South Oxfordshire named Britain’s top spot to live:four of the best villages for London commuters between Reading and Oxford

Why was this rolling stretch of English countryside, less than an hour from London, voted Britain’s finest rural location? It’s down to good local schools, pretty hamlets and perfect village pubs.

Up to 50,000 Londoners will quit the city this year to become countryside commuters and if you are considering joining their ranks, you probably ought to get to know South Oxfordshire.

This swathe of rolling country lies between Oxford and Reading. Not particularly known as a commuter choice, this 260 square mile patch contains just four towns — Didcot, Henley, Thame and Wallingford.

The rest is open countryside, notably the Chiltern Hills, dotted with lovely, low-profile villages and hamlets that are surprisingly accessible to London by train.

Just-published research by Halifax compared the quality of life in 121 rural areas across Britain, and South Oxfordshire was found to be the best non-urban location to live in the whole of the UK. Start your property search now.



Best for: families with school-age children

Negotiator Katie Baldwin, of Savills, says: “Top of the wish list for families moving out of London is good schools.” She likes Nettlebed, a village smack in the heart of the Chilterns but less than five miles north-west of Henley. It offers plenty of fresh air and endess countryside for city-born children to explore.

Nettlebed Community School, a primary, is rated “outstanding” by Ofsted. Seniors can go to Gillotts School in the country town of Henley on Thames or Wallingford School, seven miles away. Both are rated good by Ofsted.

There’s a good range of private schools within school-run distance, including The Oratory School in Woodcote and Reading Blue Coat School, as well as the excellent options in Oxford.

Family days out at the Warburg Nature Reserve are fun — and free — while Checkendon Equestrian Centre  offers woodland trails for tinies.

Wallingford has an outside heated pool, and teenagers love Henley’s busy vibe — with boutiques, loads of good shops and restaurants, a cinema, Waitrose and café culture — and Reading’s nightlife.

For grown-ups there is a village pub, and a café and deli, and the homemade cheeses from Nettlebed Creamery are hard to resist.

London workers can commute from Henley. Trains to Paddington take just over an hour, and an annual season ticket costs £4,396. Property ranges from post-war houses to ancient cottages, with some lovely Georgian-fronted homes in the high street. A modern four-bedroom detached house would cost from around £400,000.

Rural bliss: open skies and riverside meadows have helped to make South Oxfordshire Britain’s best rural location in which to live (Alamy)



Best for: an active social scene

For those looking forward to immersing themselves in village life, Great Milton could be just the place. “It might be renowned for fab [expensive)] food at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons but there is a bustling community behind the famous address, a good local school and plenty of activities on the village green,” says buying agent Nick Mead, a partner at The Buying Solution.

The local pub, The Bull Inn, is community owned, and “a proper country pub”, adds Mead.

“The buzz of Oxford isn’t far away and lots of Londoners appreciate the cosmopolitan nature of Oxford.” James Shaw of buying agency Prime Purchase agrees Great Milton is one of the most active villages in this region.

To the school and the pub he adds the amenities of a post office and shop, toddler groups, kids’ sports clubs, amateur dramatics, quiz nights, and football, tennis, cricket and athletics teams.

Commuters head to Haddenham & Thame Parkway station, eight miles away, for services to London. Trains to Marylebone take just over half an hour and an annual season ticket is £4,676. The most affordable Great Milton homes are modern and on the outskirts of the village, priced at around £300,000 to £400,000 for three- to four-bedroom houses. A two- to three-bedroom cottage would cost £500,000 to £700,000, while a farmhouse would set you back about £1.25 million.



Best for: reluctant commuters

This is another village with masses to do. It has a delightful timber-framed high street, 17th- and 18th-century cottages and two great pubs.

Damian Gray, a partner at Knight Frank, says: “In the village there is a local shop, a range of other stores, a sailing club which hosts events throughout the year and of course, the River Thames for water sports. The village also hosts a festival which runs for 10 days every other May.”

Perhaps more importantly for many, Dorchester on Thames is a 15-minute drive from Didcot Parkway station, from where trains into London Paddington take a do-able 40 minutes. The annual season ticket costs £4,832, and expect to pay about £700,000 for a cottage in Dorchester, or about £1 million for a farmhouse.



Best for: a picturesque setting

If you believe that looks matter, choose the small and lovely village of Marsh Baldon, five miles from Oxford. Mark Charter, head of residential at Carter Jonas’s Oxford office, says “Marsh Baldon is very pretty, 20 minutes to the south-east of Oxford and surrounded by glorious countryside.

“Beautiful period houses nestle around a delightful village green and picturesque cricket pitch. There’s also a good general mix of pretty period cottages, barn conversions, manor farmhouses and larger, more contemporary houses.

“There’s a primary school, a very good community-owned pub on the village green, and a fantastic gastropub in the nearby hamlet of Toot Baldon, The Mole Inn.” The village hall hosts drawing classes, exercise classes, wine-tasting courses, toddlers’ groups and youth clubs.

Commuters must first drive the eight miles to Didcot Parkway to pick up Paddington services but for many this journey will be rewarded once the Elizabeth line launches in 2018 and they will be able to travel directly to the West End and the City.

However, the village’s present popularity means high prices. A small 17th- or 18th-century cottage costs about £450,000, with four-bedroom family houses from £1 million to £1.5 million. A grander manor house will give you no change from £2 million.

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