HUNTINGDON Most people will probably prefer the neighbouring villages to Huntingdon itself, though the old county town is not unattractive. Oliver Cromwell lived here, and the old school, which both he and Samuel Pepys once attended, has been turned into a Cromwell Museum. Previous house-price booms brought Londoners in search of cheaper housing, so there is a well-established body of commuters. Builders have been keeping pace with demand and the town centre has been pedestrianised. The truth is that people tend to spend their lives trying to move out of this area rather than in. The cheapest housing is found among the ex-council houses. Better addresses include Hartford and Sapley, where the period properties add a touch of class to the newer developments and bungalows. A modern house with four bedrooms in either area will cost from £220,000 to £280,000.
Across the 14th-century bridge in Godmanchester, the tone is raised by some pretty, pastel-coloured 16th–18th-century houses, and by pleasant walks along the Great Ouse to Portholme Great Meadow, which is ablaze with wild flowers in spring. Much of Godmanchester is a designated conservation area, and there are some particularly fine houses in Post Street, Earning Street and the Causeway, often with gardens running down to the river. A modern five-bedroom house here is likely to fetch between £300,000 and £400,000, while a five-bedroom period house with a garden on the river will push the price towards the £800,000 mark. Not far to the west is Brampton, where Pepys lived for a time and where the Brampton racecourse can be found. It retains its village green, though there have been a lot of new developments. The RAF station here is nothing to worry about – its function is purely administrative. The proximity of Grafham Water makes it a popular village for watersports enthusiasts.
St Ives, five miles to the east, also has more charm than Huntingdon, with a pot-pourri of building styles along the quay and a smattering of pubs and restaurants. The centre is a conservation area, and the threadwork of alleyways between Market Hill and the riverside is particularly intriguing. It grew up on the site of a large Easter Fair, and is the St Ives of the nursery rhyme.
Close to it, nudging the Fens, are some of the most desirable villages in the area. Hemingford Abbots, formerly part of the Ramsey Abbey estate, seduces everyone with its thatched cottages and lovely walks. It is full of successful local businessmen and young couples attracted like moths to the Cambridge lamplight – all waxed jackets, Land Rovers and labradors. ‘There is a lot of pride in the village. If there is an art exhibition in the area, it will always be held in Hemingford Abbots,’ says one local resident. There are two-up-two-down Victorian terraces selling for £175,000. The wealthier aim for the small urban palaces in Common Lane. Some of these have river frontages and might sell for around £1m. The walks are idyllic, along footpaths that cross the meadows to Houghton Mill, an early Ouse watermill in a beautiful setting that attracts visitors in search of tea in the summer. Those with less money might look next door in Hemingford Grey, which is the poor relation living off the Hemingford name. There are many more family-sized houses here. A four-bedroom modern house would cost around £300,000.
Houghton and Wyton, pronounced ‘Hooton’ and ‘Witton’, are also cheaper because they are that much further from the A1. The High Street linking the two villages is punctuated by a green and has a supermarket with a deli. The housing market offers a mix of old and new. A four-bedroom modern estate house will cost around £325,000; a five-bedroom period house up to £600,000. To the north is Woodhurst, a perfect example of a ring village. Some of the four-bedroom houses on new developments will cost £400,000.
Due north of Huntingdon are Little and Great Stukeley (where the former prime minister John Major lives), which offer a reasonable mix of old and new houses, council estates and chalet bungalows. A modern house with four bedrooms and a plot of land in Great Stukeley is likely to cost around £275,000. A four-bedroom period family house can be bought for £325,000.