West Londoners tend to look along the M4 for inspiration when considering a move out of London.
Their first stop is Berkshire, perhaps the most diverse of the home counties, with its mash up of new towns and ancient settlements, Crossrail hotspots and backwaters, adorable country villages, and of course Britain’s most royal town.
House price growth in Berkshire has been fairly mixed over the past decade.
The best performers are affordable pockets such as Reading and Bracknell which attract buyers from both London and more affluent areas.
If you are thinking of moving to the Royal County of Berkshire the variety may seem overwhelming.
To help you choose the perfect spot, Homes & Property has put together a guide to the county’s highlights with up-to-date price details from the Hamptons estate agent:
Value for money: Bracknell
In 1949 this sleepy market town was declared a new town and expanded to provide badly needed homes for displaced Londoners after the war.
The legacy of this decision is an overabundance of roundabouts and underpasses, and rows of boxy-looking estate houses (and much of the current crop of uninspiring new houses).
But Bracknell is also a bona fide regeneration zone, with a brand new town centre, a growing cluster of tech companies and lots of practical plus points.
Bracknell can clearly be considered affordable. Average prices stand at £410,000, and you could pick up a flat for an average of £232,000. Prices have fallen slightly this year but are still almost 12 per cent higher than at the start of the pandemic, and up 63 per cent over the past decade, the best performance in today’s towns.
Trains to Paddington take just over 50 minutes, and there are also direct services into Waterloo, which take just over an hour.
All schools in the town have an Ofsted rating of “good” or “outstanding”.
Green space is also a point of interest. There are parks in the town centre, of course, but also Swinley Forest, which offers 2,600 acres of Crown Estate open land perfect for walking and mountain biking just south of town.
Most like London: Windsor
Situated on the Thames, steeped in history, and full of tourists, Londoners will feel perfectly at home in this ancient market town.
Windsor, which has provided a home for the Royal family since the time of William the Conqueror, has great commuter links, schools, the Great Park, cute shops, and a thrumming restaurant and cafe scene.
Average home prices are among the most expensive in the county, at £605,000. The cost of living crisis and interest rates are rising sharply, with prices down four per cent over the past year but still 13 per cent above pre-pandemic levels. Over the past ten years they have seen a solid, not stellar, 42 percent growth.
Among the reasons to live in Windsor are its schools, such as Bracknell, which are all rated good or excellent by Ofsted. Trains to Waterloo take a fraction of an hour.
Castles aside, central Windsor properties range from Victorian terraces to riverside townhouses and Georgian villas. The golden triangle is the sharpest point, connected by Osbourne Road, Frances Road, and King’s Road. A house here will make you popular when a royal event is on the horizon as its houses back onto the Long Walk that leads to or overlooks the castle. But you’ll find better value further back from the town centre.
Windsor has its own theatre, contemporary arts centre, The Firestation, with a program that includes everything from film to comedy, and an annual music and literature festival. For younger readers, Legoland will be a big draw, and the Royal Windsor Horse Show was one of Queen Elizabeth’s favorite outings.
For a bite to eat you can spend at Patch on the Plaza, an al fresco restaurant, which serves an inventive seasonal menu – try pink houmous, lamb from Bagshot Park, or beer-battered courgette flowers.
Or make the two-mile trip out to Oakley Green to try The Greene Oak, a gastropub run by two former chefs from The Ivy.
For cocktails there is The Eton Mess, just across the river. And in Bray, a village five miles from Windsor, you will probably find the richest concentration of Michelin-starred dining rooms in Britain.
At least like London: Kintbury
Nestled within the North Wessex Downs, Kintbury is a quiet and beautiful village close to the Kennet & Avon Canal. Being by the canal means long walks or bike rides down the towpath and one of the waterside pubs in the area.
Its small size might come as a shock to Londoners, but Kintbury is large enough to have a village pub, The Blue Ball, a shop and a primary school rated “good” by Ofsted. Older pupils will have to travel to Hungerford (three miles) or Newbury (five miles), where school standards are also high.
A reason why Kintbury is particularly popular with those who need to travel regularly to London is that it still has its own train station, and services to Paddington take just over an hour.
Average prices in the RG17 postcode, which also includes Hungerford, stand at £474,000. On this kind of budget in Kintbury you could pick up a two or three bedroom cottage in the center of the village. Lower budget? You could buy a slightly dated three-bedroom estate house for less than £350,000.
Average prices are 13 percent higher today than they were in 2019 and have increased by 41 percent over the past decade.
Best linked: Maidenhead
A year ago, Crossrail services to London began, heralding a new era of rail transport for the Domesday Book town of Maidenhead.
The town already had commuter trains to Liverpool Street (from just over 50 minutes) and fast services to Paddington (20 minutes). What Crossrail brought to the party was a seamless transfer to the tube. Journeys to the West End take around 50 minutes.
For drivers the town is just north of the M4, and Heathrow Airport is 13 miles away. There are also bus services to Windsor, Bray, Reading, and Henley.
Despite its Thameside location and long history, until recently Maidenhead was a bit of an old place, dismissed as a “clone town” filled with chain stores by the New Economics Foundation. But things are looking up.
There is a new leisure centre, work is underway on The Landing – a town center shop and rental property development – and the sixties Nicholsons shopping center has been earmarked for redevelopment (although traders are fighting hard to block it put on the plans).
Maidenhead also has many open spaces, including Braywick Nature Park, with its outdoor gym and sports fields, and Kidwells Park, which has a skate park and hosts the annual Maidenhead Festival.
The average property price in the town is £605,000, with flats trading for just over £300,000. Values have fallen five per cent over the past year, but are nine per cent higher than pre-pandemic prices and have jumped 56 per cent since 2013.
Familiar neighborhoods include Pinkneys Green, a village center two miles from the town center with some of the finest houses in the area, and Furze Platt, popular with parents for its excellent primary school is there.
Family Friendly: Reading
If Maidenhead is still a work in progress, Reading is the finished article – a once-defunct commuter town that has seen seismic changes in recent years.
Although technically a town, Reading has a city feel – and with over 300,000 residents it’s bigger than Newcastle or Nottingham. It’s also properly cosmopolitan, with 150 languages spoken.
The most obvious reason it appeals to readers with families is the incredible quality of its schools – ten mainstream state primary schools rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, as well as top grammars and non-selective senior schools for older pupils.
Transport links are good, with Crossrail services as well as mainline services to Paddington (from 25 minutes).
There is plenty to do for children of all ages – walk the Thames Path, view the Bayeux Tapestry at Reading Museum, scale new heights at Parthian Climbing, visit the Beale Wildlife Park, or catch a game at the Madejski Stadium.
Outdoor swimmers can do so in style at the impeccably renovated Thames Lido, and the town’s highlight of the year is the Reading Festival, with Billie Eilish, The Killers, and Sam Fender on the bill last summer.
Meanwhile, Reading’s restaurant scene is thriving with options such as The Reading Room, at The Roseate boutique hotel, and The Corn Stores, a steakhouse/members club at the station.
Houses in Reading cost an average of £463,000 and managed to push up – admittedly just 0.9 per cent – during the last difficult year. Values are up 19 percent from 2019, and a significant 60 percent increase from 2013.