Day on Smith’s Lawn in Windsor Great Park in July. Polo is also played at Coworth Park and Ascot Park.

Getting there and commuting

Ascot, Sunningdale and Sunninghill have good road connections — the A30 runs through the neighbourhood with the M3 to the south, the M4 to the north and the M25 to the east.

The train journey from Ascot to Waterloo and Paddington takes an hour, and from Sunningdale it is 55 minutes to Waterloo. An annual travel card costs £2,920 from Ascot and £2,760 from Sunningdale.

Council: the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (Conservative controlled). Band D council tax for 2011/2012 is £1,223.65 (for Ascot and Sunninghill) and £1,228.34 (for Sunningdale).

The Queen arrives by carriage at Ascot racecourse
© AFP/Getty Images
The Queen arrives by carriage at Ascot racecourse

Average prices

Buying in Ascot
One-bedroom flat £161,000
Two-bedroom flat £276,000
Two-bedroom house £319,000
Three-bedroom house £399,000
Four-bedroom house £599,000
Source: Hometrack

Renting in Ascot
One-bedroom flat £750 to £1,195 a month
Two-bedroom flat £995 to £1,850 a month
Two-bedroom house £1,000 to £1,800 a month
Three-bedroom house £1,200 to £3,000 a month
Four-bedroom house £2,000 to £5,000 a month
Five-bedroom house £2,500 a month to “the sky’s the limit”
Source: Knight Frank

Photographs: Barry Phillips

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