Anna Tyzack finds space to breathe and a quick commute in Surrey.
Let’s Move To… Oxted
For Londoners looking to move to the sticks while keeping their desk in town, Oxted in Surrey is a revelation. Just 38 minutes from London Victoria, the area surrounding the town is 93 per cent green belt, the highest in the country.
‘You never have to go far for a picturesque country walk,’ says Stuart Routledge of Jackson-Stops in Oxted. ‘There are commons, woodland and farmland to explore as well as the wide-open spaces of Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s family home, Penshurst Place and Hever Castle.’
Situated off the main road on the edge of the chalky North Downs, Oxted is easy to miss. ‘People don’t tend to come here intentionally – they’ll be heading to Sevenoaks, Reigate or Dorking, but once they see the Tudor buildings, cricket pitch and cinema they fall in love,’ maintains Robert Leech, who runs a local estate agency. ‘Many of those who left London during lockdown regret moving so far away,’ he adds. ‘Here, one can be back home within an hour of having lunch in Mayfair.’
It’s a cultural hub
Oxted’s railway station, which also has a 41-minute direct link to London Bridge, is probably the major selling point for commuters – but according to Stuart the town isn’t a boring commuter hub. There are two main streets, Station Road East and Station Road West, each with thriving independent shops and boutiques as well as cafés serving proper coffee.
‘I mourned my London blow-dries when I moved here from London but there are decent places to go for beauty and hair,’ agrees Kirsty Merritt, a public relations specialist who moved to Oxted several years ago with her husband and daughter.
There are also great places to go out, she adds, citing the community-run pub, The Bull, as well as restaurants such as Cucina and Thai Pad. The town boasts two lively cocktail bars – The Ginistry and Cattle & Cocktail – as well as an annual arts and music festival, a monthly farmer’s market and a Saturday artisan market.
It’s ideally located
For city breaks and ski holidays Gatwick is just 20 minutes’ drive away, while the coast is only an hour. ‘At weekends you can walk the dogs on the North Downs Way with views to Ashdown Forest,’ says Robert, who recommends the Barley Mow at Tandridge and the Haycutter at Broad Oak Green as perfect post-walk lunch spots.
It’s perfect for families
The area is well set up for families, with numerous good schools within a short run: St Mary’s C of E Primary in the town is rated excellent by Ofsted, while Hazelwood is a popular local prep school. The town is in the catchment of several renowned state secondaries, and just 20 minutes from Sevenoaks School, an independent co-ed day and boarding school, which takes pupils from three to 18 and offers the International Baccalaureate. Alternatively, there’s Whitgift School in Croydon, which takes boys from 11 to 18, and Woldingham School, for girls 11 to 18, both accessible by train.
Those with younger children are well catered for, Kirsty adds, with a range of baby and toddler classes, including buggy fit and rugby tots.
There’s a home for everyone
Families can choose between a house on the outskirts of the town, where large, light-filled properties have gardens of up to an acre; or find an even larger home around the pretty villages of Nutfield, Limpsfield Chart and Limpsfield. While some date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, the majority were built in the ’20s and ’30s, meaning they’re unlisted.
House prices in the area still appear reasonable to those selling up in the capital, ensuring it’s not just families but also country-loving young professionals who are relocating here.
The exodus during lockdown pushed values up, though – by 14 per cent since 2018, according to figures from Rightmove. Average house prices in the town were more than £700,000 last year, while detached houses sold for more than £1.1 million. For a four- or five-bed property with several acres near a popular village buyers can expect to pay more than £1.75m, Stuart says, while houses with more than five acres and amenities such as pools, stables and tennis courts tend to cost more than £3m. Robert expects the market to continue bubbling this year, due to a short supply of family houses and high demand from those still desperate to leave the capital.
While many London-leavers have reported niggling regret after taking the plunge, families seem only to grow fonder of Oxted as they get to know it, adds Robert. ‘It’s a town of two halves as it’s divided by the railway; people usually discover one side before they buy and are then delighted to find the other once they’ve moved in.’
Kirsty, who is a leader at the Oxted Ladies Run Club, believes it perfectly suits anyone with a desk (or life) in London who also craves the green space and fresh air of the countryside. ‘Nature is all around us here,’ she says. ‘Yet unlike other commuter hotspots, Oxted feels modern and vibrant with its own unique identity and a brilliant community of women.’
DATE NIGHT Steve Drake’s Sorrel in Dorking won a Michelin star within a year of opening. sorrelrestaurant.co.uk
A BLUEBELL WALK Explore Peter Rabbit woods on Limpsfield Common, which in spring become a carpet of bluebells. nationaltrust.org.uk
SPA DAY The Coach House Spa at Beaverbrook overlooking the Surrey Hills offers individual treatments and two pools. beaverbrook.co.uk
DAY OUT WITH THE FAMILY Godstone Farm is an immersive day out, where children can meet rabbits, piglets and cows as well as pile into the indoor play barn. godstonefarm.co.uk