Although it is one of the smallest counties in England, Hertfordshire has a great variety of scenery, mostly, in the words of Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, ‘uneventful but lovable’. Despite its proximity to London and excellent communications to the capital by road and rail, parts are surprisingly rural.
Hertford, the county town, is still an old market town, and wheat and barley are grown in abundance in the north, on the Cambridgeshire border. The Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty just touches the south-west of the county.
In the south, the soil is clay and the landscape heavily wooded. Building materials include the traditional timber – the county has an exceptionally high number of timber-framed buildings, constructed from the 13th to the 18th centuries.
The county has a long history: as Verulamium, St Albans was one of the main Roman towns in Britain, and more recently, a succession of great houses were built, including Hatfield House and Knebworth.
The most popular areas in the county include the corridor close to the M11, within easy reach of Harlow and Saffron Walden, and the towns of Berkhamstead and Hampenden.
Property in Hertfordshire used to be quite resonable, but proximity to London coupled with extremely good schools have ensured that you now get much less for your money. As well as timber-framed houses, there are some Georgian rectories, and some lovely period town houses as well, which are highly sought-after.
A standard Georgian country house will cost you anywhere from £1.5m, and houses near to the train station are even more popular.
Richard Parry at Savills in Bishops Stortford said that he expects property prices to continue to rise on into the forseeable future, considering the buoyant market and the continuing demand for property close to the capital, not least from an influx of foreign buyers keen to get a piece of the country pie.
Richard Goss from Strutt and Parker in St Albans agrees, saying he thinks if more property does flood the market it may loosen things up a bit: ‘It really is a case of waiting to see but I think that what we have seen is demand far outstripping supply here, and if that changes then prices may not be as very very high. But property here is always going to be in demand. That will never change.
‘Property will sell, as long as it is reasonably priced,’ says Mr Parry. ‘For the right money properties are changing hands fast, at or above the guide price.’
Location is also key in this small county. St Albans and Hertford, and their environs are obviously much sought-after, but there are also areas which are less desirable, particularly under the routes to and from Stansted and Luton.
‘The £1m to £2m bracket is extremely busy at the moment,’ according to Mr Parry, who is delighted to be so rushed off his feet. It seems that the increasing ease of communication has made a difference to the traditional summer lull: buyers are emailing and surfing agents’ sites from the poolside. The British obsession with property can now travel wherever one chooses to take ones fortnight off.
‘There is a sense of change in when and where people are looking for property,’ Mr Parry says. ‘We used to be manic on Saturdays, when people would be rushing round looking at properties, but now things are a little slower at the weekend. People are browsing in their lunchtimes online, and emailing me when they get into work.’
Patterns are changing, all of which indicates also that property in Hertfordshire is unlikely to ever seriously deteriorate, and if you want a bit more choice for your money, the real goodies are coming up there in a couple of months’ time from now.
Hertford, St Albans, Watford, Hemel Hempstead, Stevenage, Ware, Hatfield, Letchworth, Welwyn Garden City, Hitchin, Harpenden, Potters Bar, Cheshunt, Bishops Stortford and Royston.
Train: King’s Cross to Stevenage 19min; Euston to Hemel Hempstead 25min; Ware 35min.
Car: Stevenage is 28 miles from central London, via the A1(M); Hemel Hempstead 25 miles, via the M1 and Ware 23 miles, via the A10.
Berkhamsted Collegiate School (01442 863236). Co- educational, with separate campuses for girls and boys in the senior school. Fully co- educational preparatory school and sixth form, day and boarding. Age range 7- 18.
Bishops Stortford College (01279 838575). Co-educational, age range 4-19, day and boarding. www.bishops-stortford-college.herts.uk
Haberdashers’ Askes School, Elstree (0208-207 4323). Boys only, age range 7-18, day. www.habsboys.org.uk
Haberdashers’ Askes School for Girls, Elstree (0208-953 4261). Girls only, age range 4-18, day. www.habsgirls.org.uk
Haileybury College, near Hertford (01992 463353). Co-educational, age range 11-18, day and boarding. www.haileybury.herts.sch.uk
Princess Helena College, Hitchin (01462 432100). Girls only, age range 11-18, day and boarding. www.phc.herts.sch.uk
St Albans High School for Girls (01727 853800). Girls only, age range 7-18, day. www.stalbans-high.herts.sch.uk
St Albans School (01727 855521). Boys only (co-educational sixth form), age range 11-18, day. www.st-albans.herts.sch.uk
Golf courses: Dyrham Park, Barnet (0181-440 3361); Moor Park, Rickmansworth (01923 773146).
Hunts: The Aldenham Harriers, the Enfield Chase, the Puckeridge and Thurlow.
Yachting club: Aldenham Sailing Club.
Fishing: rivers Bure, Wissey, Yare, Waveney, and the Broads.