Country houses for sale

20 of the best places in England to live if you’ve a one-or-two day-a-week commute

The world has changed — and far quicker than anyone thought it could. But the 'new normal' means millions of us will be working at home for most of the week — and that, in turn, means that home can now be much further away from the office. Julie Harding picks out 20 beautiful places to live in Britain that are beyond a short train journey.

Village life can bring big views and star-filled skies, tranquillity, a pub within walking distance, community spirit, an occasional knees-up in the village hall and a beamed cottage in which to live — Midsomer, perhaps, but without the murders.

A rural idyll may not be for everyone, but many who work full time in London offices and yearn for a life in the country have discovered during lockdown that working from home opens up new possibilities. Zoom and Teams have facilitated new long-distance meetings and broadband, despite pockets of problems, can be as good as in any city.

James Walker, a director in the Savills country department, says: ‘Lockdown is ultimately a game-changer. Places such as the Cotswolds are opening up even more, including to a younger generation.’

Nick Leeming, chairman of Jackson-Stops, agrees: ‘Since the housing market lockdown eased in May, our branches, from Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds to Bridport in the South-West, have experienced significant demand from buyers looking to permanently relocate from cities to the countryside.’

In June, Jackson-Stops asked more than 3,000 UK consumers if they would consider extending their commute (not necessarily only to London), if it meant living in their dream location. Overall, 81% said they would do so by at least 30 minutes; 40% would increase it by 45 minutes or more; and nearly one-fifth were prepared to spend more than an hour longer. The options here should cover all those options.

Cheshire

Prestbury, Cheshire

  • Nearby mainline station: Macclesfield
  • Drive time to station: 10 mins
  • Train time to London: 1hr 42 mins
  • London station: Euston

Prestbury (not to be confused with Prestbury, Gloucestershire) forms a point of Cheshire’s Golden Triangle (with Wilmslow and Alderley Edge) containing attractive settlements (and sporting celebrities).

Prestbury main street, lined with shops and restaurants.

With 1,600 dwellings and 4,000 inhabitants, there’s more to it than ‘millionaires’ row’, and residents will find everything they need on the black-and-white half-timbered high street, including a convenience store, hotel, pubs, florist, dress agency and pharmacy. A dentist and a doctor’s surgery serve the community, as does a primary school.

The only facility absent from this village with a small-town feel is a bank, but if you want more, central Manchester is only a 30-minute train ride away.

Derbyshire

Ashford in the Water, Derbyshire

  • Nearby mainline station: Chesterfield
  • Drive time to station: 23 mins
  • Train time to London: 1hr 47 mins
  • London station: St Pancras International

Poohsticks enthusiasts will love Ashford in the Water, located in the Peak District National Park and famous for its bridges, not least the iconic 16th-century triple-arched Sheepwash Bridge, named by VisitEngland as the best location for the game dreamt up by A. A. Milne.

Sheepwash bridge on the River Wye, Ashford-in-the-Water, Derbyshire.

The idyllic setting and mellow limestone houses belie an industrial past—this was once the centre of Ashford black-marble production— it’s far more tranquil today. Aisseford Tea Room is popular with visitors and locals alike, as is the well-stocked shop, The Ashford Arms and The Bulls Head.

Cricketers will find themselves playing on one of the most picturesque pitches in the area; an art group and a farming-life group meet weekly in the busy village hall. Timed to coincide with Trinity Sunday, residents can look forward to a week-long flower festival, plus the well-dressing ceremony — an ancient custom that’s almost exclusive to Derbyshire.

Gloucestershire

Kemble, Gloucestershire

  • Nearby mainline station: Kemble
  • Drive time to station: 2 mins
  • Train time to London: 1hr 9 mins
  • London station: Paddington

Kemble, the closest settlement to the source of the River Thames, is commuterville with a difference. It may be almost 100 miles from central London — and feel like a world away when sipping a glass of wine in the garden of The Tavern Inn — but, rare for a smallish village, it boasts its own mainline railway station, making it the envy of similar-sized villages (population 1,000).

There is more beyond the main road, from a village hall that hosts a regular Big Breakfast and Rural Cinema screenings to a primary school and post office/general stores. Cotswold Airport, with its various flying clubs, is a mile away. If you want to live in this neighbourly village, however, move quickly — houses sell fast.

Dorset

Milton Abbas, Dorset

  • Nearby mainline station: Gillingham
  • Drive time to station: 39 mins
  • Train time to London: 1hr 58 mins
  • London station: Waterloo

Widely regarded as one of the first planned settlements in England, Milton Abbas was uprooted from its original site close to the abbey in 1773 and transferred to the neighbouring valley on the orders of Lord Milton, 1st Earl of Dorchester.

Milton Abbas, Dorset.

Today, the 36 near-uniform thatched cob cottages with their wide front lawns are instantly recognisable and regularly pictured on postcards of Dorset’s most beautiful attributes. The independent school, with its towers and turrets, is often nicknamed Hogwarts by pupils. Members of the village’s swimming club (one of several groups on offer to residents) use the school’s pool.

Village amenities include a doctor’s surgery and a post office, a pub (the atmospheric Hambro Arms), plus a tea room. When the bunting comes out for the bi-annual street fair, this charming village looks even more enchanting than it does on a quiet day.

East Sussex

Ditchling, East Sussex

  • Nearby mainline station: Hassocks
  • Drive time to station: 8 mins
  • Train time to London: 47 mins
  • London station: Victoria

Newcomers are guaranteed a warm welcome in Ditchling (once home to Dame Vera Lynn), which even extends to a party in March with free food and drink, where they will be invited to join the myriad clubs and societies (from horticultural to the WI) run under the umbrella of the Ditchling Village Association. This friendliness extends into the two pubs, The Bull and The White Horse.

Green fields of Sussex and the village below, as seen from Ditchling Beacon.

Shops in this village, which has a population of about 2,000, include Pruden & Smith bespoke jeweller, a newsagents and a hairdresser. Sited within the South Downs National Park and overlooked by Ditchling Beacon, the highest point in East Sussex, the village is choc-a-bloc with historic housing and a particularly lovely sight for sore eyes is the green, with its pond and 12th-century church.

Kent

Appledore, Kent

  • Nearby mainline station: Ashford International
  • Drive time to station: 20 mins
  • Train time to London: 36 mins
  • London station: St Pancras International

St Peter & St Paul’s Parish Church in Appledore is more fragrant and colourful than usual every August Bank Holiday weekend, when this pretty, linear village runs its well-attended three-day flower festival.

In July, vintage car enthusiasts flock to the village that featured in ITV’s The Darling Buds of May to admire 450 vehicles on display at the vintage and classic vehicle rally and village fair. This takes place on the recreation ground, which also sees service as a children’s play area and football pitch.

With a vast array of clubs to join — from bellringers to riding — new residents are unlikely to ever be bored in this settlement, which has its own station, a pub, The Black Lion, a convenience store and a post office. The Royal Military Canal at the village’s southern end offers ample walking and cycling opportunities — a public path runs along its entire length.

Norfolk

Pulham Market, Norfolk

  • Nearby mainline station: Diss
  • Drive time to station: 13 mins
  • Train time to London: 1hr 26 mins
  • London station: Liverpool Street

A contender for a quintessential-England jigsaw, Pulham Market’s green is surrounded by thatched cottages and a medieval church, but this area acts as a hub for September’s carnival, June’s music day, the circus and a community Christmas tree, too.

england east anglia the norfolk broads national park

Far from linear, village properties — from palatial listed homes to affordable housing — are spread fairly far and wide, but there are meeting points in the two pubs. The hairdressers, the post office and the shop do a healthy trade and the award-winning Goodies Food Hall attracts customers from as far afield as Norwich.

The memorial hall opens its doors every day for myriad groups, including productions by the Pulham Players. Artisan businesses also thrive here. Locals point out that the journey to Diss station is in ‘Norfolk miles’: roads are quiet and the most likely hold-up comes from getting stuck behind a tractor.

Oxfordshire

Hook Norton, Oxfordshire

  • Nearby mainline station: Charlbury
  • Drive time to station: 21 mins
  • Train time to London: 1hr 7 mins
  • London station: Paddington

Known to inhabitants as ‘Hooky’, this village to the north of Oxford has its own 171-year-old brewery that produces award-winning real ales and owns the three pubs, The Gate Hangs High, the Pear Tree Inn and The Sun Inn. An annual beer festival raises about £20,000 for charity.

The High Street, Hook Norton.

With a primary school, a pre-school playgroup, a library, a doctor’s surgery and even a veterinary clinic all on tap, Hooky has almost everything you need. The list of groups and clubs is lengthy and will appeal to lovers of gardening, singing, running, tennis, history and film.

Kingham, Oxfordshire

  • Nearby mainline station: Kingham
  • Drive time to station: 6 mins
  • Train time to London: 1hr 16 mins
  • London station: Paddington

With its own station offering direct trains to London, properties that come on the market here are invariably snapped up swiftly. Set in the Evenlode Valley, Kingham was voted England’s Favourite Village in Country Life in 2004 and we make no apologies for mentioning it again.

The Cotswold village of Kingham.

It is everything a village should be — easy on the eye (at its northern end, its open greens are lined with elegant 17th- and 18th-century cottages), vibrant and yet with a strong sense of community. A forgotten loaf of bread — and much more — can be purchased at the village shop; foodies will love the two gastropubs, The Kingham Plough and The Wild Rabbit Inn, the latter now a part of the Daylesford estate; The Big Feastival is hosted at Blur bassist Alex James’s farm; and The Churchill & Sarsden Heritage Centre, the brilliant and quirky ‘smallest museum in Oxfordshire’, is only three miles away.

Somerset

Mells, Somerset

  • Nearby mainline station: Westbury
  • Drive time to station: 23 mins
  • Train time to London: 1hr 11 mins
  • London station: Paddington

Mells became inexorably linked to Little Jack Horner in 20th-century popular legend, although the Horner family, who still live in Mells Manor today, dispute that the nursery rhyme’s protagonist was an ancestor. The village boasts an eclectic mix of estate-owned, private and more affordable housing.

Mells Manor.

The community rescued and now runs the thriving village shop, which also houses a cafe and a post office. Popular pub The Talbot Inn happily welcomes both dogs and people at the bar. The village school takes children up to year four and there is a privately run nursery next door.

The Grade I-listed church includes an equestrian statue by Sir Alfred Munnings and a memorial designed by Edward Burne-Jones. For pampering, luxury bolt hole Babington House Members’ Club is only two miles away and Bruton, Frome and Bath are also a short hop by car.

Crowcombe, Somerset

  • Nearby mainline station: Taunton
  • Drive time to station: 20 mins
  • Train time to London: 1hr 41 mins
  • London station: Paddington

Nestled at the foot of the south-western slopes of the Quantocks, between Taunton and Minehead, is the small village of Crowcombe, which has the distinction of being one of the first communities in the country to be given a bypass.

The war memorial in the village of Crowcombe, in the Quantocks.

About 500 people live here and are treated to the sound of bells ringing out on most Thursday evenings, when parishioners practise their skills in the Church of the Holy Ghost.

The tennis club, situated next to the village hall and children’s play area, welcomes new members and the hall itself offers a mix of activities, from zumba and ballet to karate and a baby and toddlers’ group; Crowcombe Cinema shows one mainstream and one independent film a month. The volunteer-run shop/post office stocks groceries, household items and stationery and, for anyone planning their nuptials, nearby Crow-combe Court, which features interior plaster-work by Grinling Gibbons, is a popular venue.

Staffordshire

Longnor, Staffordshire

  • Nearby mainline station: Macclesfield
  • Drive time to station: 30 mins
  • Train time to London: 1hr 42 mins
  • London station: Euston

Situated near the top of a high ridge between the Dove and Manifold river valleys and surrounded by rugged scenery and working farmland, Longnor is made up of quaint streets lined with neat stone houses and a sloping, cobbled marketplace.

Longnor, the Peak District.

The BBC was so enamoured that it used Longnor to represent Jane Austen’s fictional Lambton in the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth. The cast may well have found the village a thriving community back then — and it still is, with businesses including a furniture retailer, pet-food supplier, garage and The Merchant’s House hotel.

In September, an eclectic mix of gymkhana, fell run and motorbike and (horse) harness racing makes up Longnor Races. The races, in turn, form a part of Wakes Week, a tradition dating back to 1697, which also features well blessing, a bake-off and a treasure hunt — all designed to bolster the already powerful community spirit.

Suffolk

Lavenham, Suffolk

  • Nearby mainline station: Sudbury
  • Drive time to station: 13 mins
  • Train time to London: 1hr 18 mins
  • London station: Liverpool Street

Lovely Lavenham in the heart of rural Suffolk is lauded as Britain’s best-preserved medieval village. Streets are narrow and buildings timber-frame and pastel painted — in excess of 320 properties in this settlement near Bury St Edmunds and Newmarket are listed.

The half-timbered medieval cottages in Water Street, Lavenham, draw tourists from around the world.

One of those, De Vere House, which featured in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One, was put on the market a couple of years ago for not much less than £1 million. Another listed building, the iconic Guildhall, built in 1529 with the wealth made from Lavenham Blue broadcloth and today owned by the National Trust, is grey-and-white-striped eye candy.

Residents benefit from a packed calendar of events and numerous clubs, myriad eateries and upmarket shops, boutiques and galleries, hair and beauty salons and a library. Fans of character properties may be spoilt for choice here, but buyers will pay a premium to live in this jewel in Suffolk’s crown.

Warwickshire

Welford-on-Avon, Warwickshire

  • Nearby mainline station: Warwick Parkway
  • Drive time to station: 27 mins
  • Train time to London: 1hr 16 mins
  • London station: Marylebone

Shakespeare buffs would do well to settle in partly timber-frame and thatched Welford-on-Avon, only six miles from the Bard’s birthplace and Stratford-upon-Avon’s Royal Shakespeare Company. One of the thatched cottages, in Boat Lane, is thought to be the original ‘chocolate-box cottage’.

The annual fête plays out around the maypole, at 65ft one of the tallest in England; the bowling club enjoys all the benefits that come with sizeable six-rink indoor and outdoor greens; other ball-sport enthusiasts can take advantage of the football field or join the cricket club.

Thatched cottages at Welford on Avon, Warwickshire.

Parents can send their children to the local primary school safe in the knowledge that, on its last visit, Ofsted rated it ‘Outstanding’. Beyond the convenience store (called, of course, The Maypole) post office, butchers and dress agency, residents can stroll, cycle or ride in the surrounding bucolic countryside.

Lorentz Gullachsen can vouch for the benefits of long-distance commuting from this village. When the advertising photographer moved to Welford-on-Avon in Warwickshire, he ‘cried with joy when I found the river and the idyllic vale that runs a few hundred yards from my house’.

For the past two decades, Mr Gullachsen has been a part-time commuter to the capital. He believes his journey is pain free because Chiltern Railways ‘is one of the best operators around and I can get from home to the centre of London in just under two hours’.

West Sussex

Findon, West Sussex

  • Nearby mainline station: Worthing
  • Drive time to station: 13 mins
  • Train time to London: 1hr 22 mins
  • London station: Victoria

Forever intrinsically linked with the famous Gifford family’s racing stables (horses click-clack through the village on an almost daily basis), Findon is sited within the South Downs National Park and is bursting at the seams with facilities.

Two adult walkers in the Landscape looking over Findon Downs near the village of Findon.

The village boasts a butchers, a hair-and-beauty salon, a shoe shop and an antiques emporium — and there are no fewer than two restaurants and three pubs, including award-winning The Gun Inn. The strong community spirit was characterised when a residents’ buy-out secured the future of the post office and village store in 2017, which are now run by volunteers as a co-operative. The population of 2,000 briefly trebles during September’s popular annual sheep fair, held on the green.

Bosham, West Sussex

  • Nearby mainline station: Chichester
  • Drive time to station: 11 mins
  • Train time to London: 1hr 30 mins
  • London station: Victoria

For a heady mix of history, the sea, sailing, fishing and fulfilling village life and a smattering of thatch, Bosham (pronounced Bozzum) ticks the boxes. One of the earliest sites in Sussex to be touched by Christianity — St Wilfrid preached here in 681 — part of the Holy Trinity Church is featured on the Bayeux Tapestry. It’s also where King Canute apparently attempted to hold back the waves.

Low tide landscape of Bosham Harbour with private jetty.

Badminton, bingo and bridge are only three of the myriad activities run in the village hall. The community has its own football club, as well as a sailing club, the oldest in Chichester Harbour. Nearby Bosham Quay Meadow (National Trust) offers lovely vistas and the Bosham Walk Art and Craft Centre has two floors of creative outlets and a cafe.

Wiltshire

Broad Chalke, Wiltshire

  • Nearby mainline station: Salisbury
  • Drive time to station: 20 mins
  • Train time to London: 1hr 28 mins
  • London station: Waterloo

Anyone spotting Second World War soldiers or Elizabethan courtiers strolling around Broad Chalke in June isn’t seeing ghosts, but characters from the now world-famous Chalke Valley History Festival, which attracts about 75,000 visitors annually; locals receive free tickets.

For the rest of the year, when this 750-resident village is peace and quiet personified, anyone living here benefits from the volunteer-run grocery store/post office/cafe in the United Reformed Church (winner of the Daily Telegraph and Countryside Alliance Best Village Shop 2014), a pub, doctor’s surgery and village hall.

Equally, active residents can enjoy glorious surrounding countryside and water meadows, part of the Cranborne Chase AONB, the first AONB in Britain to gain International Dark Sky Reserve status. This means that, when the skies over the streetlight-free Broad Chalke are cloudless, they’re filled with myriad twinkling stars.

Newcomers should expect a warm welcome, too. Tom Hitchings, chairman of Broad Chalke Parish Council, believes it isn’t only commuters who benefit from village life, but the settlements themselves. Due to lockdown, several people who used to ‘thrash past my house on the way to catch the 6.45am from Salisbury are working from home. They finish at 5pm and have been helping out in the community, getting takeaways from the pub and so on. Village life is changing and it’s strengthening the community and its spirit as a result’.

Worcestershire

Broadway, Worcestershire

  • Nearby mainline station: Moreton-in-Marsh
  • Drive time to station: 17 mins
  • Train time to London: 1hr 24 mins
  • London station: Paddington

Honey-coloured buildings predominate in this northern gateway to the Cotswolds, where the village hub is the large green, which plays host to live music events, village fêtes, farmers’ markets and even a vintage car show. With a museum, art galleries and antique shops, this isn’t your quintessential sleepy rural community.

Cotswold cottages, Broadway, Worcestershire.

In fact, bustling Broadway is also a foodie heaven, with Hamiltons, a vital stop for sweet lovers, the deli selling fresh and organic food, Russells Fish & Chips having scooped awards and John Barleycorn’s offering products sourced as locally as possible.

Broadway’s pubs (some dog friendly) are centrally located and the lauded Lygon Arms can claim Oliver Cromwell as a former guest. The village is packed on Boxing Day, when the North Cotswold hounds, kennelled just off the high street, parade to the goodwill of thousands of supporters. The golf course is among the top 20 in the South West and, of course, racegoers will benefit from a stress-free, 25-minute drive to Cheltenham on Gold Cup day.

Yorkshire

Stillington, Yorkshire

  • Nearby mainline station: York
  • Drive time to station: 23 mins
  • Train time to London: 1hr 48 mins
  • London station: King’s Cross

Stillington lies on the former Oswaldkirk toll road, between York and Helmsley, within what was, until 1630, the royal Forest of Galtres. Appar-ently, novelist Laurence Sterne gave a reading of Tristram Shandy when dining at Stillington Hall in 1745. Receiving a lukewarm reception, he threw it on the fire, but it was rescued to go down in history as an early experimental novel.

Stillington, North Yorkshire. What else would you drive but an MG Roadster?

The 12th-century parish church of St Nicholas forms the centrepiece to this eye-catching village. Stillington Post Office & Stores’ strapline is ‘Owned by the community. Run by volunteers’.

The Stillington News is distributed free to all residents and details the raft of events on offer, including the Stillington Village Lunch, held in The White Bear Inn, where newbies can get to know their neighbours and a warm welcome awaits.

Thornton-le-Dale, Yorkshire

  • Nearby mainline station: York
  • Drive time to station: 41 mins
  • Train time to London: 1hr 48 mins
  • London station: King’s Cross

The Mathewsons, ‘a dynasty of dealers with a love of classics’, have brought Thornton-le-Dale, gateway to the North York Moors, into the nation’s homes via the popular TV series Bangers & Cash. As well as the team at the auction/museum, the village, too, plays a significant role, its historic stone cottages and Thornton Beck, the stream that meanders along its streets, featuring in many scenes.

A thatched cottage in Thornton le Dale, North Yorkshire.

Two miles east of Pickering, Thornton-le-Dale has something for residents and tourists alike, not least a village rarity, Wardill Bros department store, established in 1856 by Thomas Wardill and still run by his descendants.

This is widely regarded as one of Yorkshire’s prettiest villages, having scooped many awards, including a Yorkshire in Bloom 2019 accolade, and, in a normal year, myriad events (from a scarecrow festival to music on the green) take place in this hip, happening, historic market settlement.