Staring into a stranger’s armpit on a rush-hour tube train can often lead to thoughts of moving to a tiny village. We imagine that, there, we might find the space to be ourselves. As a description of Louis de Bernieres’ fictional Surrey village, Notwithstanding, reads: it is a place where, “a lady dresses in plus fours and shoots squirrels, a retired general gives up wearing clothes altogether… and people think it quite natural to confide in a spider that lives in a potting shed.” Perhaps it’s just me, but as a Londoner, that all sounds rather liberating.
In the interests of bucolic fantasies, we’ve put together a list of commuter villages near the capital. Should you not be quite ready to give up the city job and start squirrel hunting yet, we’ve included some practicalities like transport connections and house prices too.
Although Cookham shares the river Thames with London they don’t have much else in common. Sir Stanley Spencer used it as inspiration for his lesser known landscape paintings and it also played home to Kenneth Grahame, who’s said to have drawn inspiration for Wind in the Willows on the village’s river banks. It’s close to Maidenhead and its fast connection to London. You can get to Paddington in about half an hour. Just on the other side of Maidenhead you’ll also find Bray, with its concentration of Michelin starred restaurants, including Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck.
Lavenham’s biggest claim to fame is one of its houses featured as Harry Potter’s parents’ home in the film series. For mums and dads with more mundane occupations than wizardry, it’s at least two hours on public transport from Liverpool Street. This is probably one for commuting by car, which cuts the journey time to about one and a half hours. In the 15th century its importance in the wool trade meant it was one of the richest settlements in the country. Well heeled residents built a cluster of sizeable, now charmingly wonky, medieval houses. Today, very much a posh tourist hotspot in summer, it comes with all the amenities that go along with that. It’s also the cheapest place to buy on our list.
Chillham is another medieval gem, but in the vicinity of HS1, the high speed rail link that connects London to Kent. From nearby Canterbury you can hop on and get to St Pancras in about an hour. It’s on the brow of the Stour Valley, so boasts stunning views of the surrounding countryside. All the boxes are ticked in terms of what you’d expect from a quaint Kentish village. It has a pub, tea room and stately home and a great stock of beautiful houses. Its local primary school is good and Canterbury has some great options for secondary schools, state or independent.
A 4 bedroom with bundles of character and an Aga:
As with all the villages on this list, Wheathampstead is easy on the eye, but it’s also notable for its strong community. There’s a wide range of events throughout the year, societies, clubs, sporting activities and an active business support group, should you wish to open that sandwich shop you’ve always dreamt about. As for commuting, it’s close to Welwyn Garden City’s Thameslink which will see you into King’s Cross in half an hour. The local primary schools are both good and there’s a surprising number of amenities for a village of its size. You needn’t ever leave.
Wendens Ambo, Essex
Wendens Ambo looks like something out of a story book with its cottages and distinctive curved, thatched roofs. It’s also ridiculously well connected, just off the M11 and with its own train station that will get you on the Victoria Line in forty minutes. It’s even close to Stansted Airport (but not so close you’ll be woken at 5 a.m. by a jet engine). It has a much loved pub, The Fighting Cocks, which has a traditional, great quality food menu.
A 2 bedroom apartment in a converted mill:
With average house prices well over a million, statistics would seem to suggest that over half the population of Cobham are millionaires. The priciest of our selection by some margin, it has everything you’d expect from a country village and then some. There’s a big selection of high end restaurants. The Clock House, especially, is well worth a visit. The selection of schools is also massive. There is a state primary, state all-through school, prep, girls school, boys school and an international school. The proximity of Chelsea FC’s training ground has made it a favourite with footballers, which may go some way to explaining the astronomical house prices. It is also close to an area of outstanding natural beauty and has excellent transport links though.