Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

If You Decide It's Time to Go Rural. LEAVING LONDON; Continuing Our Series on the Top London Commuter Destinations, Ruth Bloomfield Scrutinises Three Counties in Search of Value

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

If You Decide It's Time to Go Rural. LEAVING LONDON; Continuing Our Series on the Top London Commuter Destinations, Ruth Bloomfield Scrutinises Three Counties in Search of Value

Article excerpt

Byline: Ruth Bloomfield

LONDON'S commuter belt is getting wider, as housebuyers increasingly accept longer journeys to work in return for affordable property. Naturally, nobody wants to waste their lives sitting on a train but we've found good-value towns in Bedfordshire, Essex and Wiltshire that offer bearable commutes.

LEIGHTON BUZZARD BEDFORDSHIRE What it costs: the average property price is PS244,292, up 20 per cent in two years. Houses cost an average of just over PS280,000, and flats just over PS150,000 (source: Savills). Top schools: Pulford VA CofE Lower School and Dovery Down Lower School shine amid a very strong selection of schools.

The commute: just over half an hour to Euston. An annual season ticket costs PS5,160.

Who would it suit? Those who want a fast journey. Leighton is a pretty market town beside the Grand Union Canal and Stuart Caldwell-Smith, branch partner at estate agent Connells, says London commuters are "just starting to cotton on to it".

The high street is traditional, with few chain stores, but it lacks the sort of cute boutiques and artisan cafes of more affluent, established commuter hotspots. The nearest major shopping centre is Milton Keynes, about 20 minutes' drive away.

For nightlife there are traditional pubs and neighbourhood restaurants, such as family-run Mama Rosa's traditional Italian eatery. And the downsides? Too much bland post-war architecture, though there are some streets of period homes. In villages such as Soulbury and Stewkley you will find dreamy three-bedroom country houses at about PS350,000.

SAFFRON WALDEN ESSEX What it costs: relatively expensive at an average PS324,000, up nine per cent in the past two years. Houses cost an average PS380,000, and flats PS177,000 (source: Savills).

Top schools: Saffron Walden County High School gets top marks from Ofsted.

The commute: the nearest station is Audley End, two miles south-west of the town, and services to Liverpool Street take from 53 minutes. An annual season ticket costs from PS5,456.

Who would it suit? Saffron Walden is a laid-back, peaceful medieval town with traditional pubs and independent shops lining Market Square and King Street. …

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