PETERBOROUGH The tower of the Norman cathedral, which contains the tomb of Catherine of Aragon, is just about the only thing of beauty in Peterborough. It is visible from almost anywhere in the city and is illuminated at night. What the city lacks in aesthetics, it gains in purpose-built leisure facilities – cathedrals of contemporary life. The Queensgate shopping centre’s malls and squares, in marble, glass and steel, are air-conditioned, American-style. There is a 13-screen cinema, an ice-rink, a rowing and canoeing centre, an indoor cricket stadium and three golf courses. The city is ringed with fast roads and bypasses, making life easy for drivers and pedestrians alike. The Key Theatre, opened in 1973, keeps the culture vultures happy, with everything from opera and ballet to Christmas panto. The Lady Lodge Arts Centre, in an old farmhouse at Orton Goldhay, puts a crafty-vegetarian spin on photography, music and the theatre.
Those interested in new housing should trawl the streets of Hampton, the new £500m satellite town to the south, with homes for more than 13,000 people and a separate shopping centre, where four-bedroom houses cost £185,000 to £250,000. Otherwise, househunting becomes a question of working your way around the various Ortons. Orton Goldhay has shoals of ex-council terrace properties. At Orton Malborne there are more private houses in the mix, but prices remain similar. A three-bedroom semi will cost around £120,000; a three-bedroom detached £145,000. Prices rise sharply in the sumptuous estates of Orton Wistow, where a modern three-bedroom house can start at £170,000, or from £200,000 for four bedrooms. Similar properties can also be found in Werrington and Gunthorpe, both of which retain a core of older housing. Much of central Peterborough is to be avoided, especially the repetitive drabness of the older terraces. Westown is a preferred area, where three-bedroom semis with gardens sell at around £130,000. For real one-upmanship, there are the houses in Thorpe Park Road, Thorpe Road and Westwood Road, where Thirties homes in voluminous gardens sell at anything over £300,000 to the city’s doctors, dentists and solicitors. The less wealthy middle-classes find themselves in Longthorpe and Netherton, where there is a range of older houses. A three-bedroom thatched cottage could cost £250,000.
To the east of Peterborough is stark Fenland. Most people find it too glum and head determinedly for the undulating landscape and stone villages to the west. For those who are undeterred, Whittlesey in the east is set right in the Fens. Just to the south of it is King’s Dyke, designed to introduce a sharp kink into the network of navigable waterways and so limit the size of vessels passing between the Rivers Nene and Ouse. The village has a brickworks, but is still dwarfed by the surrounding flat expanse. A two-bedroom detached bungalow might cost £120,000; an older three-bedroom bay-fronted semi £130,000. Thorney, slightly further north, was kept intact as an estate village throughout the 19th century and so has a greater sense of history. The mock-Jacobean water tower adds a flourish to the skyline. An older three-bedroom semi here will cost £130,000.
The villages to the south of Peterborough are also somewhat lacking in visual appeal. Yaxley, being so close to the A1, offers the convenience of an easy commute to the towns both north and south. Technically it is a village, though it has all the amenities and proliferating housing estates of a small town. On the Ferndale estate a two-bedroom house costs from £130,000, rising to around £200,000 for four bedrooms. The old part of Yaxley is the most sought after – particularly the thatched cottages that skirt the village green with the old village pump in the centre. Run-of-the-mill three-bedroom semis fetch around £140,000; two-bedroom period cottages £115,000. The countryside around is not for those who want conventional beauty. ‘There are no hedgerows, no trees and no hills. But it grows on you,’ said one resident who had been converted. Large tracts between Yaxley and Fletton, including an old brick pit, are being swallowed by the new Hampton township. The villages west of the A1(M) such as Folksworth, Haddon and Stilton hear the growl of the motorway.
North and west of Peterborough are the best areas to look. Market Deeping and its satellites Deeping St James and Deeping Gate (‘Deeping’ refers to the deep meadows on the banks of the River Welland), are a major attraction. Market Deeping is an attractive old town with wide streets, some old stone houses and pubs, and with good old-fashioned butchers and bakers mixed in between the antiques shops. It has its own library and health centre, and an industrial zone, including such light industries as fireplace manufacturers and double-glazing specialists. There are two primary schools in addition to a good comprehensive and a leisure centre at Deeping St James. The eight-mile drive to Peterborough station is only a matter of minutes along the A15. An older stone house with three bedrooms will cost £170,000 upwards depending on how much land comes with it. A three-bedroom semi will fetch considerably more than its counterpart in Peterborough. A four-bedroom detached house with a garage on a modern estate would cost around £180,000.
The stone villages in the Deepings corridor are all desirable and have been protected from over-development. They include Maxey, Barnack, Ufford and Helpston, the last being where the poet John Clare lived in the 19th century, and where he wrote his poems about the agricultural changes he saw going on around him. He is buried in the churchyard and there is a memorial to him at the crossroads. A large cottage with four bedrooms might cost £250,000 in any of these villages, or slightly more if it is thatched. Due west of Peterborough you find a similar kind of charm in places such as Wansford. The village combines with Stibbington, which has a post office/shop serving a population of about 450 between the two communities. A beautiful stone packhorse bridge links the two halves across the River Nene. The Fitzwilliam Hunt meets outside the Haycock Hotel, an old coaching inn, on New Year’s Day. Close by is Elton, which is regarded as an aspirational village and carries a premium. It has some good 17th-century houses, with Elton Hall to the south and a lock on the Nene to the west. A three-bedroom stone cottage in Elton might cost £300,000. All these villages benefit from being close to Stamford, an attractive medieval town and a good antidote to Peterborough.