Country-at-heart families forced to live in town will find the perfect compromise in Barnes. The area was once home to Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth I’s cunning secretary, and later became a fashionable destination for boating parties. London gobbled it all up in the 19th century, when Hammersmith Bridge and the railway linked the village to the bustling city. Nonetheless, Barnes remains a corner of glorious countryside in the heart of London.

Green and pleasant land

What sets Barnes apart from the rest of London are its wideopen spaces. Life still revolves around pretty Barnes Green, where flocks of noisy ducks swim in the small pond, and locals like to lift their spirits with a refreshing walk on the leafy common. A big loop of the River Thames forms most of the area’s boundary, and a stroll along the towpath often reveals herons, grebes and seabirds, as wellas all manner of boats.

Just off Queen Elizabeth Walk is the London Wetland Centre, where four redundant reservoirs have been converted into a 100-acre nature reserve visited by hundreds of bird species. Next to it, the Barn Elms Playing Fields and Rocks Lane Multi Sports Centre combine verdant vistas with a wide array of sport facilities-including an athletics track and a smallfishing lake. Much wilder is Barnes Common, which stretches along the village’s southern borders. The rough beauty of this patch of dry grassland and natural woods makes it the ideal place to gather your thoughts, take in the morning mists or simply walk the dog.

Schools

Together with the extensive green spaces, schools are Barnes’s greatest strength. On Lonsdale Road, St Paul’s (with its prep, Colet Court) is one of the best boys’ schools in the country, and one of the finest girls’ schools, St Paul’s Girls, is just across Hammersmith Bridge. Both have notoriously tough admission tests, but there are plenty of excellent alternatives for those who don’t make it into this Holy Grail of academia. The Harrodian is also on Lonsdale Road and the local State school, Barnes Primary School on Cross Street, is excellent.

Notable residents

Barnes has long attracted artistic types. Among the first to move to the area were Handel, who, in 1712, lived for a time at Barn Elms, and Henry Fielding, who stayed at the grand Milbourne House, facing the green, in 1750. In the 1920s, Dodie Smith, author of I Capture the Castle and 101 Dalmatians, lived in Riverview Gardens.

Parish church

Grade II*-listed St Mary’s, on Church Road, is very familyfriendly. Informal services suitable for small children take place once a month and a lively Sunday Club keeps the little ones engaged during the regular service.

Architecture

‘The Lion Houses are a hallmark of Barnes,’ says Donovan Kelly of Winkworth, referring to a cluster of imposing Edwardian houses just off the green, whose gables and gateposts are topped by lion statues. The Terrace has elegant Georgian houses and Little Chelsea has neat rows of cottages in pretty pastel colours.

Butcher, baker, candlestick maker

J. Seal, at 7, Barnes High Street, sells organic chicken, beef and delicious sausages. A few doors down, the Barnes Fish Shop is a proper fishmonger that gets fresh fish from Cornwall every day, and The Real Cheese Shop is a tiny space crammed with Tomme de Savoie, Roquefort and Raclette, plus British treats. Mr Kelly is a fan of the greengrocer at 85, Church Road (Two Peas in a Pod) and of Bees of Barnes, selling mouthwatering honey at 15, Vine Road.

Top shops

Beyond food, antiques are the things to buy in Barnes, and White Hart Lane has especially good shops. At number 62, The Dining Room Shop stocks vintage china, glass and table linen, as well as antique and bespoke furniture. At number 68, Tobias and the Angel carries a range of antique fabrics, plus unusual furniture and accessories.

Pubs and restaurants

The White Hart, opposite The Terrace, is a favourite for a quiet pint with riverside views. More brasserie than pub, The Depot (Tideway Yard, Mortlake High Street) serves juicy steaks and crispy fries to accompany the magnificent views of the Thames. On Church Road, Riva, which has been going for decades, is one of London’s best Italian restaurants

Afternoon tea Shabby-chic furnishings and delectable cakes make the Orange Pekoe tearoom on White Hart Lane a favourite with yummy mummies, but the tea is a real draw, too, with a well designed list that includes single estate leaves as well as easy drinking blends.

Village fairs and markets

The Barnes Community Association runs a popular fair on the green on the second Saturday in July. Two food markets take place every week: the country market, held on Friday morning at Rose House (70, Barnes High Street) and the farmer’s market, which is held on Saturday mornings in the grounds of the Essex House Surgery.

Out and about

The Bull’s Head (373, Lonsdale Road) is Barnes’s answer to Ronnie Scott’s. This period pub started featuring live jazz in 1959 and hasn’t stopped. The great and the good of the jazz world have all made an appearance here, but the pub is also committed to helping fledgling performers build a following.

Local market

‘Barnes is a very school-driven market,’ explains Sandra Carline of Savills. Buyers-many of whom come from central London-often look to move into the area to be close to St Paul’s, but also appreciate the rural atmosphere and great community spirit, as well as the easy access into the City. As a result, activity in the prime property bracket is robust, and lately has lengthened beyond the traditional spring months. ‘The last quarter of 2012 has
been surprisingly strong, with unexpected but highly sought-after properties coming to the market for the first time in 10-20 years.’

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Dream home

Station Road, £6.25 million
This 16th-century, Grade-II-listed house with six bedrooms is right in the heart of the village and retains a strong period character. Savills (020-8939 6900)

Family house

Elm Grove Road, £1.495 million
This four-bedroom Victorian house features large reception rooms with stone fireplaces. Winkworth (020-8255 0088)

Bolthole

Lonsdale Road, £549,950
You can hardly get closer to St Paul’s than with this two-bedroom apartment, which enjoys views across the school’s playing fields. Hamptons (020-8658 7344)