It’s a well-trodden route for many families who have had enough of battling the daily journey on the Tube and the sharp elbows found at the gates of the capital’s most popular schools, and who yearn for more space.
The big move (abbreviated to “BM” around many London dinner party tables) to the countryside becomes the obvious next step. For some it’s embraced with excitement, for others with trepidation.
One sure-fire way of sweetening the pill for the most reluctant commuter is to find somewhere that offers good affordability and to make sure the journey itself is as short as possible – as well as providing all the trappings of village life to make that big move worth it.
Research by Savills has analysed the best commuting villages around London which have a mainline station with a direct train link to the capital in less than an hour. To qualify, they must be true villages, complete with amenities such as a post office, community hall and a pub (with bonus points for a thatched roof).
Surrey loses out when it comes to affordability: no fewer than seven of the top 10 most expensive commuter villages by house price values are found in the county, with Oxshott and Cobham occupying the top spots. “You have a perfect cocktail of transport options,” says Charles Broadbent-Combe of Savills.
Instead, look to Essex, Kent and Buckinghamshire for a mixture of value and speed – and those all important village features.
The need for speed: fastest village commutes
It’s often the case that journeys from the outer zones of the Tube network into the centre of town will take longer than moving out and commuting back. These are the top three villages with services to London terminals taking fewer than 30 minutes.
Welwyn North, Hertfordshire
Journey to King’s Cross: 21 minutes
Average house price: £464,000
Season ticket: £4,364
In pole position, if you catch the 07.59 train to London King’s Cross, the journey takes just 21 minutes, making it the fastest commuter village, according to Savills’ research. The station serves the village of Digswell, which lies on the northern boundary of Welwyn Garden City. It has a primary school rated “Good” by Ofsted in 2017, and shops include a butcher and convenience store.
It’s also home to Digswell Lake Society, 17 acres of woodland and ornamental parkland (open to members only) and Digswell Arts, which supports emerging artists in Hertfordshire. Hamptons International is marketing Tewin Lodge, which dates back to the 18th century and stands on the banks of the river Mimram, for £1.6 million.
Six bedroom home in Denham is £3.5m, with Savills
Journey to Marylebone: 25 minutes
Average house price: £514,000
Season ticket: £2,516
A favourite with commuters not only for the train but also access to motorways and Heathrow Airport, Denham attracts “professionals moving out of London but not yet ready for the full ‘welly brigade’ move to [rural] isolation”, says Sadie King of Hamptons International in Gerrards Cross.
“I refer to the Thames Valley/Chiltern countryside as ‘soft’ country where you can still have easy access to a cappuccino or latte.” Dubbed a “celebrity village” thanks to previous residents Sir John Mills, Sir Roger Moore and Cilla Black, it has two golf courses, three pubs, a post office and shops. It falls within the catchment area for Buckinghamshire’s grammar schools.
Old Farm Cottage in Hersham is £825,000, with Hamptons
Journey to Waterloo: 26 minutes
Average house price: £578,000
Season ticket: £3,024
Hersham – with its 26-minute journey into London Waterloo and road links to the A3 and M25 – comes in third position for the fastest commute. Large enough to have a Waitrose, Hersham sits on the edge of Walton-on-Thames and has a large village green. There are also open riverside meadows.
“It’s popular with growing families as Hersham has some excellent state and private schools”, says Vincent Dennington of John D Wood & Co in Weybridge. He is selling a five-bedroom, newly refurbished house in Westcar Lane for £1.4 million.
Best value commuter villages
It’s pretty much a given that somewhere that offers this commuting idyll of a village life and a short journey back into London brings attendant increase in house prices.
However, Savills has uncovered some village destinations that buck this trend. They aren’t all blessed with duck ponds, cricket pitches and thatched-roofed pubs overlooking verdant village greens, but they nevertheless offer better affordability (compared with the capital), an easy commute back to town, and that all-important taste of country life.
Easterfields in West Malling is £1.185m, with Savills
East Malling, Kent
Journey to Victoria: 58 minutes
Average house price £350,000
Season ticket £6,184
At 58 minutes into London Victoria, this isn’t the shortest journey time to the capital but would be a good choice for anyone looking at the holy trinity of a manageable commute, a more affordable house and a village lifestyle. Lying just outside the M26 and M20, and set among hop fields and fruit orchards, East Malling is “centred around a stunning stone church which is surrounded by listed buildings,” says Chris Doe of Fine & Country in West Malling.
The agent is marketing a four-bedroom Thirties-era house for £1 million. There is a significant number of new-build houses, adds Andrew Harwood of Strutt & Parker in Sevenoaks. “With good pubs and a village fete in the summer, it’s not quite Archers-esque – but something in-between.” Primary and secondary schools in the area are good but the nearby Maidstone grammar schools are the main draw.
White Notley, Essex
Journey to Liverpool Street: 58 minutes
Average house price: £358,000
Season ticket: £5,520
Set in undulating arable farmland, in the Brain Valley, midway between the towns of Witham and Braintree, the village ticks several boxes: it has a small primary school (rated “Good” by Ofsted in 2017), a pub, post office, village hall and 10th-century church. According to Paddy Pritchard Gordon of Knight Frank, it “attracts professionals who need easy access to the City such as bankers, consultants and lawyers”.
He describes it as a “quintessential English village” which is “beautifully located in the middle of the countryside”. A period house with a big garden will range from £750,000 to £1.1 million. Local agent Beresfords is selling a recently built, four-bedroom house for £650,000.
GREAT ESCAPE: Narrowboats moored at Cheddington, BuckinghamshireCredit: alamy
Journey to Euston: 44 minutes
Average house price: £415,000
Season ticket: £5,232
This village was made infamous as the site of the Great Train Robbery when, in 1963, £2.6 million was stolen from the Glasgow to London mail train at nearby Bridego Bridge. Set deep in the heart of the Aylesbury Vale, this pretty village boasts plenty of period houses including thatched cottages, as well as Victorian and Edwardian stock.
Because it is located deeper into the countryside, it offers “more bang for your buck”, says Edward Ruggles-Brise of Knight Frank in Berkhamstead. There’s a café that is the “heart of the village social scene,” he adds. It’s also in the catchment area for grammar schools.
Source: Savills Research, Land Registry, National Rail