Hot Spot: Amersham and Chesham, Buckinghamshire

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

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.

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 todayretain 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 GraemeWarren, of Hampton's International. "It has many Victorian and Edwardian terraces but these are former worker's cottages. Towns suchas 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 inunder an hour.

Thanks to the Underground, the area has attracted both people and businesses, but has managed to avoid the sort of congestion one mightexpect. "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 lurebuyers and renters and maintain those property values. The schools are very good, especially the two junior schools - Ley School andChartridge 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 deBois family, not from the French word for wood) - remain distinct entities, even though barely a mile separates them and they nearlyoverlap. In addition to the small period houses, these towns and the surrounding area contain a wide variety of modern terraced anddetached 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 lessthan £1,000 per month are moving quickly," she adds. "There was a buy- to-let surge recently which calmed down a bit when thesummer 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 whohave 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 formaybe 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 anarrangement that was "not quite a swap", says Berkeley's sales manager Mandy Soames. "We bought the land from a couple who boughtone of the houses we built. They had a lot of input into the construction. This arrangement would not have worked if we could have builtonly one house."

The Low-Down

Transport

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

Prices and properties

One-bedroom flats start at £60,000, and two bedrooms at £80,000-£90,000. Two- andthree-bedroom Victorian cottages and terraces are available in the £100,000-£ 120,000 range in Amersham and Chesham, buthouses, needing modernisation, sell for as little as £90,000. Prices rise steeply in the countryside and popular villages nearby (suchas 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 cuisineincludes Italian, French, Asian and other national cuisines; among the country pubs and hotels is the Crown Hotel, where Four Weddingsand 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 (newmembers 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'salso 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 islargely 17th-century with a street market every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. Chiltern District has a population of 92,000, with 20,600 inChesham and 17,000 in Amersham and Chesham Bois. The MP is Tory Cheryl Gillan. Amersham council tax is £526 (Band A),£789 (Band D) or £1,578 (Band H).

Contacts

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

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