ASCOT Strangers expect Ascot to be a glamorous place to live, because of its high racing and fashion profile. They are often surprised by its lack of real character. Its main attraction is the racecourse, which was laid out in 1711 for Queen Anne. The shopping centre consists of rows of small exclusive retailers. A farmers’ market is held on the third Sunday in the month. The level of wealth, however, can almost be measured by the height of the hedges – and they are lofty here. Racehorse owners (those who own part-share of a horse rather than whole stables) pay a premium for four- to five-bedroom detached houses in Coronation Road and Kier Park. A new-build six-bedroom house on five acres would cost £2.65m; a period house with five bedrooms and an annexe, needing a little work, could be snaffled for £1m. You effectively buy into a rich man’s playground – close to Windsor and Heathrow Airport, with golf at Hawthorn Hill and Wentworth, racing at Ascot and Windsor, polo at Smiths Lawn and the Royal Berkshire Polo Club, and boating and sailing on the Thames. For the very rich there are some sizeable mansions. Not more than a mile away is Ascot Place and its several hundred acres, which changed hands for £20m and is now being converted into luxury apartments, where two bedrooms with underground parking cost £550,000. There are slightly smaller fry, though. In South Ascot there are Victorian railway workers’ cottages as well as larger Victorian semis that sell at £550,000 for four bedrooms. Property at Grand Regency Heights, a major new development facing the racecourse, sells at prices between £265,000 and £600,000. Royal Ascot golf club is in the centre of the racecourse. There are also opportunities for squash, tennis and cricket.
North Ascot is quite different in character from the Ascot that surrounds the racecourse. Concentrated building began here in the 1880s and has been spreading north and west of the racecourse ever since. A Victorian semi in North Ascot will cost £225,000 to £300,000; three-bedroom semis on infill developments start at around £250,000.
Parts of Ascot are in the parish of Winkfield, the largest in the county. It covers nearly 10,000 acres and contains communities described as settlements rather than villages with traditional focal points. Winkfield itself is semi-rural, with some listed buildings and small terraces with modern infill, and a new community hall regularly booked by local clubs and societies (from badminton to dancing). There is a real worry that it will lose its identity and become ‘just a place from which to get to other places’. It has several parks and recreation areas but no village green, though it still has an annual May festival. A small terraced house sells for around £350,000; a four-bedroom house in the desirable Winkfield Row goes for £410,000.
Most of the small communities in this area have their own local societies and, as this is partly green belt, the strongest voices belong to the residents’ associations and conservation societies fighting against new development. Golf and polo are the favourite outdoor activities and there are numerous riding establishments. To avoid frightening the horses in the Cranbourne area you need to drive almost permanently in low gear. A good local primary school attracts young families.