'Every other call or enquiry has been from people moving out of London,' one estate agent tells James Fisher, as he rounds up some of the best properties for sale within easy reach of the capital.
For the readers of Country Life the notion that ‘the countryside is a nice place to be’ would hardly register as news. Each week, we celebrate the very best that this green and pleasant land produces, from peacocks, pigs and peregrine falcons to the finest houses (for sale, for rent or simply to look around), music and art.
As the lockdown threw into sharp relief how important green space and Nature are to our mental and physical wellbeing, so, too, has it adjusted our opinion on our working lives. The need to be in the office every day of the week seems almost a distant memory and the benefits of home-working (should you have the space) are myriad.
The fantasy of living full time in the countryside is now a reality and the telephones at agents up and down the country are bouncing off the hook. ‘Since we reopened after lockdown, every other call or enquiry has been from people moving out of London,’ says Christopher Thomson, lettings manager for Hamptons International in Marlow.
That being said, those looking for greener pastures are unlikely to dive headfirst into a fixer-upper in Anglesey. Leaving the city is no small step and certain luxuries, such as transport, community and broadband, are non-negotiable. Although we’re often told that we can’t have our cake and eat it, it would seem that when it comes to moving to the country, we can. Towns and villages within an hour of London were often lauded as being ‘The best of both worlds’, but with remote working, two or even three hours is now more than manageable.
Why not try before you buy? As James Somers, head of residential lettings at Sotheby’s International Realty says, ‘the opportunity to test the waters and rent first is seen by many as an obvious decision, especially by those who have not lived in the countryside before’.
If a further nudge was needed, here are a few properties, some for rent and some for sale, with everything the new country dweller could need.
The owner of White Hill House, near Wildhern, assures me personally that the broadband on offer is faster than 50Mb per second, which is far quicker than I have in my home in central London.
Attached to this breakneck broadband comes a five-bedroom home, which began life as a thatched cottage, but has been extended over the years to offer some 3,738sq ft of living space.
A home office yields some 25 miles of views and trains from Andover station (eight minutes away) run to London every 30 minutes.
Although connectivity is important, it’s also vital not to lose the rural charm that has proven to be the inspiration for so many of us for centuries. One such example is the beautiful Flore Cottage, a Grade II-listed stone and thatch cottage that dates back to the 17th century.
As well as four bedrooms and well-tended mature gardens, period features, such as exposed beams, oak mullion and inglenook and open fireplaces, abound. The kitchen includes such delights as a Rangemaster cooker and Quooker tap.
Nearby Flore village boasts a farm shop, tea room, general store, primary school, pub and post office, making it a perfect rural community in which to unwind.
What was once a farmhouse, then the local pub, has become Tavern House, a Grade II-listed four-bedroom home in the village of Merstham. The perfect mix of rural charm in a village location, it would be ideal for those looking to ‘dip their feet in the countryside’, rather than diving right in.
Behind the attractive, wisteria-covered façade lies a wealth of period features, as well as a surprising amount of garden space for a property on a high street.
Merstham offers a variety of shops, pubs and restaurants and the railway station is a four-minute walk away — trains will deposit you in London in about 30 minutes.
A converted oast house in Benover, not far from Tunbridge Wells, is a real mix of character and potential.
It’s set within half an acres of gardens overlooking farmland, and is full of quirks and unsual touches, not least in the curved kitchen diner and sitting rooms, each perfect 20ft circles.
It’s ideal for big families: there are six bedrooms, with three of those having an entire round floor to themselves.
And finally, if you’re looking to try country life before taking the plunge permanently, this home looks ideal. Abbey Lodge in the village of Farthinghoe boasts a rich history, tracing its roots back to the 15th and 16th centuries.
It’s seen some fairly significant improvement in its 500-year existence and the six-bedroom home now offers modern living combined with period charm — think mullion windows, oak staircases and stone fireplaces, plus induction hobs and double-glazing.
An acre of gardens gives plenty of space to run around in and, on rainy days, the home office can be transformed into a cinema room or gym. Farthinghoe offers a primary school, pub and restaurant and trains to London leave regularly from Bicester North.