The village of Saltwood is probably best known for being the home of the late diarist and Conservative MP, Alan Clark. His father, the historian Sir Kenneth Clark, bought Saltwood Castle in 1955, and his widow, Jane, is still very much in residence. Although the castle isnt open to the public, she does allow a few village functions to be held in the grounds. The village, which has a smattering of Georgian houses, with a predominance of substantial Victorian and Edwardian properties, also boasts a church, a pub and a village shop, as well as a mainline station only minutes away at Sandling.
This area of Kent is popular with people wanting to escape the stresses of city life, not only because it offers a peaceful, rural existence, with easy access to the towns of Folkestone and Canterbury, but also because of its proximity to the Continent. Furthermore, Folkestone is currently benefiting from a considerable amount of money being ploughed into it by Roger De Haan, who used to run Saga hes been instrumental in the regeneration of both the sea front and the harbour.
For those moving out of London, the property market remains relatively affordable. The great advantage of this area is that prices are 25% cheaper than in Maidenhead or Tunbridge Wells, because its 3040 miles further from London. But once the faster railway link is in place, we should see prices catching up, says Richard Symondson of Browns (01303 840422). Already, people are moving to the area and commuting up to London, lured by the knowledge that, by the end of next year, their commute will be a lot simpler.
A two-bedroom village cottage can be found from about £180,000, three-bedroom cottages start at £230,000, and a five-bedroom family house with a bit of land can cost anything from £500,000 upwards. Prices have held up pretty well, and the demand for really good country houses is strong. Theres always a shortage of good equestrian or lifestyle properties, particularly if theyre free from any downside, says David Hirst of Angela Hirst Chartered Surveyors (0870 600 1234; www.angela-hirst.com).
Commuting The village is 10 minutes from Folkestone (London Charing Cross, one hour and 40 minutes). Once the fast line to St Pancras is operational, the journey should take 50 minutes. Sandling station, where its very easy to park, is only four minutes away.
Schools Theres a little Church of England primary school in Saltwood. The Harvey Grammar School in Folkestone is a good boys school, and Simon Langton in Canterbury is equally good for girls. Theres also The Kings School, Canterbury, a co-ed private school, which is known for its excellent choir.
Shopping Folkestones new multi-million-pound shopping centre, Bouverie Place, which opened at the end of November, 2007, has the usual high-street chains. A much more attractive place to shop is Canterbury, a mere 14 miles away.
Eating The Castle Hotel in Saltwood has a lovely restaurant, and Eastwell Manor in Boughton Lees, near Ashford, is a good country-house hotel. Theres also the Gurkha Palace for authentic Nepalese cuisine; Keppels Bar & Bistro at The Grand on The Leas, which specialises in fish; and the Palm Tree Inn in Elham, which serves good pub food.
Attractions As well as the cathedral in Canterbury, theres also a good theatre, which shows many plays from London before they go abroad. In Hawkinge, theres the Kent Battle of Britain Museum, and the grounds of Brockhill Country Park in Saltwood are open to the public. Walkers can enjoy the North Downs Way and coastline at Hythe, where youll also find Martello towers and the old Royal Mili-tary canal system, which meanders along the Kent coastline, and has been home, for the past three years, to a dolphin and a seal.
Pros It has easy access to the M20, and the Channel Tunnel is only 10 minutes away
Cons There are lots of motorways, railways and pylons in this area, so some properties are quite difficult to sell. And with so much new housing being pushed onto Kent, a purchaser needs to check carefully where the next new development will be built.