Commuting to London:top 20 areas to buy a home within 60 minutes of the capital - from Marlow to Henley

Many towns and villages within an hour of London offer commuters a great escape, an enviable choice of homes and top schools. We take a look at the pros and cons of moving to 20 of the best...

There’s something about living by a river, whether it conjures thoughts of summer evenings in a pub garden watching boats cruise by, or rowing club membership spurring you to get in shape, or even buying a boat of your own and simply messing about on the water.

These feel-good associations mean riverside homes are soon snapped up despite often being at the most expensive end of a London commute.

In the latest instalment of our guide to the 50 best options for life after London, we explore the finest riverside towns within an hour of the capital, from millionaire enclaves to surprising first-time buyer territory.


 

MARLOW, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE

What it costs: an average property currently costs £532,614, up 15.4 per cent in the past two years. Houses sell for an average £510,805, and flats for £288,749. Source: Savills/Land Registry.

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The compleat Angler hotel next to Marlow's Thames Bridge (Alamy)

The commute: from 52 minutes to London Paddington. An annual season ticket costs £3,348. From 30 minutes High Wycombe or Beaconsfield to Marylebone.

Top schools: a quartet of Ofsted “outstanding” schools: Holy Trinity Church of England (Aided) School, Spinfield School (primary), Marlow Church of England Infant School and Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School.

Who it would suit: someone who enjoys busy, pretty country with a good mix of shops, restaurants and bars. The countryside around Marlow is stuffed with pretty villages like Cookham and all the Hambledon Valley villages - ideal for a pub lunch and wander.

Giles Davidson, senior manager at Hamptons International, says about half of his buyers are “Lexiters”, mainly young families cashing up in the capital and buying larger houses. “What people like is the bustling high street, obviously the riverside, and the ease of access to the motorway to London or the West,” he said. “There is a lot going on in Marlow, with a good family atmosphere.”

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£600,000: a two-bedroom house with a private mooring at a private marina in Marlow

And the downsides? Not the greatest commute. When launched, the Elizabeth line — Crossrail — will offer services from Maidenhead, a 15-minute drive away, to the West End and the City.

There is one exclusive estate, Wethered Park, within nine private acres, close to the town centre, and a few good Georgian houses but much of Marlow’s housing was built in the Sixties and Seventies and is pretty dull.

And while there are some great schools, Davidson warns that high demand means catchment areas can be tiny and premium prices are charged for homes close to the best options. And since precise catchment areas change each year, a home that is close enough when bought might not fall within the catchment by the time a child comes to need a place.


 

HENLEY ON THAMES OXFORDSHIRE

What it costs: house prices have risen 15.8 per cent in the past two years to an average £593,526. Flats cost an average £377,610, and houses come in at £683,587. Source: Savills/Land Registry.

The commute: from 50 minutes to Paddington, and an annual season ticket costs from £4,396.

Top schools: Henley is really not a sink school type of town. Nettlebed Community School (primary) is “outstanding”, while Frieth Church of England Combined School, and Gillotts School (seniors) are both rated “good” by Ofsted.

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Jolly boating weather: Henley on Thames suits rowing fans with its regatta  (Alamy)

Who it would suit: rowing fans will love getting blazered-up for the annual regatta. There are, of course, numerous rowing clubs, most notably the very posh Leander Club (members include Sir Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent).

The town centre is pretty, though spoilt by a one-way system, the riverbank has plenty of traditional (crowded at weekends) pubs. It also has art galleries, a cinema, and an annual literary, music and arts festival.

Buying agent Nick Mead, a partner at The Buying Solution, has lived in Henley since 2005. “It is increasingly popular with people who are priced out of London and want to live in a buzzy place with loads of restaurants and cafes and all that.”

And the downsides? Overcrowded with tourists in summer, it is also very expensive. The Victorian and Edwardian villas on the riverbank rarely come up for sale, and when they do prices hover around £8 million.


 

ROCHESTER, KENT

What it costs: average property prices are inching towards to the £200,000 mark – currently £199,535, up 17.5 per cent in the last two years. Houses cost an average of £220,765, and flats £142,781. Source: Savills/Land Registry.

The commute: 38 minutes to St Pancras, or 45 to Victoria. A season ticket costs from £3,956.

Top schools: plenty of excellent primary school choices, and then Kent’s fantastic secondary education kicks in: The Rochester Grammar School (girls) and Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School are both rated “outstanding” by Ofsted.

Who it would suit: lovers of historic buildings, since Rochester’s skyline is dominated by its fine castle and cathedral. You feel like you could have tea in a different tea shop for a month. Great for those who like rummaging in antique shops, boutiques, and galleries; there is also a monthly flea market which is good fun. It is just half an hour’s drive to the seaside at Whitstable. Fantastic value by London standards – think around £500,000 for a four or five bedroom Georgian townhouse in the town centre, and £300,000 for a very pretty townhouse.

And the downsides? Some of the local pubs are a bit rough and ready, and get rowdy at weekends, and there are some parts of Rochester crying out for regeneration and investment. Buyers with lower budgets will find exceptional value on the fringes of town, but the housing here is more likely to be dreary post-war than glorious Georgian.


 

TAPLOW, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE

What it costs: average property prices have risen 13.5 per cent in the past two years, to an average of £407,088. An average house costs £503,961, and an average flat £245,632. Source: Savills/Land Registry.

The commute: 40 minutes to Paddington. Annual season ticket: £3,616.

Top schools: Taplow’s primary school St Nicholas Church of England Combined School is rated “good” by Ofsted. Seniors have several high-performing options in Maidenhead.

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£650,000: a spacious three-bedroom cottage at Hurstfield Drive, Taplow

Who it would suit: good countryside feel near the busy towns of Maidenhead, Eton and Windsor. Pubs, Burnham Beeches and endless walks are on the doorstep, as is the National Trust’s lovely Cliveden Estate with good teas in the Orangery.

As an added incentive Taplow is three miles from Maidenhead which, when the Crossrail Elizabeth line opens, will mean direct trains to West End and City.

And the downsides? Not a village with a centre as such. Houses a bit iffy — some nice Victorian cottages and Edwardian houses but a bit too suburban, with big executive houses and near slightly scruffy Burnham village.


 

WALTON-ON-THAMES, SURREY

What it costs: property prices up 18 per cent in the last two years, to an average of £587,204 – the best performer in today’s selection of riverside towns. An average house will cost £709,055, whilst an average flat will set you back £317,323. Source: Savills/Land Registry.

The commute: a fantastic 26-minute journey to Waterloo. An annual season ticket costs from £2,412.

Top schools: Ashley CofE Aided Primary School is rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, and Walton Oak Primary School is “good”..

Who it would suit: Walton is very much like a leafy London suburb transplanted to just within the M25. The only difference is that its commute is probably faster than from Zones 4 or 5. There are plenty of newly-built trophy mansions for £2-3 million for those with the budget, and 1930s semis for those who do not. Locals can enjoy a well-stocked high street, some nice cafes and neighbourhood restaurants, riverside pubs, and the Surrey Hills nearby.

And the downsides? Doesn’t have pretty-pretty village looks. There are too many chain stores and not enough interesting independent shops. Bad news for parents of older children too: Rydens Enterprise School and Sixth Form College “requires improvement” according to Ofsted.


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