Country houses for sale

Where is the best place to buy a house?

A recent survey by the Halifax crowned South Cambridgeshire Britain’s top rural hotspot, followed closely by East Hertfordshire, Uttlesford in Essex and the Vale of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. Other polls have yielded different results-in the past, Country Life found Kingham was England’s favourite village, and Devon the best county to live in so what should buyers be looking out for when searching for their Arcadia?

The list of criteria includes good schools, a 15-minute (or shorter) drive to a station, and appealing shops, restaurants and pubs in the area, according to house finder Charles Birtles from Charles Birtles Property Search.

Although good schools always heighten an area’s desirability, Mr Birtles has come across a new trend among buyers looking for the best country homes. ‘Finding a school used to come first, followed by the house. Now, with a shortage of property on the market, buyers choose the school after they’ve found a home where they hope to remain for most of their lives,’ he says. He adds that this topsy-turvy approach works best in areas where you’re spoilt for choice with educational establishments, such as Hampshire and West Berkshire.

West Wantley

James Grillo from Chesterton Humberts believes that ease of commuting has never been more important to people, boosting demand for accessible locations. ‘Popular rural areas have a true flavour of the English countryside, but are still accessible from London and other key cities.’ He points to West Storrington in West Sussex, where he’s selling West Wantley, a six-bedroom near Pulborough, at £2.25 million, as an excellent choice, because it has classic English history and architecture, yet London, Gatwick airport and the south coast are all close by.

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When the commuter trek is a mere 45 minutes, a hotspot is born. For example, says Gary Hammond from Hamptons International, Haddenham in the Vale of Aylesbury (recently a location for Midsomer Mur-ders) appeals to parents with young children who regularly journey into the capital via Marylebone station.Especially when you factor in reasonable prices in the region of £1.5 million for a decent-sized house, and easy access to a number of National Trust properties, such as Waddesdon Manor, and Claydon and Hartwell Houses, ideal for getting out and about.

However, a dream village shouldn’t be too close to a major road. According to Frank Speir of buying agents Prime Purchase, ‘the most important factor for creating a rural hot spot is a lack of road noise, as noise puts buyers off a location more than anything else’. But if you really want to find out how good a village is, and whether it will suit you, ‘there’s nothing better than visiting the pub and getting in with the locals,’ says Simon Bradbury from Fine & Country in Cambridgeshire. It’s also worth checking out local websites-most villages have them these days-to see if they host fêtes, fairs and garden parties.

The best locations blend all these ingredients with scenic surroundings, so another handy way of pinpointing a hotspot is to talk to someone from a local cycling club. ‘They will be best placed to tell you about the prettiest parts, as they’re where biking fans choose to cycle themselves,’ suggests William Wells from Mullucks Wells.

That said, he warns, putting down roots in a remote spot, no matter how beautiful, could soon have you scampering back to busy metropolitan areas with all-night chemists and screeching sirens. A rural hotspot should lie within seven miles of good facilities. If you have to make a journey of 10 miles or more to access basic amenities, such as shops and a doctor’s surgery, your country dream could become a nightmare.

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