Property: Hot Spot - Amersham and Chesham, Buckinghamshire: Of edible mice and country men

The Saxons and Romans loved the place. Now it's a haven for London commuters - and the succulent dormouse.

Incapable of foretelling the future and lacking a term for underground rapid transit, the seventh-century settlers in what is now Chesham, in the county of Buckinghamshire, were obsessed with the water meadow by the stone heap.

They called it Ceasteleshamm, rather than use the Saxon for "beautiful countryside blessed with great communications".

Ten miles beyond the north-western edge of Greater London, and yet still served by the Underground's Metropolitan Line, Chesham, Amersham (formerly Agmodesham and Elmodesham), Little Chalfont and several other towns and villages in the Chiltern Hills today retain their rusticity while enjoying excellent road and rail communications.

Chesham and Amersham are, however, less alike than they sound. "Chesham has more industry and is the more built up," says Graeme Warren, of Hampton's International. "It has many Victorian and Edwardian terraces but these are former worker's cottages. Towns such as Amersham on the Hill are much more upmarket."

The Metropolitan Line, with stations at Little Chalfont as well as Amersham and Chesham, serves the City via Baker Street station in under an hour.

Thanks to the Underground, the area has attracted both people and businesses, but has managed to avoid the sort of congestion one might expect. "The majority of the land is green belt, with many areas of outstanding natural beauty," according to Warren.

With Glis glis (the edible dormouse) off the menu nowadays, and no night life to speak of, this area relies on other attributes to lure buyers and renters and maintain those property values. The schools are very good, especially the two junior schools - Ley School and Chartridge School - and their catchment areas are strong magnets for young families on the move.

"A new shopping centre, with a Sainsbury's superstore, opened earlier this year, and the town centre has a new theatre and is thriving," says Warren.

Amersham, Chesham and the towns that lie in between - Amersham on the Hill and Chesham Bois (the term derives from the Norman de Bois family, not from the French word for wood) - remain distinct entities, even though barely a mile separates them and they nearly overlap. In addition to the small period houses, these towns and the surrounding area contain a wide variety of modern terraced and detached houses.

Parts of central London have a glut of two-bedroom flats to let, but such properties are scarce in this area, according to Vivianne Jacques, the senior negotiator at Barringtons Estate Agents. "Larger properties are taking a bit longer to let, but smaller properties renting for less than pounds 1,000 per month are moving quickly," she adds. "There was a buy- to-let surge recently which calmed down a bit when the summer holidays started."

Apart from those who work in the West End and the City, she says that "most of our renters in the middle price range are families who have sold their own home but haven't yet found something to buy and don't want to lose their purchaser. The result is that they rent for maybe six months or a year. As they are cash buyers they are in a position to move very quickly."

Big new developments in this green-belt area are scarce. A few years ago, Berkeley Homes built two houses on one plot in an arrangement that was "not quite a swap", says Berkeley's sales manager Mandy Soames. "We bought the land from a couple who bought one of the houses we built. They had a lot of input into the construction. This arrangement would not have worked if we could have built only one house."

Property: The Low-Down

Transport: The Metropolitan Line is supplemented by an Aylesbury- Marylebone rail link stopping at Amersham, and a main line into Euston via Berkhamsted. This part of the Chilterns is roughly equidistant between Heathrow and Luton.

Prices and properties: One-bedroom flats start at pounds 60,000, and two bedrooms at pounds 80,000-pounds 90,000. Two- and three-bedroom Victorian cottages and terraces are available in the pounds 100,000-pounds 120,000 range in Amersham and Chesham, but houses, needing modernisation, sell for as little as pounds 90,000. Prices rise steeply in the countryside and popular villages nearby (such as Chartridge, Hawridge, St Leonard's and Cholesbury), and estates with large plots and swimming pools are in the seven-figure league.

Dining: Since Roman times, imported delicacies have been a mainstay. The Romans dined on Glis glis, a fat dormouse. Today's cuisine includes Italian, French, Asian and other national cuisines; among the country pubs and hotels is the Crown Hotel, where Four Weddings and a Funeral was filmed. Today the legally protected Glis glis is more likely to be biter than bit.

Those hills are alive: The Chilterns are mad for music and dance: the Chesham All Girls Band tours the world and wins prizes (new members welcome: 01494 764569). The Chessmen Corps is a youth club band for eight- to 25- year-olds (Chess refers to the local river, not the board game; call 01494 783210). The Chesham Folk Dancing Club meets on Fridays; Dancing for Life meets Mondays. There's also the Eleanor School of Dancing and Jo Jingles Music and Movement Classes for children aged from one to eight.

Doing and paying: The area has swimming pools and leisure centres, including an indoor climbing facility. Amersham Old Town is largely 17th-century with a street market every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. Chiltern District has a population of 92,000, with 20,600 in Chesham and 17,000 in Amersham and Chesham Bois. The MP is Tory Cheryl Gillan. Amersham council tax is pounds 526 (Band A), pounds 789 (Band D) or pounds 1,578 (Band H).

Contacts: Chiltern Hundreds Housing Association: 01494 433000; Barrington Partnership: 01494 431155; Hamptons International: 01494 775650.

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