Country houses for sale

The charm of the Chilterns

It’s arguably the best bit of proper countryside that you hit as you head out of London, but what are the most attractive villages to look out for? Arabella Youens asks the agents.

The Chilterns are book-ended by two highly popular market towns: Henley-on-Thames to the south and Berkhamsted to the north. ‘Both are attractive, but they attract a different sort of buyer,’ says Nick Mead of The Buying Solution (01488 657912). ‘Berkhamsted has become increasingly attractive over the past few years as it offers an easy commute into London Euston (about 30 minutes) as well as access to the excellent grammar schools in Buckinghamshire. If, however, you’re planning to commute to the City from Henley, it’s going to be emotional: you’re not going to see your children during the week—that is, until Crossrail opens.’

The visibility of the ‘Crossrail effect’ on the southern end of the Chilterns has suddenly become ‘rather obvious’, says Nick Hole-Jones of Hamptons International in Beaconsfield (01494 672969). Once they’re operational in 2019, Crossrail services are expected to serve Maidenhead on a four-trains-per- hour basis, with two of these services continuing to Reading via Twyford. ‘In a few years’ time, it means you’ll be able to live in the pretty villages of the southern end of the Chilterns and commute easily into the City without having to change trains.’

Although most agents agree that the Chilterns has no equivalent to the Cotswolds hotspot of the ‘Daylesford triangle’, the two standout areas are the valleys of Hambleden and Stonor. According to James Shaw of buying agency Prime Purchase (01608 810662), Hambleden—where Band of Brothers and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang were filmed—is where you pay a premium as it’s the first real bit of countryside you reach as you head out of London. He particularly recommends The Quince Tree farm
shop in Stonor.

Ed Sugden of Savills (020–7409 8885), who looks after this patch, agrees and adds the villages of Skirmett and Fingest, both of which have provided backdrops for the television shows The Vicar of Dibley and Midsomer Murders, to the list of prettiest villages. ‘It’s very beautiful countryside and one of the reasons for this is the lack of houses. This, in turn, means it holds some of the most expensive properties close to London after the Home Counties.’

Mr Mead calls this southern end of the Chilterns ‘cosmopolitan countryside’, with Henley and Marlow having an established name in international circles as foodie heavens (boasting a number of Michelin-starred restaurants), which attract a wider buying crowd in their wake.

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‘It’s never going to be like the Cotswolds as Chilterners always have one eye towards London—it’s about function over form rather than the other way around,’ adds Mr Mead. ‘I have lots of clients who ask me to find a Georgian house within an hour from London. Forget it! But if you want a brick-and-flint farmhouse and to be in Mayfair within an hour, the Hambleden valley is where to go.’

North of the M40 has been trickier in recent years, with HS2 looming. ‘It’s definitely something that buyers need to be aware of, but a lot of it is now going to be in tunnels, so the shadow has rather subsided,’ says Mr Hole-Jones.

According to Nick Pounce of Savills in Amersham (01494 725636), the most coveted villages towards the northern end of the Chilterns are the Chalfonts, Coleshill and Penn, ‘however, many buyers will focus their search on the centres around Amersham and Beaconsfield so they’re in easy reach of the commuter links’.

Mr Pounce has seen an increase in buyers coming out of London into his area searching for a classic five-bedroom family house with a garden: ‘Buyers are aware that, after the boom of London prices, now really could be the last chance to maximise on this once-in-a-lifetime value gap.’ The area also has good staying power: ‘Although upsizers from the local area and London account for about 60% of the market, about 10% of buyers are looking to downsize within the area after their children have flown the nest. Amersham Old Town—with its shops, pubs and restaurants— is a popular choice.’

Need to know: Classic Chilterns villages

  • Hambleden
  • Stonor (with its pub and farm shop The Quince Tree)
  • Skirmett
  • Fingest
  • Turville (for its pub, The Bull & Butcher)
  • Great Haseley and Little Haseley
  • Great Milton and Little Milton

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