MAIDENHEAD is an old Thameside town with an ancient heart, small shops, a pedestrianised High Street and a farmers’ market twice a month. Facilities include a multiplex cinema, health club and restaurants. Just outside the centre you will find grids of reasonably pleasant turn-of-the-century terraced houses. Those with two bedrooms sell for up to £250,000. The modern developments are on the south-western outskirts, where three-bedroom semis cost up to £300,000. The most sought-after areas, such as Maidenhead Bridge and Boulter’s Lock, are close to the river. Here the houses are large, detached late-Victorian, with big gardens and wealthy owners who can afford to pay £800,000 to £1.3m for four bedrooms. A short walk along the Thames is Brunel’s Sounding Arch, a remarkably long brick viaduct built in 1838.
Bray, scarcely two miles out of Maidenhead, is a tiny picturesque village on the lip of the Thames and one of the costliest places to live even in this expensive area. It combines closeness to London with a good train service. The narrow irregular streets are lined with timber-framed and Georgian houses. A two-bedroom village house will cost £300,000. The Fisheries offers huge mansions in a woodland setting with a river frontage and prices from £5m upwards.
Remarkably, there are two Michelin three-star restaurants in Bray – the Roux brothers’ famous Waterside Inn and Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck. There is a clutch of resident television stars so the mere act of buying a pint in one of the two pubs can bring you up against Rolf Harris, and joining the local cricket team is likely to attract the interest of Michael Parkinson. The village has a post office and hair salon, and a hockey club and tennis court.
Just outside the village is Bray Studios, where the Hammer House of Horror films were made and short television dramas are still produced. Tourist coaches tend to drive straight through the village because there is no tea-room, although tea is served in the church hall on Sunday afternoons in summer. There are a few modern estates, but they are well-hidden. Bray is a conservation area and regular regional and national winner of the Britain in Bloom competition. If you want to build anything new, or change the exterior of your house, you can expect heavy opposition. The risk of flooding in the area has been reduced by the construction of the Jubilee River, a large drainage ditch between Maidenhead and Eton.
Heading south you come to the attractive village of Holyport set around a large green with a pond overlooked by two of the four local pubs. This is the site of the annual village fair in early June. Cricket on the green has been stopped because too many windows were broken, but enthusiastic cricketers continue to play on their own ground elsewhere in the village. Holyport has some huge Tudor and Georgian houses, and small former estate cottages. A house with half an acre might cost £1m. The village is too spread out to have a strong sense of community, but there is an active preservation society. There is some council housing, a few new private estates, a handful of shops and a primary school.
To the west is Littlewick Green, where the houses are built around the cricket pitch and the pub is called The Cricketers. This and neighbouring villages attract a lot of commuters – people running private businesses and staff from Heathrow. Another pretty village, still within the two- to three-mile belt around Maidenhead, is Pinkneys Green. It has some huge old houses that sell for over £800,000, and the National Trust house Maidenhead Thicket. The first Girl Guide troop was formed here by Olave Baden-Powell in 1910. Another village worth considering is White Waltham. It is very rural, has a thriving primary school, a small airfield, and an active cricket club. Detached estate houses sell at £600,000 to £900,000. Then there is Hurley on the Thames, with a lock, a 12th-century pub and a working boatyard. A period two-bedroom cottage might cost around £495,000, a five-bedroom Twenties’ manor house £2m.