When Londoners dream of the perfect country life they usually have the honey-coloured villages of the Gloucestershire Cotswolds in mind.
But the equally charming villages of the northern Cotswolds, in Oxfordshire, take some beating and are easier to reach.
If you can stand a bit of a drive and the train for up to an hour or so, the bucolic bliss of The Moretons is your prize.
1. THE MORETONS
(North and South) and the Astons (Upthorpe and Tirrold)
Where are they? These four lovely villages are all on the north-east fringes of the North Wessex Downs, about 15 miles south of Oxford.
The commute: all four are within about five miles of Didcot Parkway station, with trains to Paddington from 42 minutes. An annual season ticket costs from £4,920.
Plus points: Linda Jeffcoat, of Stacks Property Search, rates these pretty villages for good commuter links, proximity to Oxford, and for their homes. “They have cob-walled thatch, brick and flint and large country houses. There is a strong community and most of them have a pub, church, sports clubs and village co-operative stores, and plenty of country and Thames-side walks.”
Watch out for: prices. Budget about £300,000 for a tiny two-bedroom cottage. A four-bedroom family home is about £895,000, but you could easily blow £3.5 million on a six-bedroom country house with a few acres. The nearest big town is unlovely Didcot. The only village of the four with a primary school is South Moreton — but the school run from the others is a breeze, and Ofsted has bestowed a “good” rating. Older pupils need to travel. The nearest senior school, St Birinus School (boys) in Didcot, is “good”.
2. GREAT HASELEY
(and Little Haseley)
Where are they? Along the M40 wealth corridor that runs between London and Oxford.
The commute: Haddenham & Thame Parkway station is a seven-mile drive, with trains to Marylebone from 41 minutes. An annual season ticket costs from £3,952.
Plus points: good looks. “Great Haseley is a very attractive village with a large manor house, vicarage, and lots of very pretty period houses, many of which are thatched,” says Tom Carey, manager at John D Wood.
Jonathan Bramwell, partner and head of The Buying Solution’s country department, also rates the Haseleys for their country charm. “Both villages are unspoilt and the area is predominantly rural.”
There are tennis and cricket clubs, and a restored village windmill. Like so many village pubs, The Plough was in danger of closing until 2012 when the local community clubbed together to buy it. For posh food within walking distance, Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is less than a mile away.
Watch out for: there’s no village school. Little Milton CofE Primary School, a couple of miles away, is closest and gets a “good” Oftsed rating. The nearest senior schools are nine miles away in south-east Oxford.
Property prices: a two-bedroom cottage will set you back £350,000, with a four-bedroom house from £700,000. For a country house with an acre or two you would need £2.5 million to £5 million. There’s the possibility of intermittent aircraft noise - in this case helicopters - from nearby RAF Benson.
(The one on the Thames)
Where is it? Dorchester on Thames sits at the point where the Chilterns meet the North Wessex Downs.
The commute: Didcot Parkway station is a 15-minute drive away, with 42-minute trains to Paddington. Annual season ticket from £4,920.
Plus points: this busy, gorgeous little village has a scenic high street, period cottages, two popular pubs — both former coaching inns — a handful of shops and tea rooms, an active sailing club, and regular festivals and events. Dorchester St Birinus CofE Primary School is rated “good” by Ofsted.
Watch out for: the village, known as the gateway to Oxfordshire, has many guesthouses and B&Bs to serve summer tourists visiting Dorchester Abbey.
Property prices: a two-bedroom period cottage costs £350,000-£400,000, and a four-bedroom family home’s about £600,000. Country homes on the edge of the village run into seven figures.
4. GREAT TEW
(Out on the edge)
Where is it? 18 miles north-east of Oxford and just a mile or two from the edge of the Cotswolds.
The commute: trains from Banbury, 10 miles away, take from just under an hour to reach Marylebone. An annual season ticket costs from £5,564.
Plus points: this is a hip village, with the handsome, thatched Falkland Arms pub to hang out in, a popular pop-up pizzeria and an annual music festival, held on the Great Tew Estate. The Soho Farmhouse members’ club with its spa, deli and yurt field is hugely fashionable with London exiles.
The village is suitably beautiful, with classic, honey-coloured cottages, a cute tea room and a shop. The village primary school has an “outstanding” Ofsted report.
Watch out for: the lengthy and expensive commute — and the high proportion of “Down from Londons”, if that’s not your thing.
Property prices: thatched stone cottages start at £500,000, with farmhouses from about £1 million and the sky’s the limit for trophy homes, starting from £2 million.