Ascot, an hour by train from Waterloo, is in the London Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. This surprisingly small Berkshire town is separated from Windsor by the 5,000-acre Great Park. With its wide open spaces, its well-heeled inhabitants enjoy a comfortable lifestyle, part of a community that includes many commuters who head both west to Reading as well as east towards the City.
Its major claim to fame is its racecourse and it is still the races, and in particular Royal Ascot week in June, which bring the town alive. The Queen and other members of the royal family cross Windsor Great Park in open carriages to be greeted by the cream of London society in all its flowery-hatted, morning suited finery in the exclusive Royal Enclosure.
Ascot and its impressive surrounding neighbourhoods of Sunninghill, Sunningdale and Cheapside have benefited from a good deal of royal stardust. Prince Edward lives with his wife, the Countess of Wessex, and their two children in nearby Bagshot Park.
What there is to buy?
This is one of those corners of London's commuterland where large houses are routinely demolished to make way for even larger houses secured by electronic gates, high fences and hedges. The most expensive house currently on the market is a new seven-bedroom, 7,300sq ft mansion on London Road in Sunninghill which has an asking price of £7.25m. As well as an indoor swimming pool, there are spacious grounds and a tennis court. The estate agent is Barton Wyatt (01344 843000).
This is also an area where spacious flats are being built in blocks which mimic the area's large new mansions. Brockenhurst House, in Brockenhurst Road, Ascot is one such. In this large mansion by Millgate Homes there are 14 flats ranging in price from £695,000 for a two-bedroom flat to £995,000 for a two-bedroom penthouse. The selling agent is Edward & Elliott (01344 876363). However, the area does offer more modest homes, as average house prices indicate. In Ascot, Sunninghill and Sunningdale, there are pockets of Victorian housing where it is possible to buy a three-bedroom semi for about £450,000. There are also one- and two-bedroom flats for first-time buyers in modern blocks which start from about £175,000.
Locally based estate agent James Heron, of Knight Frank, says it is hard to categorise the property market. "Price per square foot varies from about £300 to £1,000 for the very best houses in the best locations."
Who comes and who likes to stay?
Easy access to the motorway network and Heathrow airport attracts wealthy Londoners and international buyers. The American Community School and the American School in England, both in nearby Egham, are an attraction to overseas buyers with children. Families from overseas often get posted back home but retain their UK property as an investment.
Ascot is in the postcode of SL5, which is otherwise one of the less unglamorous Slough postcodes. But that has no significance when it comes to house prices. The best roads are Titlarks Hill, Ridgemount Road, Shrubbs Hill Lane, Cross Road and Woodhall Lane in Sunningdale; St Mary's Road, Horsegate Ride, Greyfriars Drive, Coronation Road, Monks Walk and Friary Road in Ascot.
At any one time large, one-off houses are being built by developers such as Octagon, but there are also a number of large lock-up-and-leave flats in developments aimed at empty nesters. For example, Villiers House on London Road, Sunningdale, is a development of 15 flats by Banner Homes. Prices range from £495,000 for a two-bedroom property up to £700,000 for two bedrooms and a study. The selling agent is Waterfords (01276 66566).
Also on London Road, Boxwood Grange is a development of 15 apartments by Bellway Homes. Prices range from £395,000 for a two-bedroom flat to £745,000 for two to three-bedroom properties. The agent is Hamptons (01344 627555).
The local state schools provide an excellent education; there is no shortage of top-performing primary schools and the local comprehensive, Charters in Sunningdale, is judged "outstanding" by Ofsted.
Leisure time and open spaces
Shops and restaurants: there are small local shopping centres in Ascot and Sunningdale offering a mix of independent shops, chain stores and restaurants, with a large Waitrose conveniently close to Sunningdale station. Fego is a popular coffee shop in Ascot and Sunningdale and the newly opened Ascot Grill has brought a touch of glamour to the local restaurant scene. For Michelin-starred dining, Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck and the Waterside Inn, run by Alain Roux, are in nearby Bray.
Open space: Ascot is separated from Windsor by the vast green space that is Windsor Great Park which includes Virginia Water, a large lake.