Best commuter hotspots: Make your money go further

Moving as far as you can out of London doesn't always guarantee a bargain or the best quality of life – you need to be heading in the right direction.

At some point, almost all Londoners will have played the game of fantasy house-swapping, researching the fabulous country piles that their basic Hackney flat would buy them, if only they were willing to move to the Highlands.

House prices plunge the further from the capital you go; the headline figure is that prices drop, on average, by £1,300 for every extra minute of travel time out of the city.

But average is a dangerous word. New research today shows the devil is in the detail, and the direction in which you go.

For example, if you want to go west, to Twyford – a journey of 31 minutes from central London – the average price plunges from £564,000 to £407,000, some 28 per cent cheaper or £5,064 per minute travelled.

But if you go due east, as far as Chatham, a journey of 36 minutes, the average price stands at £150,000, a whopping 74 per cent price fall, or £11,500 per minute travelled. By anybody's reckoning, that's a good saving for only five minutes more.

Another 17 minutes takes you to Cambridge, with a 48-minute journey and average prices of £291,000 – 48 per cent less than London prices and £5,687 saved per minute of your journey. If you do the same 48-minute journey and opt for Northampton, average prices crash to £132,000 – 75 per cent less than London prices and £9,000 saved per minute.

But if you opt against Chatham and choose to travel a little further, to Canterbury West, prices start to rise again to £213,971. That's over £50,000 more, despite the 58-minute schlep into town because Canterbury is a lovely city with all the facilities you could wish for.

And for a really chic destination, think Brockenhurst in the New Forest – then all bets are off. Despite the 93-minute train journey, prices there are, on average, a miserly two per cent cheaper than in London (at £554,000), while your saving works out at £107 a minute travelled.

So as our research shows, there is no simple correlation between commuting time and prices.

Lucian Cook, director of research at Savills, drew up the table, concentrating on destinations offering good-quality housing stock and real lifestyle benefits to flag up prices and, therefore, choices for would-be commuters.

If you look to the core areas such as Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells – popular with affluent commuters – prices are particularly high.

However be prepared to compromise and you can find other places, such as Etchingham, that are significantly cheaper.

If you forgo Cambridge for Ely, an extra 18 minutes on the train, you can save almost £90,000 on the average house. If you swap Sevenoaks (26 minutes) for the equally lovely market town of Berkhamsted (31 minutes) your commute will be five minutes longer, but the average house will be more than £40,000 cheaper.

Newbury in Berkshire is famous for its racetrack. But this market town has far more to offer than the thunder of hooves.

For instance, Royal watchers will be interested to know it is the nearest town to the Middleton family home in the village of Bucklebury, so the chance of spotting a certain duchess's mother doing her weekly shop at Waitrose is reasonably high. The town is awash with good Victorian stock, with a two-bedroom terrace from £200,000, or a three-bedroom terrace from about £400,000, according to Rupert Reeves, a partner at Carter Jonas.

Large Victorian semis – those in Donnington Square are particularly pleasing – go for about £600,000 to £800,000, while you could buy a two-bedroom apartment from £150,000. The just-launched Parkway scheme of 147 flats (www.parkwaynewbury.com), with prices starting at about £250,000 for a two-bedroom apartment, launches in the autumn.

The town is split by the River Kennet. The south side is considered a little smarter – the best streets include Garden Close Lane and Tydehams.

But if you want something more rural, the best options – other than Bucklebury, of course – include the villages of Highclere and Hermitage, five miles from the town centre, where a gorgeous country pile, with five or six bedrooms, is between £1.5m and £2m.

Newbury town has a real buzz with great countryside on its doorstep. To the south-east, along with the racecourse, is Greenham Common, and on three sides of the town are the North Wessex Downs – you can take a stroll across the real Watership Down to the south of town.

Dance music comes to Newbury with the Keep off the Grass summer festival. There is also a spring classical music festival and annual comedy festival. The town's historic corn exchange is now a cinema and theatre, while a disused military building on the Greenham Common airbase is used as a performing arts centre.

There are three main secondary schools in Newbury – Park House, St Bartholomew's and Sports College, and Trinity School. All three are rated "good" by Ofsted.

Winchester in Hampshire, the ancient capital of Wessex, is a city in its own right, perched on the western tip of the South Downs.

Its key architectural landmark is, of course, the gothic cathedral that has dominated the skyline for more than 1,000 years, and it is also home to one of the UK's most famous public schools, Winchester College.

Winchester was recently voted the best place to live in the UK, and little wonder: it has great housing, schools, facilities and culture, all within commuting distance of London.

Jonathan Lacey, manager of estate agents Goadsby, says commuters pay a 20 per cent premium to live within a short walk of the station: thus you might pay £700,000 for a four-bedroom Victorian terrace in the centre, but a similar property a mile away would cost about £600,000. A Georgian townhouse close to the station would cost about £850,000, but if this is beyond your budget, Mr Lacey recommends hunting out one of the infill houses built in the town centre in the Seventies and Eighties. They may lack period charm but you could pick up a three-bedroom home from £300,000.

The prettiest streets in Winchester are in the old town. The 17th and 18th-century cottages in Cannon Street, near the college, are particularly lovely, and cost about £500,000.

There are three state secondary schools – Kings' School Winchester and Henry Beaufort, both rated "outstanding" by Ofsted, and The Westgate School, rated "good" with some "outstanding" features.

The downside of Winchester living is probably the shops. While all the main chains are there, a lot of the independents have been squeezed out by high rents, and locals tend to go to Southampton or Basingstoke for a bit of variety.

Foodies, on the other hand, will find plenty of reasons to stay in town.

The Black Rat restaurant serves modern British food and was recently awarded a Michelin star. Raymond Blanc has recently opened an eponymous brasserie, and The Wycombe Arms also serves excellent food.

In terms of open space, it is well worth the climb up St Giles Hill for panoramic views over the city, while Oram's Arbour, in the city centre, is desperately pretty, or you could simply stroll the towpath of the Itchen Navigation, or hire a rowboat if you prefer.

Further down the painfully expensive Sevenoaks/Tunbridge line, in fabulous East Sussex countryside, is Etchingham. This truly charming village has a tremendous community spirit. There are toddlers' groups or the Brownies for young mums, jam-making for your mother-in-law and cricket for the boys.

As for shopping, go to Etchingham Community Stores, set up and funded by a collective of residents in 2003 after their existing shop closed down, and send your children to a well-thought-of primary school and Sunday school at the village's pretty, 14th-century church.

Cottages in Etchingham date from the 16th century to the Victorian era and James Henley, a partner at Rush Witt & Wilson estate agents, says you could pick up a two-up, two-down from about £250,000.

Alternatively, a three-bedroom semi – Victorian or Thirties – would set you back between £300,000 and £400,000. Grand farmhouses or manor houses on the outskirts cost between £2m and £3m.

And for would-be explorers, Ray Mears, the survival expert, runs bushcraft courses in the ancient woods near the village.

On the market

1. Enborne Wood Cottage is a four-bedroom cottage in Newbury with 1.9 acres of gardens. On the market with Strutt & Parker for £997,500 (01635 521707).

2. Packers Close, Donnington, Newbury is on the market for £1.85m and has seven bedrooms as well as a 2.9-acre garden Call Jackson-Stops & Staff on 01635 45501.

3. This four-bedroom Edwardian home in Etchingham was converted from a charming village inn and is only minutes away from the town's station. It's on the market for £440,000 with Haart on 01892 7844223.

4. Ranelagh Road in Winchester, on the market for £825,000, is in the desirable St Cross area of the town and has four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Call Strutt & Parker on 01962 689999 for further details.

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