This autumn Govia Thameslink Railway, which runs the service between King’s Cross and King’s Lynn known as the Fen Line, will launch a consultation on proposals that include introducing new wi-fi-enabled trains capable of running at 110 miles per hour. It will also consider increasing the frequency of London trains to every half hour.
And when Cambridge North station is opened in May next year Fen Line services could be diverted through the new station, speeding up commuter times.
“More and more people are moving into the Fen Line area,” explains Andy Tyler, secretary of the Fen Line Users Association. “I should think they are moving further out from London because of the high property prices, and the main grumble and grouse they have is overcrowding — what I hear all the time is people saying they are treated like cattle. I think that is a bigger issue than journey time for most people.”
At present the journey from London to King’s Lynn takes almost two hours. From Downham Market, one of the area’s most popular market towns, it takes just over an hour and 20 minutes and the proposed upgrade to the service should bring this closer to the one-hour mark.
The best commuter towns less than an hour from London
The best commuter towns less than an hour from London
1/30 Brighton, East Sussex
What it costs: A house will set you back just over £500,000 and a flat costs about £270,000.
The commute: Victoria is do-able in just under an hour, but the journey is more commonly scheduled from one hour and seven minutes. Annual season tickets start from £3,764.
Top schools: Eastbrook Primary Academy, St Luke’s Primary School and Downs Junior School get “outstanding” Ofsted ratings. Varndean is one of several senior schools rated “good”.
Who it would suit: Young professionals, old professionals, families looking for a change of lifestyle - buzzy, cosmopolitan Brighton has something for everyone, from boutique shopping to smart bars and restaurants and the beach.
2/30 Ewell, Surrey
What it costs: The average house is £376,000, with flats at about £207,993.
The commute: Trains take 33 minutes from Ewell West station to Waterloo, and an annual season ticket will set you back from £1,820.
Top schools: The Mead Infant School, West Ewell Infant School, Wallace Fields Juniors, and Glyn School, for seniors, are all Ofsted “outstanding”.
Who it would suit: Those after a quick, reasonable commute and good local schools will like Ewell. There’s a good high street, nice pubs and restaurants, and a park with a BMX course and running tracks.
3/30 Ashford, Kent
What it costs: Houses sell for an average £211,821 and the average flat costs £118,466
The commute: Trains take from as little as 38 minutes by high-speed rail to St Pancras. An annual season ticket costs from £5,140.
Top schools: Highworth Grammar School is “outstanding”, says the Ofsted watchdog, while all the main primary schools get “good” reports.
Who it would suit: Ashford is very good value for first-time buyers looking to get on the property ladder. It's also a great staging point for the Kent Downs and the coast 20 miles away, weekends in Paris on the Eurostar, and shopping at the Ashford Designer Outlet.
4/30 St Albans, Hertfordshire
What it costs: Houses sell for an average £619,000, while flats go for an average o f£298,000.
The commute: Trains to St Pancras take 17 minutes, with an annual season ticket costing £3,320.
Top schools: St Alban and St Stephen Roman Catholic Infant and Nursery School, The Abbey Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School, and St Albans Girls’ School have all been deemed “outstanding” by Ofsted.
Who it would suit: St Albans is safe and sweet, with a weekend market and the beautiful cathedral. Families, especially, love the brilliant schools, great city centre full of alfresco cafés, boutiques and high-end chains, and the nearby countryside.
5/30 Harlow, Essex
What it costs: A house costs an average £256,313 and a flat £151,721.
The commute: Trains take half an hour to Liverpool Street. An annual season ticket costs £4,420.
Top schools: Burnt Mill Academy (seniors) and Jerounds Community Junior School are Ofsted “outstanding”. Almost all other Harlow schools are “good”.
Who it would suit: City workers seeking value for money and a fast journey into town. Old Harlow is very pretty, with clapboard country pubs, and the whole town is dotted with parks and nature reserves.
6/30 Amersham, Buckinghamshire
What it costs: Houses sell for an average £674,475 and flats for £301,741.
The commute: Trains to Marylebone take 33 minutes, with an annual season ticket costing £3,368.
Top schools: Both Chestnut Lane juniors and Elangeni primary have been deemed “outstanding”, by Ofsted, while Dr Challoner’s Grammar School and Dr Challoner’s High School are among the top-performing state schools in the whole of the UK.
Who it would suit: Old Amersham is picturebook pretty and just perfect for weekends spent roaming the boutiques, restaurants and old timbered pubs.
7/30 Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire
What it costs: Expect to pay just over £664,000 for a house and just under £303,000 for a flat.
The commute: It takes 31 minutes to Euston with an annual season ticket costing £4,644.
Top schools: This family-oriented town boasts no fewer than four Ofsted “outstanding” primary schools.
Who it would suit: Given its superb range of schools, beautiful countryside and range of Victorian homes, Berkhamsted is best-suited to families.
8/30 Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire
What it costs: Homes in the area have breached the £1 million mark, with houses costing around £1,133,770, and flats selling for an average £449,646.
The commute: You can be in Marylebone in just 22 minutes at the cost of £3,328 per year for a season ticket.
Top schools: Ofsted consider the Gerrards Cross CofE School an “outstanding” primary and, thanks to the 11-plus system, seniors can try for one of the area's grammar schools.
Who it would suit: This affluent town on the edge of the Chilterns has a low crime rate, great schools and a well-provisioned high street, making it a great choice for families.
9/30 Cobham, Surrey
What it costs: Average prices in Britain’s most expensive village currently stand at £1,164,565.
The commute: From 38 minutes to Waterloo. Annual season tickets are relatively cheap at £2,604.
Top schools: St Matthew’s CofE Aided Infant School has bee awarded an “outstanding” Ofsted report, alongside two “good” primary schools.
Who it would suit: Yummy mummies will love this glamorous village, with its wealth of brasseries, boutiques, Pilates studios, and Aveda spas.
10/30 Virginia Water, Surrey
What it costs: a house costs an average of £945,579, with flats costing £422,133.
The commute: Commutes to Waterloo take around 45 minutes, with an annual season ticket costing £2,896.
Top schools: Trumps Green Infant School is “outstanding”, according to Ofsted.
Who it would suit: The fact that the local off license stocks Louis Roederer Cristal champagne (£265) and Remy Martin Louis XIII cognac (£1,195) prove that Virginia Water is a rich area that suit those with expensive tastes.
11/30 Marlow, Buckinghamshire
What it costs: Houses sell for an average £510,805, and flats for £288,749.
The commute: It takes 52 minutes to Paddington with an annual season ticket costing £3,348. Alternatively, it takes 30 minutes from High Wycombe or Beaconsfield to Marylebone.
Top schools: There is a quartet of Ofsted “outstanding”schools including 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: Thanks to a good mix of shops, restaurants and bars, Marlow is great for someone who enjoys a busy life. The pretty surrounding countryside is ideal for a pub lunch and wander.
12/30 Taplow, Buckinghamshire
What it costs: An average house in the area costs £503,961, and an average flat £245,632.
The commute: 40 minutes to Paddington. An annual season ticket is £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 nearby Maidenhead.
Who it would suit: Londoners keen to escape to the countryside but don't want to leave behind their mod cons of city life. The busy towns of Maidenhead, Eton and Windsor are all nearby.
Alamy Stock Photo
13/30 Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire
What it costs: Flats cost an average £377,610, and houses come in at £683,587.
The commute: Paddington is 50 minutes away and an annual season ticket costs from £4,396.
Top schools: Nettlebed Community School (primary) is “outstanding”, while Frieth Church of England Combined School, and Gillotts School (seniors) are both rated “good” by Ofsted.
Who it would suit: Commuters who want to enough the buzz of town life. It has art galleries, a cinema, and an annual literary, music and arts festival alongside the famous annual regatta.
Alamy Stock Photo
14/30 Rochester, Kent
What it costs: Houses in the area will set you back an average of £220,765, and flats £142,781.
The commute: Commuter can choose from 38 minutes to St Pancras, or 45 minutes to Victoria. A season ticket costs from £3,956.
Top schools: There are plenty of excellent primary schools to choose from. For older children, The Rochester Grammar School (girls) and Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School are both rated “outstanding” by Ofsted.
Who it would suit: The Kent town offers a lovely historic skyline with a castle, cathedral and quaint old town.
15/30 Walton-on-Thames, Surrey
What it costs: An average house will cost £709,055, whilst an average flat will set you back £317,323.
The commute: It takes just 26 minutes to Waterloo and 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” according to the Government’s schools’ watchdog.
Who it would suit: The leafy suburb offers a great commute and boasts some nice cafes and neighbourhood restaurants for those who like socialising.
16/30 Windsor and Eton, Berkshire
What it costs: An average house sells for £596,000, and an average flat for £365,000.
The commute: It takes 51 minutes to Paddington or 56 minutes to Waterloo. An annual season costs £2,904.
Top schools: St Edward’s Catholic First School, Hilltop First School, and Windsor Girls’ School (senior) are all rated outstanding by Osfted. Eton College is very famous.
Who it would suit: Busy Windsor is perfect for Royal watchers who like the Queen’s wide open spaces and do not mind aircraft noise.
17/30 The Chalfonts, Buckinghamshire
What it costs: Houses cost an average £742,000, and flats come in at £290,000.
The commute: Chalfont & Latimer station is in Zone 8 but you can catch a mainline service to Marylebone in 35 minutes. An annual season ticket costs £3,036.
Top schools: The area boasts good grammar schools. Selective Dr Challoner’s High School is one of the UK’s top state girls school, with an “outstanding” Ofsted report. Both Little Chalfont Primary School and Chalfont St Peter Infant School get top marks too.
Who it would suit: All the Chalfonts are in easy reach of the Chilterns - each one has something different to offer. Little Chalfont has good shops while Chalfont St Peter offers great pubs and is close to Gerrards Cross. Chalfont St Giles has a chocolate-box village feel and Chalfont Heights has a private gated estate.
18/30 Chelmsford, Essex
What it costs: A typical flat costs £178,000 while an average house costs £335,000.
The commute: It takes 34 minutes to Liverpool Street and an annual season costs £4,748.
Top schools: One of the top secondary schools in the country, King Edward VI Grammar, is situated in Chelmsford. It is boys-only until the sixth form, but younger girls can opt for the excellent Chelmsford County High School.
Who it would suit: Those who like to have all the mod cons on their doorstep but still like the rolling countryside.
19/30 Luton, Bedfordshire
What it costs: Houses in the area cost an average of £222,000 and flats will set you back £221,000.
The commute: It only takes 23 minutes to reach St Pancras. An annual season ticket is £3,960.
Top schools: There are plenty of well-regarded primaries to choose from. Barnfield South Academy, Barnfield West Academy, and Cardinal Newman Catholic School (all seniors) are all rated “good” by Ofsted.
Who it would suit: The great value housing is very attractive. For a more rural feel, head to the nearby villages of Offley and Lilley.
20/30 Petersfield, Hampshire
What it costs: a house costs an average of £416,000 with flats costing £194,000.
The commute: The fastest train to Waterloo takes an hour and three minutes — but its qualities make up for an extra 180 seconds on the train. An annual season is £4,308.
Top schools: There are schools for all ages on offer. Petersfield Infant School is rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, whilst Herne Junior School and The Petersfield School (seniors) both rate as “good”.
Who it would suit: thanks to it's location in South Downs National Park, its perfect for those who dream of a perfect country town with period homes and community spirit.
21/30 Cambridge, Cambridgeshire
What it costs: A typical house in Cambridge costs just over £600,000, while flats cost an average of almost £330,000.
The commute: From 50 minutes to King’s Cross. An annual season ticket costs £5,012.
Top schools: The majority of the city’s schools are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, with St Albans Catholic Primary and St Bede’s Inter Church School (seniors) amongst those with top marks from the Government’s schools inspector.
Who it would suit: Londoners who still want to experience cosmopolitan city life.
22/30 Tonbridge, Kent
What it costs: A house costs an average of almost £395,000, whilst an average flat costs just over £270,500.
The commute: From 41 minutes from Charing Cross (or 49 minutes from Cannon Street). An annual season ticket costs £4,060..
Top schools: Most of Tonbridge’s primary schools get “good” ratings from Ofsted and seniors can try for Kent’s fantastic grammar schools.
Who it would suit: Londoners who enjoy a good social life thanks to a theatre, a couple of sports centre and plenty of sports clubs. It has an affluent feel and streets of good quality Victorian houses in the town centre.
23/30 Wickham Bishops, Essex
What it costs: Houses in the area typically cost an average of almost £243,000, while flats come in at just over £178,000
The commute: From Witham, the nearest station, which is just over three miles away, trains to Liverpool Street take from 45 minutes. An annual season ticket costs £5,232.
Top schools: There isn't a school in the village but Great Totham Primary, in the neighbouring village, gets a “good” rating from Ofsted. Older children can attend Maltings Academy in Witham, rated “outstanding”.
Who it would suit: Londoners looking to get more for their buck and still have an easy commute into the city. The surrounding countryside is lovely, and you can be at the coast within 40 minutes.
24/30 Guildford, Surrey
What it costs: Houses cost, on average, just over £649,047 with flats coming in at almost £292,000.
The commute: From 39 minutes to Waterloo. Annual season tickets cost from £3,360.
Top schools: Most are highly rated by Ofsted with the youngest pupils especially well catered for. Both Wood Street Infant School and Stoughton Infant School are Ofsted “outstanding”.
Who it would suit: City workers who want the countryside on their doorstep yet a quick commute into the bright lights of the city.
25/30 Lingfield, Surrey
What it costs: the average cost of a house in this Surrey town is £433,000.
The commute: From 50 minutes to Victoria, an annual season ticket cost £3,396.
Top schools: Both Lingfield’s state primaries (Lingfield and Dormandsland) are rated “good” by Ofsted. Older children will have to travel to the "outstanding" comprehensive Imberthorne School, East Grinstead, four miles away.
Who it would suit: Commuters who love to spend their downtime soaking up the fresh, countryside air.
26/30 Odiham, Hampshire
What it costs: an average house costs £500,319 here, while two bedroom flats are priced at around £200,000 to £250,000.
The commute: trains from nearby Hook take 58 minutes to Waterloo. An annual season ticket costs from £3,988.
Top schools: Mayhill Junior School and Robert May’s School (seniors) are both rated “good” by Ofsted.
Who it would suit: people coming out of south west London find better value for money than in some of Surrey's swish commuter hotspots, plus a commuting time that doesn't really change.
27/30 Leigh-on-Sea, Essex
What it costs: a typical house costs around £407,000, while a flat costs just over £214,232.
The commute: from 48 minutes to Fenchurch Street. A season ticket costs £4,524.
Top schools: both Leigh North Street Primary and West Leigh Junior School get top marks from Ofsted. The town also has two (academy) senior schools both rated “good” by the schools’ watchdog.
Who it would suit: City workers who fancy messing about by the seaside. Leigh has a bit of a London village vibe, with good, quirky indy shops and galleries on Leigh Broadway, and plenty of cafes. There are lots of like-minded ex-Londoners to befriend.
What it costs: expect to pay just over £916,000 for a house or £386,000 for a flat.
The commute: squeaks in under the hour, with services to Marylebone from 57 minutes. An annual season ticket costs £5,620.
Top schools: St Barnabus and St Philip (juniors) in boho Jericho is particularly sought after. Many parents go private, with The Dragon School, Magdalen College School (boys) and Oxford High School (girls) top of the picks.
Who it would suit: given those London-style prices, a move to Oxford is far more about lifestyle than budget, and Oxford is a gorgeous looking city, with a more cosmopolitan feel than smaller towns can manage, it is walkable/cycleable, and the countryside on the doorstep is glorious.
29/30 Reading, Berkshire
What it costs: an average house goes for £334,397, while flats are priced at around £227,235.
The commute: from 27 minutes to Paddington. An annual season ticket costs £5,024.
Top schools: Reading School is one of the highest performing schools in Britain, whilst All Saints Junior School is “outstanding” according to Ofsted.
Who it would suit: first-time buyers looking for value for money and those looking to minimise the amount of time spent sitting on the train.
30/30 East and West Malling, Kent
What it costs: a typical house now costs just over £305,000, while flats sell at just over £218,000.
The commute: journeys from West Malling to Victoria take from 50 minutes, or 56 minutes from East Malling. Season tickets from either station cost £4,176.
Top schools: The Discovery School (juniors) in West Malling is Outstanding according to Ofsted; seniors can try for one of Kent’s grammar schools.
Who it would suit: those who like the idea of a small market town with a pretty Georgian high street filled with traditional pubs and some good shops, at lower prices than better-known Kent commuter towns like Sevenoaks, will prefer West Malling, whilst East Malling is a “proper” village.
The cost of an annual season ticket — from £5,844 from King’s Lynn and from £5,564 from Downham — is unlikely to change.
However high travel costs must be set against the town’s average property price which, according to Rightmove, is £179,396 — almost a third of the price of a typical London property.
Ed Bennett, valuer at Wilson & Betts estate agents, estimates that a four-bedroom modern house in the town would cost from £220,000. A three bedroom Victorian semi would cost between £170,000 and £200,000.
And one of the town centre’s two-bedroom 16th-century sandstone cottages — which have earned Downham the nickname the “gingerbread town” — would cost between £130,000 and £160,000.
Benett says around a third of buyers moving into Downham, and into nearby towns like Watlington, are coming out of London and are not overly concerned by the journey time.
“For the money that they can save on property they are not that bothered,” he said. “They can always work on the train. As prices rise in London people are looking further along the train line. Downham traditionally has been made up of an older generation, because it has so many bungalows, but you are starting to see a younger demographic move in.”
As Bennett suggests, Downham is a sleepy sort of place, although it does have some useful shops and several pubs. It is also only half an hour by train to Cambridge, and around an hour’s drive to the beautiful Holkham beach and nature reserve.
Exactly when the proposed improvements will materialise is uncertain, and Tyler says “constant procrastination” over how to upgrade the service was another reason for passenger unrest. A spokesman for Govia confirms that a public consultation on the plans will take place later in the year.