London is always ready to surprise. One unexpected feature of its Tube network, which shows six zones on most maps, is that it actually extends to nine zones, allowing commuters to take the Metropolitan line deep into the Chiltern Valley and life in its market towns and classic English villages.
© Barry Phillips
Amersham and Chesham are in Zone 9 and an annual season ticket costs £2,864. Chalfont and Latimer is in Zone 8, and an annual ticket costs £2,584, with Tubes taking 50 minutes to get to Baker Street (the Chiltern mainline service is also an option and takes 42 minutes).
Amersham is quite literally a town of two halves. Old Amersham is a treat with its elegant olde worlde charm, lovely character cottages and large period houses. Shopping is civilised with smart boutiques, cosy cafés and excellent pubs. Homes range from two-bedroom cottages, starting at about £350,000, to impressive manor houses for up to £2.5 million.
Amersham-on-the-Hill is the modern part of the town, close to the station, where a Thirties semi will cost about £350,000, and Fifties detached homes up to £700,000.
Mike Lillitou, an associate at Savills, says: "Old Amersham is really a lifestyle move, while 'Top Amersham' has all the family amenities." The local schools are top-rate, and many families start their children off in private prep schools then send them to the free grammars, such as Dr Challoner's Grammar School (boys) rated "outstanding" by Ofsted.
Amersham is in the catchment area for Dr Challoner's High School (girls) in Little Chalfont, and Chesham Grammar School. Sports facilities include The Chiltern Pools leisure centre, Amersham Town FC, and active judo, athletics and cricket clubs.
One potential downside is the proposed High Speed 2 (HS2) rail link, which could slice past Old Amersham. To avoid that, you could switch your search to the area around Chalfont & Latimer station.
The station is actually in Little Chalfont, appealing mostly for Dr Challoner's High School. This selective girls' school, rated "good", is a massive draw. The village is not quite picture-postcard — most homes were built after the railway arrived — but the roads have serious real estate.
A big family house in Doggetts Wood Lane would cost an average £1.4 million, while Nightingales Lane is even more exclusive, with average homes selling at more than £1.5 million. There is a small but useful range of shops and the M25 is only a couple of miles away.
Chalfont St Peter
This town has a mainline train with journeys to Marylebone taking 22 minutes. Its high street is useful but a bit dull, The Greyhound pub is worth a visit and its tennis club, golf course and leisure centre are busy. Victorian properties around Gold Hill Common are particularly pretty. Local agent Paul Prokopiou says you could get a cottage at about £500,000 or a family house from £800,000. A more modern house, on the Chalfont Common side of town, would start at about £600,000.
At the top end of the market is Chalfont Heights, a private estate with prices ranging from £800,000 to £2.5 million. The village is in the catchment area for the both of the Challoners or Chesham Grammar.
Three miles from Amersham and 20 per cent cheaper, is Chesham. It is also a less stuffy place, says Nicholas Richmond, area manager of Chancellors estate agents. This is a good-size town with a twice-weekly market and a pedestrianised town centre. It sits in the Chess Valley, surrounded by farmland and walks.
The Elgiva Hall Theatre has a busy arts programme, and there is a park, and two swimming pools. Schools are the Challoners and Chesham Grammar School (rated "good"), and Chiltern Hills Academy.
You'd pay £200,000 to £240,000 for a pretty Victorian workers' cottage in the town centre and up to £400,000 for a three- to four-bedroom semi. Smartest homes lie to the east of town, in the semi-rural streets of Leyhill and Lye Green. Leyhill has a golf club and two good pubs. Homes here tend to be a little more modern. A three-bedroom Thirties house costs £400,000 to £450,000.
The prettiest little village is Latimer, on the River Chess, surrounded by countryside and ancient woodland. Most houses are 100 years old (or more) and start at about £750,000, or you could buy a barn conversion from about £500,000.
Chalfont St Giles
For a village with everything try Chalfont St Giles, with a green, a duck pond, pubs, a bakery, the perfect church to get married in and a river. Noel Gallagher and Ozzy Osbourne have homes nearby. Locals recommend The White Hart for dinner, or Merlin's Cave on the green.
The centre is all cottages — if you can get one. Kit Rose, manager of The Brampton Partnership, says you could pick up a fine example from about £350,000. Bigger homes are post-war and £650,000 to £750,000. Posh houses on Dodds or Mill Lane are £5 million upwards.
Parents love the village infant and junior schools and send seniors who pass the 11-plus to one of the grammar schools, or The Chalfonts Community College if they don't — rated "outstanding".