There are no motorways in Dorset, as residents are fond of saying, and a large proportion of the county is made up of designated areas of outstanding beauty. No wonder people from London and the increasingly overstretched home counties are looking south and west.

Dorset is satisfyingly remote for many, but at the same time a more reasonable journey to the capital, making it all the more attractive to those who still maintain links to London.

The main towns are Sherborne, Wimborne and Dorchester, although most of the county, and its character, is to made up of innumerable villages and small towns which are peppered throughout the landscape.

Dorset can be divided into three areas: the vales of the west and north-west; the chalk uplands of the centre; and the marshes of the east and south-east. The coast, along the English Channel, has spectacular sights such as Lulworth Cove and Portland Bill.

Many families have lived in Dorset for generations, and the Elizabethan manor houses for which the county is famous are rare and expensive. There are, however, many good manor houses, old rectories and farmhouses to be found, particularly in the north and west.

Building stone is abundant and good, and includes Portland stone and Purbeck stone to the south of the county. The most expensive houses in Dorset are in Bournemouth and Poole, particularly on the Sandbanks Peninsula in Poole Harbour. Sea Views are always a bonus.

However, prices throughout the county are generally high, as roads and trains to London are fairly good; the same effect is seen to the north of the county, close to the A303. Further west prices were lower, but now compete with the rest of the county, and houses in or near towns and villages such as Sherborne and Cerne Abbas still command a premium.

Simon Jones from Savills in Wimbourne says: Things have changed a little bit in Dorset, but there are still good houses coming onto the market. A pretty house in a good location will always be popular. Prices have come down a little bit on last year, but for the right property, prices are still very competitive.’

In the West, Beaminster and Sherborne are popular, as is the stretch between Wimborne and Salisbury and Shaftsbury as well.

Many houses are being bought as main residences for families where the father works in London while the mother stays in the county during the week, keeping on a house in the capital which they later sell to look for a farmhouse in the county.

One of the reasons it is so popular with families is that schooling in Dorset is well known for being at an extremely high standard.

‘Demand for good country houses has increased amongst people who can work from home, or only need to be on London for a couple of days a week,’ continues Mr Jones. ‘And this combined with the second homes market and the growing retirement market led to rocketing prices between 2003-2004.

‘These high prices have been tempered slightly by the overall market performance this year, but a good house in the right place will still command a high price. Nearby roads, though, can be a huge disincentive ? when people move to an area for peace and quiet, road noise puts people off considerably,’ he continued.

Simon Barker from Knight Frank added: ‘In my opinion prices have not fallen but they have hardened. We did have a pretty good rise before this though, and what you see here is only what you will see in the rest of the country.

‘There is absolutely no question that there is still very good demand for a decent house properly priced,’ he stresses.

Charlie Bladon from Jackson-Stops & Staff in Sherborne agrees: ‘The key when selling is to get the price right. There are less buyers but the ones who are looking are extremely serious, which is unusual for this time of year when normally we have a lot of prospective buyers just looking around, not set on a purchase.’

Major towns

Dorchester, Weymouth, Poole, Bournemouth, Christchurch, Blandford Forum, Sherborne, Beaminster, Bridport, Lyme Regis, Shaftesbury.

Transport links

Train: Waterloo to Bournemouth 1hr 40min; Waterloo to Sherborne, 2hr.

Car: Bournemouth is 110 miles from central London, via the M3; Sherborne, 125 miles, via the M3 and A303.

Public schools

Bryanston School, Blandford Forum (01258 452411). Co-educational, age range 13-18, day and boarding. www.bryanston.co.uk

Clayesmore School, Iwerne Minster (01747 812122). Co-educational, age range 13-18, day and boarding. Associated preparatory school. www.clayesmore.net

Milton Abbey School, Blandford Forum (01258 880484). Boys only, age range 13-18, day and boarding. www.miltonabbey.co.uk

Talbot Heath, Bournemouth (01202 761881). Girls only, age range 3-18, day and boarding. www.talbotheath.org

Sherborne School (01935 812249). Boys only, age range 13-18, boarding. Associated preparatory school. www.sherborne.org

Sherborne School for Girls (01935 812245). Girls only, age range 12-18, day and boarding. www.sherborne.com

Canford School, Wimborne (01202 841254). Co- educational, age range 13-18, day and boarding. www.canford.com

Leisure

Golf courses: Came Down, Dorchester (01305 812531); Isle of Purbeck, Studland (01929 450361); Lyme Regis (01297 442963); Sherborne, (01935 812 475)

Yacht clubs: the Lilliput Sailing Club, Poole; the Parkstone Yacht Club, Poole; Poole Harbour Yacht Club; the Royal Dorset Yacht Club, Weymouth.

Hunts: the Blackmore and Sparkford Vale, the Portman, the Cattistock and the South Dorset.

Fishing: rivers Frome, Piddle and Stour.