Crossrail puts some very pretty Chilterns villages legitimately on the map for City and Canary Wharf commuters
When Crossrail, or the Elizabeth Line, opens in 2018, it’ll be possible to board a train at Reading station and pop out at Liverpool Street just 61 minutes later; from Maidenhead, it will take 48 minutes and, from Taplow, just 45.
Until now, commuting from the Thames Valley to the City—or worse, Canary Wharf—has always been hindered by the fact that, having arrived in Paddington station, you’d have to tackle a cramped journey, quite possibly of the same length, on the Tube to reach the square mile.
‘This improved communication has created an interesting debate in our area,’ says Nick Hole Jones of Hamptons International’s office in Beaconsfield (01494 672969). ‘The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway [BBC2] really shed light on this side of London and showed that there were alternatives to the Surrey Hills and the A3. It was such a good advert for our region.’
The challenge is finding that idyllic leather-on-willow producing village setting that’s within a 15-minute drive of one of the Crossrail stations. ‘There are some,’ believes Ed Foster of buying agents Middleton Advisors (01235 436273). ‘Many of our clients move out of London and the Chilterns are ideally placed for those wishing to remain within reach of the capital. With Crossrail opening, we’ve been looking closely at the best villages.’
First on his list is Wargrave, close to Henley-on-Thames, which has its own train service joining the Crossrail line at Twyford. ‘It has a good range of shops and cafes plus a golf club, there’s lively sense of community and, as it’s on the Thames, there are some delightful views of the river.’ Another one to look out for is Littlewick Green, a small village centred around a green that’s transformed into a cricket pitch during the summer months and is overlooked by a village pub, appropriately named The Cricketers.
Other Thames-side villages include Cookham, to the north of Maidenhead, and Marlow, home to The Hand & Flowers, the first gastropub to be awarded two Michelin stars. ‘Cookham Dean is definitely worth a look,’ believes Charles Elsmore- Wickens of Savills in Windsor (01753 834656). ‘You’re on a hill above Cookham village and, from some of the houses, there are good views across the river towards Cliveden.’ Kenneth Grahame wrote The Wind in the Willows here and the village has its own cricket club and several pubs.
Heading to the south of Maidenhead, he also suggests Holyport as a ‘very pretty Berkshire village with houses set around a green’. It used to be popular for its good communications (both rail and road), but its star rose recently with the opening of Holyport College, the co-ed State- funded day and boarding school that’s sponsored by Eton.
‘For families with young children moving out of London, it really ticks a lot of boxes. There’s a good mix of houses, it’s no distance from Maidenhead and the link with Eton has made it hugely popular.’ James Shaw of Prime Purchase suggests going up into the hills, which —providing you stick to the southern edge of the Chilterns—you could do and still be within a reasonable drive of a Crossrail station (07807 999279).
‘Mapledurham is a pretty spot, as is Goring Heath, which has a nice selection of housing stock—and you’re a stone’s throw from Reading.’ He adds: ‘If you’re prepared to go a bit further from the stations, the hamlets around Nettlebed, all part of the Chilterns AONB, have great walking and riding.’
Another reason to be drawn to the area is cycling. ‘Everyone’s gone Lycra mad,’ says James, ‘and, although the Chilterns are punishing on one level, they’re also exhilarating, so for those who like to spend their weekends in the saddle, they’re a good place to base yourself.’
The other benefit of delving further into the Chilterns and driving that much further to reach the Crossrail stations is to take advantage of the grammar schools in Buckinghamshire. ‘If you’ve sold a house well in Fulham, you can come out here, but be back in the City or Canary Wharf with ease and get your children into a good grammar school. It’s an attractive option,’ says Nick.