Live in country charm with an easy city commute

Once out of the city, every minute on the train knocks about £1,300 off the average house price. David Spittles does a new homes search for commuters who want a painless journey
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Houses and shops in Beaconsfield
© Alamy
A row of houses and shops in the old town of prosperous Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire
Thousands of Londoners regularly consider making the move from the capital to the countryside. Those who would still need to commute to London for work must juggle many factors when making quality-of-life judgments about where to live.

Perhaps above all, they have to decide whether a cheaper, more spacious home further down the line will compensate for the hassle of a longer journey to work.

Despite a decade of rising prices creating expensive "corridors of wealth" running from the capital to the countryside and coast, family-friendly space in a good country area usually works out cheaper than a home in London, according to research by Savills. Once out of the city, every minute on the train knocks about £1,300 off the average house price.

Most families, along with their prized bigger and cheaper home, want a reasonably painless commute to a country station not far from home with a good school nearby. And developers know this, which is why they choose locations for new homes with care.

Beaconsfield: 30 minutes from Marylebone

Prosperous Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, 30 minutes from Marylebone on the Chiltern line, has a dual personality and a dual population - a genteel old town that grew at the crossroads of the coaching routes to Windsor and Oxford, and a new town dating from the arrival of the railway in the Twenties. Right between the two is a noted Victorian mansion sitting in listed walled gardens. For the last 50 years it was a research centre for paper manufacturer Wiggins Teape, but is now being redeveloped into a gated estate of 49 homes.

homes at Queens Acre, Beaconsfield
From £960,000: Arts & Crafts-style homes at Queens Acre, Beaconsfield, have integral garages (01494 410520)
Called Queens Acre, the Arts & Crafts-style homes include large apartments (from 1,551sq ft to 2,217sq ft) and four- and five- bedroom houses, some with integral garages, verandas, roof terraces and "bonus rooms" in the attic. Prices range from £960,000 to £1.47 million. Two show homes open in May 2011 and completions are due from July onwards. The mansion itself will be converted later. Call 01494 410520.

"It is the ideal place for people who want to be in the country without feeling remote," says Steve Jones of developer St James."We're keen to attract families who want to enjoy London and yet live in the country. This short journey gets you home from the theatre in reasonable time so you don't miss out on city life. The train station is a five-minute drive. Another key attraction is the area's range of top schools, including state girls' grammar Beaconsfield High School."

Beaconsfield topped a recent "quality of life" poll by the Halifax. Midsomer Murders episodes are filmed in the picture-postcard old town with its market square, spired church, coaching inns and interesting owner-run, independent shops.

The local Savills branch (01494 731950) says prices start in the old town at about £350,000 (for a Victorian cottage) and, despite being on the "rich list" of towns with the highest average property prices in Britain, many homes in Beaconsfield are within the budget of relocating Londoners.

Balls Park, Hertford
From £365,000: Balls Park, Hertford, where a Jacobean mansion is being split into flats and courtyard homes (01992 551777)

Hertford: where the balls park figures

Hertfordshire has pockets of impressive houses but no real equivalent to Ascot or Weybridge, and without that assumption of big money being available, family homes do come cheaper than in Berkshire or Surrey.

The growth of Luton and Stansted airports is another attraction for some. With air travel closer to home, couples can avoid the trek around the M25 to Heathrow or Gatwick. Moreover, the M11 corridor is becoming as important for business as the M4 corridor. At one end is Cambridge, with its hi-tech industries, and at the other end are Docklands and Thames Gateway.

Balls Park, near the county town of Hertford, is a gated 63-acre estate where a prized Jacobean mansion and stable block are being split into luxury apartments and 40 courtyard homes. Who would not be attracted by their original interiors, including, in the main house, oak-panelled drawing rooms, magnificent fireplaces and ornate plaster mouldings? A superb galleried, marble-floored atrium will become a reception lobby for residents. Because of its Grade I listing, many of the grand living rooms will stay their original size rather than be sub-divided, and apartments will range up to a very spacious 3,000sq ft.

The Old Barge pub in Hertford
© Alamy
The Old Barge pub at Folly Island in Hertford, which has good air and road links
Prices start at £365,000 and rise to over £1.5 million. Show homes are open for viewing. Call developer City & Country on 01992 551777.

New period-style apartment blocks and houses are being built in these delightful landscaped grounds. Prices from £249,995. For these, call Explore Living on 0845 241 7758.

900 Canterbury Belles

Kentish towns are also benefiting from regeneration and improved rail links. The charming cathedral city of Canterbury used to be considered outside the commuter belt but journey times to London have been reduced from 102 minutes to under an hour.

About 900 new homes are planned over the next few years, some within the ancient walls. And, currently, Canterbury prices are about 20 per cent cheaper than popular Kent commuter towns such as Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells.

A house with a separate coach house (the ideal way to have guests to stay, or a place for the au pair) in the back garden is one of the selling points at Kingsbrook Park, an edge-of-town scheme of 264 homes bordered by the River Stour in Canterbury. The coach house incorporates a double garage and an apartment, providing 2,700 sq ft of space in total across the two buildings, which have magnificent Georgian façades. Prices from £550,000. Call Berkeley Homes on 01227 477100.

Old Weaver's House in Canterbury
© Alamy
Canterbury in Kent, with its 16th-century Old Weaver's House on the River Stour is now benefitting from vastly improved rail links

Seasoned travellers know the ideal time

According to Lucian Cook, director of research at estate agents Savills, less than an hour is seen as the ideal commute to London.

"Season ticket holders travelling to and from London make up 45 per cent of all rail journeys that take less than 60 minutes. For journeys between an hour and 90 minutes, the figure drops to 30 per cent, and tails off to 10 per cent beyond this time," he says.

Under an hour:
*Beaconsfield to Marylebone from 33 minutes.
*Chelmsford to Liverpool Street from 34 minutes.
*Guildford to Waterloo from 37 minutes.
*Haywards Heath to Victoria/London Bridge from 42 minutes.
*Cambridge to King's Cross/Liverpool Street from 48 minutes
*Tunbridge Wells to Charing Cross/Cannon Street from 50 minutes
*Newbury to Paddington from 51 minutes
*Winchester to Waterloo from 58 minutes

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