Called to the bar: How to find your new local


A warm welcome, good food and a fine ale can make living in a commuter village about more than just motorway links and train connections, says Ruth Bloomfield

The trinity of village happiness requires a medieval church, a pretty village green and a handsome pub offering good food and a warm welcome. For commuters settling into country life, the pub is the centre of communication, where they make new friends, take visiting friends and sometimes even send their post off from.

The 2012 Michelin guide Eating Out in Pubs lists 500 hostelries with exceptional food and good atmosphere, many of which are within easy commuting distance of London. And if you have decided to seek rural bliss this year, the quality of your new local could be the deciding factor.

The Bull, Great Totham, Essex

Essex is a popular spot for the City commuter, but what makes Great Totham great is The Bull. This 15th-century pub has a fragrant lavender garden and a menu with Maldon oysters and casseroles of Epping Forest venison. The village is less than five miles from Witham, where commuters get the train to Liverpool Street in 45 minutes - an annual season ticket costs £3,620.

The village comes with a cricket pitch on the green, a shop (specialising in fresh-baked bread), a garage, a florist, and Great Totham Primary School, rated "good" by Ofsted. Older children go on to school in Maldon or Colchester.

It is surrounded by open farmland, and sportsmen will love the Forrester Park Golf & Country Club with its tennis courts and pool.

Great Totham is not as posh as its neighbouring villages Wickham Bishops and Beacon Hill, according to David Sherwood, a consultant at Fenn Wright estate agents, but the homes are cheaper. You can buy a four- or five-bedroom detached period family house for under £500,000, or a modern three-bedroom house for under £300,000. Big manor houses on the outskirts with a few acres will be £1m-plus.

The Fish House, Chilgrove, West Sussex

Nestled in the South Downs National Park is Chilgrove, West Sussex. You will pay a premium to live here but the property in this gorgeous village is quite fabulous. The village is small but The Fish House is the centre of activity with its low ceilings, beamed bar, 300-year-old fireplace and a formal dining room, too. The speciality is fish, and there is an oyster bar. The pub also has rooms to let.

The village has plenty of 16th- and 17th-century cottages and farmhouses, as well as some good high-spec barn conversions. Mark Astley, a director at Jackson-Stops & Staff, says you would expect to pay around £400,000 for a two- to three-bedroom cottage, from £750,000 for a farmhouse, but could easily spend £2m-plus on a big barn conversion or manor house.

"Chilgrove is one of the most popular spots in this part of the South Downs," Astley says. "It really is very pretty, with undulating countryside all around."

The market town of Chichester is about five miles away for shoppers, but commuters tend to head to Petersfield, 10 miles up the road, for a faster service. Trains to Waterloo take just over an hour, and an annual season ticket costs from £3,604. The nearest school is West Dean Church of England Primary School, rated "outstanding" by Ofsted. Chilgrove is a walkers' paradise with the Downs and Kingley Vale, a nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest.

The Hinds Head - and more, Bray, Berkshire

If you are looking for a village with bags of charm that is also foodie heaven, try Bray, famous for its restaurants The Fat Duck and the Waterside Inn - with three Michelin stars apiece - and a trio of top-rated Michelin pubs, The Hinds Head, The Crown and The Royal Oak.

Bray is a commuter magnet thanks to its proximity to Maidenhead, two and a half miles away, with trains to Paddington taking 40 minutes (season tickets start at £2,496). Mix with the celebrity locals Nick Faldo, Michael Parkinson and Rolf Harris, who turn out for summer cricket matches on the green, or take a brisk walk along the Thames pathways to work up an appetite for your feast. Bray doesn't have a corner shop but Maidenhead is a walk away for shops and schools and Windsor is only six miles away. Heathrow is about 17 miles west.

The village has a patchwork of property styles. Fiona Copeman, an associate at Savills, says a three-bedroom cottage costs around £570,000 but a bigger family home goes for £1m.

If you have come into money, head upstream of Bray Lock, where homes at The Fisheries, with views of the Thames, sell for about £4m.

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