Spotlight on Guildford

The university cathedral town, set among serious countryside, has everything to keep commuters happy
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Surely one of London’s most attractive commuter town choices, Guildford lies 30 miles south-west of London and is connected to it by the A3 and a 35-minute train journey to Waterloo. It has many of the ingredients of a city — such as a cathedral and a university — but remains proudly a town, albeit Surrey’s county town.

Guildford high street
Guildford's cobbled high street is one of the prettiest in the South

Surrey is the most expensive of the counties around London to live in, but this has not always been so. Before the arrival of commuters, its poor agricultural land left it isolated and impoverished.

This has left a legacy of some of the most beautiful and surprisingly remote countryside anywhere in the home counties. The Surrey Hills area of outstanding natural beauty has wooded hills and valleys, hamlets and villages, cricket greens and village pubs.

It was here that the young architect Edwin Lutyens worked with the older garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. At Munstead, he built her The Hut (not a hut at all but a spacious three-bedroom house) then a much larger house, and she designed the first of her many gardens.

It was a partnership which defined the sunlit days of the years before the First World War. Down the road at Dorking, Vaughan Williams was so enchanted with the countryside that he wrote The Lark Ascending after long walks through the woods and over the hills. Houses were built in the vernacular style with lofty chimneys, gables and tile-hung walls, and the landscaped gardens overflowed with cottage garden plants.

£879,950: Pretty Quarry Cottage has four bedrooms and four reception rooms, and is less than a mile from Guildford High Street
Best roads: the roads to the south of the town with views over Pewsey Common are the most desirable, particularly Warwicks Bench and Warwicks Bench Road.

£425,000: a three-bedroom cottage close to Guildford stationUp and coming: Onslow Village is an unusual enclave designed along the lines of a garden suburb. Situated south-west of the town centre, three-bedroom houses start at £380,000.

Schools: Many London families make the move to Guildford for the private schools, especially the highly academic Royal Grammar School (boys ages 11 to 18) whose ancient buildings are a feature at the top of the high street.

Girls have an even wider choice with Tormead (ages four to 18) and St Catherine’s in Bramley (day and boarding ages 11 to 18). There are prep schools too: Lanesborough is also the cathedral choir school (boys ages three to 13); Longacre (co-ed ages two to 11), Rydes Hill (boys ages three to seven and girls ages three to 11) and St Catherine’s Prep at Bramley (girls ages four to 11).

But there are good state schools as well: The following infant schools (up to age seven) are judged “outstanding” by the government education watchdog Ofsted: Pewley Down in Semaphore Road; Onslow in Powell Close; Stoughton in Stoughton Road, Shalford in Station Road, Shalford and Merrow CofE in Kingfisher Drive.

The following primary schools (up to age 11) are also judged “outstanding”: Holy Trinity CofE in Addison Road, St Thomas of Canterbury RC in Horseshoe Lane West, St Joseph’s RC in Aldershot Road and Guildford Grove in Southway. George Abbott in north east Guildford is the most popular and successful state comprehensive school; other top performers are Guildford County on the south west side and St Peter’s RC on the east side.

Guildford's high street has plenty of character buildings and independent shops
Shops and restaurants
With its cobbled high street, overhanging clock, ancient Guildhall and grammar school, Guildford has one of the prettiest high streets in the south of England. There are two department stores — House of Fraser and Debenhams — and more than 60 shops and places to eat at The Friary Centre, with lots of upmarket chains.

For quirkier, independent shops, wander down the little side roads off the high street to find the likes of women’s boutique Courtyard, in Angel Gate, and interiors shop Bardoe & Appel, in Tunsgate.

There are lots of chain restaurants including Côte, Pizza Express, Zizzi, Jamie’s Italian and recent opening, Bill’s. There are country pubs serving good food in the villages around Guildford. The Parrot at Forest Green has its own farm shop. Drake’s restaurant at nearby Ripley has a Michelin star.

Open space
The Surrey Hills comprise a major centre for mountainbiking and the area has a number of leading bike shops. Capitalising on the popularity of last year’s Olympic road races, Mayor of London Boris Johnson has launched the RideLondon-Surrey 100 event taking in the county’s roads and hills, with 20,000 cyclists expected to take part on August 4.

The surrounding countryside areas include Shere, a pretty village which is 11 miles from Guildford
Guildford Spectrum in Stoke Park close to the A3 has ice skating, swimming, tenpin bowling, a gym and a spa. There is a nearby lido for summer swimming.

The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre enjoys a riverside location, while the Electric Theatre, near the station, puts on film festivals, plays, music events and comedy. G Live is a £26 million newly opened venue at the top of the high street. The Guildford International Music Festival is held in March each year.

Travel: Guildford is close to the A3 which, since the opening of the Hindhead tunnel, has improved access to the coast. The commuter train service from Guildford takes around 35 minutes to Waterloo and an annual season ticket costs £3,224.00.

Council: Guildford borough (Tory controlled); Band D council tax for the 2012/2013 year is £1,497.20.

Photographs by Graham Hussey

Average prices: Guildown Avenue: £1,337,956

Flower Walk: £1,269,401
Upper Guildown Road: £1,189,998
Beech Lane: £865,528
Chestnut Avenue: £785,482

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