More For Your Money: Watlington, Oxfordshire

A tiny Chilterns market town is tempting young families away from the Big Smoke
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The Independent Online

England's smallest market town has no train service. Watlington is just under three miles from Junction 6 of the M40, far enough from the motorway to be quiet but close enough to be convenient. It also has a fairly stable population - the total doesn't stray far from 2,500 - and is small enough to have the ambience of a village. Also in its favour are its conservation-area period properties and scenic location, overlooking the Chiltern Hills.

Size, location and affordability combine to make Watlington appealing to young families outgrowing their London homes. "Many of our buyers are young families from suburbs such as Ealing, Richmond and Chiswick who need more room," says estate agent Nicholas Sherston of Robinson Sherston. "We get Henley exiles. They first explore Henley and quickly realise that they can get a lot more for their money here. We are a lot less expensive and equally attractive, although not on the river."

Mentioned in the Domesday Book, Watlington has a chalk carving, the tall (270ft) White Mark, designed in 1764 to make it appear as if the Norman church of St Leonard had a spire.

The attractive market hall in the town centre was built in 1665. Watlington has even older buildings, some still in residential use.

"Our first home in Watlington was a 14th-century house in the high street," says Robin Holmes-Smith, who runs the popular Granary deli with his wife Francesca. "We have moved three times since, and we now live in a bungalow that we renovated and extended. It was a standard Sixties bungalow when we bought it, and now it is covered in wood and glass." Their sons, Laurence, 12, and Tom, 10, attend the local state schools.

Robin and Francesca had been living in Bow, east London. "We moved to Watlington 18 years ago because Habitat moved to Wallingford. Francesca was a buyer with Habitat, and we wanted to be closer to work. Habitat then moved back to London, but we stayed," Robin explains. "Actually, most people do stay," he adds. "Watlington has a sense of community. You get to know a lot of people very easily, but it is not a nosy place."

What are entry-level prices like?

Small houses start at about £250,000. Built seven years ago, Sheldons Piece consists of traditionally styled houses in a small courtyard development owned and managed by the residents. A two-bed house with garage and garden in this enclave is £257,000. An Edwardian four-bed semi near the town centre with garden and garage is £485,000; both at Robinson Sherston.

What about something larger?

In a conservation area in Lewknor, three miles outside Watlington, a brick and flint three-bed house with conservatory, garage and garden costs £345,000. Lewknor may be too close to the M40 for some but it is very convenient for the one and only bus stop on the Oxford-London "Tube" bus before Hillingdon. In Watlington town centre, a Victorian three-bed semi with garden is £425,000. For £499,000 there is a three-bed Victorian farm conversion in Chalgrove.

Anything available with a bit of land?

A spacious five-bed detached period house on more than half an acre in Cuxham is seeking offers above £1.25m.

What about transport?

Watlington's London commuters can drive to the train station at High Wycombe or the Oxford-London bus stop at Lewknor/Junction 6 of the M40. Many locals work in Oxford, Reading or High Wycombe, which are about 30 minutes away by car.

Are there good shops and restaurants?

Watlington has a chemist, butcher plus many other small retail outlets, and specialist shops (gifts, interior design, kitchens, the Granary deli). The nearest big supermarkets are located in Henley (10 miles) and Thame (eight miles). Raymond Le Blanc's Le Manoir is in Great Milton near Oxford.

What about the great outdoors?

The Chilterns has many popular walking routes, including the Icknield Way, a pre-Roman pathway that extends from Norfolk to Wiltshire.

How good are the local schools?

Watlington has nurseries and pre-schools, a primary housed in a new facility, and Icknield Secondary, which doubles as Icknield Community College. There are many independent schools in the area, but the state schools are popular.

Agents: Robinson Sherston, 01491 614 000; Chancellors, 01491 613 511