Largely thanks to the TV series Towie, Essex has a reputation for being all fake tan and faux Louis Vuitton. In reality, if you venture beyond Brentwood, this county has some of the most glorious countryside to be found in England. The landscape is one of wheatfields and windmills, studded with exquisite villages.
Essex has long been the go-to county for City workers because of its excellent links to Liverpool Street. It also wins out on architecture. From manor houses, to clapboard or thatched cottages, to farmhouses, the quality of its village homes is second to none.
Indeed, the biggest problem with choosing an Essex village to live in is whittling down the choice — but here are five of the best:
1. FRYERNING: for Square Mile families
Where is it? Seven miles north-east of Brentwood, and beside the larger village of Ingatestone.
The commute: trains from Ingatestone take a fabulous 34 minutes to Liverpool Street. An annual season ticket costs £4,344.
Plus points: Fryerning is only half a mile from Ingatestone station, but better value because it doesn’t have a station of its own. It is also less than five miles from Shenfield, the eastern terminus of the Elizabeth line, so from 2019 locals will be able to take advantage of fast services to the City, West End and Heathrow.
In the meantime, the village is pretty, the local countryside is lovely, and Ingatestone’s cafés and boutiques are within walking distance. Ingatestone and Fryerning Church of England Voluntary Aided Junior School is rated “good” by the Ofsted education watchdog.
“Fryerning has two popular country pubs — The Cricketers and The Viper — plus a pretty village church,” says James Millar, branch manager of Beresfords estate agents.
And the downsides? Better value than Ingatestone it may be, but it will still cost at least £800,000 to buy into Fryerning. There is no village shop.
Property prices: Millar says the smallest properties you will find in Fryerning are three-bedroom detached houses, which sell at about £800,000. Budget £1.25 million to £1.5 million for a four-bedroom detached house, while grand country piles sell for £3 million-plus.
2. DEDHAM: Constable country
Where is it? Eight miles north-east of Colchester.
The commute: trains from Manningtree station, four miles away, will get you to Liverpool Street in 60 minutes, and an annual season ticket costs £6,488.
Plus points: if you can overlook the painfully expensive commute, “picture-perfect” Dedham has a near-perfect rural location, nestled in the lovely Dedham Vale. It is on the banks of the River Stour which means that after work you could stroll amid peaceful water meadows for miles, and these same meadows protect the village from flooding.
This is “Constable Country”, the landscape immortalised by English Romantic artist John Constable (1776-1837), but as well as its good looks Dedham is a well-resourced place. “Dedham is famed for Constable’s world-famous scenes of The Hay Wain and Dedham Vale, but is now also home to a thriving hub of gastropubs, independent stores and Tiptree Jam’s Essex Rose Tea House, as well as The Munnings Art Museum,” says Rob Twitchett, manager of the Colchester Beresfords branch.
The village also has tennis, cricket and football clubs to join in with, while the schooling options are great. Dedham Church of England Voluntary Controlled Primary School is rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, and older children could try for one of Colchester’s brilliant grammar schools.
And the downsides? Never mind the cutesy tea rooms, Dedham doesn’t have the basics, such as a doctor or dentist. You’re probably going to need to drive if you decide to live there.
Property prices: expect to pay about £475,000 for a three-bedroom cottage and from £600,000 for a four-bedroom detached home. If you are after the full country manor with a bit of land, you will have to spend between £1.5 million and £2.5 million to achieve your dream.
3. FINCHINGFIELD: ‘prettiest village’ status
Where is it? Nine miles north of Braintree.
The commute: Braintree is the nearest station, and Stansted airport is about 15 miles away.
Plus points: “Finchingfield is often referred to as the prettiest village in England,” says Bruce King, director of Cheffins estate agents. “There is a good tea room, three pubs and a pretty duck pond — it has maintained its quintessential English charm over the centuries. There are also a number of antiques shops and boutiques which serve tourists who come to visit the village.”
There are active village cricket and football clubs, and Finchingfield Church of England Voluntary Controlled Primary School is rated “good” by Ofsted.
And the downsides? The village tends to be invaded by tourists in the summer.
Property prices: a budget of about £325,000 would buy a pretty two-bedroom cottage, while a period family house would cost about £600,000. If you want a rambling country pile with a couple of acres, expect to spend between £1.3 million and £1.4 million.
4. GREAT CHESTERFORD: great facilities
Where is it? Close to junction 9 of the M11, between Cambridge and Saffron Walden.
How do I get there? This village has the huge advantage of its own train station, which should make up for the hour and ten minute journey to Liverpool Street. An annual season ticket costs £5,456.
Plus points? Great Chesterford is what Richard Hatch, head of residential at Carter Jonas Cambridge describes as a “quintessentially pretty English village” with great facilities including a primary school rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, loads of kids’ clubs, a very good village shop, and two lively pubs. The countryside around is idyllic, and having both Cambridge and Saffron Walden an easy drive away means you are never too far from shops and restaurants.
And the downsides? Homes on the southern edge of the village suffer from some motorway noise, and the River Cam has been known to burst its bank flooding parts of the village so make sure you check whether a property has been affected before you buy.
Property prices: Two-bedroom cottages start from around £300,000, says Hatch, while you could buy a family-sized four-bedroom house from around £500,000. A grand five- or six-bedroom manor with a great garden would cost from £1.2 million.
5. FELSTED: thriving village
Where is it? Between Bishop’s Stortford and Braintree.
How do I get there? Trains from Braintree, seven miles away, chug into Liverpool Street in 58 minutes. An annual season ticket costs £5,232. Transport links are generally excellent – as well as trains, the M11 is handy, as is Stansted Airport.
Plus points: First impressions of Felsted, with its scatter of timbered buildings and period cottages, are excellent. This is a thriving, busy sort of village with several pubs, a post office, butcher, a general store, and a choice of restaurants on its High Street.
Felsted Primary School gets top marks from Ofsted, and Schuyler Pratt, a director at Jackson-Stops & Staff’s Chelmsford office, also rates the village’s community vibe. The well-rated private Felsted School is at the centre of the village, and hosts events year round including an annual arts festival.
And the downsides? The popularity of this village means you will pay a premium to live here. School run time at Felsted School is hectic.
Property prices: A two-bedroom cottage would cost between £350,000 and £500,000 said Pratt, while a four-bedroom family house would be priced between £750,000 and £1m.