Renowned for its literary festival, its ladies' college and its majestic racecourse, Cheltenham has a new claim to fame - as the leading property hot spot in Britain.
The Georgian town, situated in the heart of Gloucestershire and on the edge of the Cotswolds, heads a list of the nation's top 10 areas for property owners, published today. It is closely followed by Openshaw in Greater Manchester, Godalming in Surrey and the picturesque village of Penn in Buckinghamshire.
Surprisingly, the only London postcode to make it into the top 10 is E1W: riverside Wapping. Its main claim to fame is as the home of Rupert Murdoch's newspaper empire.
The top 10 is completed by Tetbury in Gloucestershire; footballers' favourite Ormskirk in Lancashire; Spennymoor in County Durham; and the Kent villages of Edenbridge and Bilsington.
The survey putsthe country's 1,833 postcode areas in order of desirability. It was judged on a number of factors and data collected by the online valuation site propertypriceadvice.co.uk. The company positioned areas based on the rise in average house prices over the past 12 months; crime and unemployment rates; the average income of homeowners; and the availability of local amenities, including schools and healthcare.
Louisa Fletcher, the company's managing director, said there were a number of components contributing to Cheltenham's ascendancy, which is seeing the value of property there rise at a rate more than 60 per cent higher than the national average.
"Commuter links to Cheltenham have been getting much better," said Ms Fletcher. "The quality of life there is very high: there are great local schools and a real sense of community. Cheltenham is also very well located geographically for lots of cities."
She said a number of the areas in the top 10 had benefited from a knock-on effect of neighbouring areas being hot spots in the previous year.
At the bottom of the pile, in dismal 1,833rd place, is Fareham - the small town on the north-west tip of Portsmouth harbour, plagued with high crime and unemployment. It is followed by Middlesbrough and two Birmingham postcodes, both in the Edgbaston district.
Sarah Beeny, presenter of Channel 4's Property Ladder and a prodigious property developer herself, said the fact that places like Cheltenham were top of the list meant it could already be too late for investors to take advantage.
"Where people get most value for money is in places that aren't fashionable at the moment," said Ms Beeny.
David Stubbs, a senior economist at the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, had a different take on the list: "London house price rises have been dwarfed by those in places like Wales and the north-west recently. Any house price boom is led by London and then ripples out, and that's what we've seen over the past five years."
What's so great about Cheltenham
Cheltenham Ladies' College
Celebrated girls' school was founded in 1853 and has remained one of the country's leading academic institutions ever since. Famous recent pupils include Zara Phillips, the Queen's eldest granddaughter.
Founded in 1949, is the oldest in the world. Its reputation is rooted in a tradition of attracting an array of world-renowned writers, as well as major stars of stage and screen. The 2006 festival takes place 6-15 October.
Five bedrooms, with a landscaped rear garden.
2. Openshaw £80,000
Property: A two-bedroom end terrace. Postcode: M11 has benefited from the "mushroom effect" created by Manchester city centre. Amenities: Walking distance ofcentre, with excellent shops, bars, restaurants and transport.
3. Godalming £625,000
Property: Ravendale; a five-bedroom family home. Postcode: GU8 has overspill from neighbouring Cobham. Amenities: Excellent schools; great motorway and train links to London; short distance from Guildford, and easy striking range of south-east.
4. Wapping £1.29m
Property: Three-bedroom luxury flat. Postcode: E1W is a desirable and vibrant young community. It is the only London postcode in the top 10. Amenities: Well located for the 2012 Olympics; walking distance of the City.
5. Bilsington £249,995
Property: Grade II-listed three-bed cottage. Postcode: TN25 has overspill from traditional Kent commuter belt. Amenities: Close to Ashford,with its international train station and M20 motorway links. Nearby Aldington offers other facilities.
6. Tetbury £495,000
Property: A modern house with four bedrooms and gardens. Postcode: GL8 is a picturesque Gloucestershire town near Prince Charles's Highgrove estate. Amenities: Antiques shops, schools, and some of the best country pubs.
7. Ormskirk £750,000
Property: A seven-bedroom house in sizeable grounds. Postcode: L40 is a peaceful Lancashire town, surrounded by rolling countryside. Amenities: Home to well-established market. Liverpool, Preston and Manchester are within easy reach.
8. Spennymoor £249,950
Property: A three-bedroomed bungalow with large gardens. Postcode: DL16 in County Durham is the north-east's hottest property prospect.
Amenities: Shuttlebus services around Durham and Teeside; Jubilee Park.
9. Penn £1.25m
Property: A period four-bedroom detached property. Postcode: HP10, on the edge of the Chiltern Hills, benefits from a superb location. Amenities: "Excellent access to airports, trains and the outer reaches of the London Underground."
10. Edenbridge £530,000
Property: A five-bedroom home. Postcode: TN8 in Kent has benefited from overspill in Sevenoaks. Prime, leafy commuter-belt territory. Amenities: A good range of shops; excellent access to M25 and M23, plus Gatwick and Heathrow airports.Reuse content