BERKHAMSTED is a prosperous old market town wedged in the valley bottom, with the railway and canal running through some of the best countryside close to London. A general market on Saturdays, a farmers’ market once a month and a flower-seller in the High Street provide constant charm and colour. People are attracted to the town by the thickly wooded common, towpath walks along the Grand Union Canal, and Berkhamsted Collegiate School, which includes Graham Greene among its alumni.
On the steep valley slopes to the south are shoals of Victorian and Edwardian houses with large gardens, while the centre of town is packed with Victorian terraces. You can get a three-bedroom, 19th-century terraced house for around £430,000 within walking distance of the station. Canalside flats right in the centre sell for £250,000 to £275,000 for two bedrooms. Detached three-bedroom houses built in the Sixties and Seventies cost £450,000 to £650,000. The large, individually designed, secluded houses in private roads run extravagantly from £800,000 to £1.2m.
A bypass came to the rescue in the Nineties, removing much of the traffic from the heart of the town. The busy shopping centre has all the chain stores, a variety of restaurants and two fitness centres. Enthusiasts of the Art Deco movement believe that the Rex Cinema here is the most beautiful cinema in Britain. There is a sports centre, and a golf course on Berkhamsted Common, the rest of which is mostly owned by the National Trust.
Little Gaddesden, to the north, is very desirable, perched on a ridge 600ft high in the Chiltern Hills. Most of the large houses and cottages face directly on to the beechwoods and heathland of the vast Ashridge Estate, which is classified as an Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty. Physically, the village is strung out in a linear settlement pattern; socially it is rather cliquey. You would pay £600,000 for a four-bedroom 1930s’ detached cottage in three-quarters of an acre. There is a Church of England primary school, a church half a mile outside the village, and a village hall that hosts all the usual coffee mornings and clubs. The big house has been converted into a business school.
Close by is Aldbury, a film-set village of thatched and timber-framed cottages clustered around a large pond, with stocks and whipping post. Even the smallest cottage here costs at least £300,000 and will usually sell by word of mouth. There is a general store and post office, two pubs – the Greyhound Inn and the Valiant Trooper – and a golf course. Sightseers come to admire the village’s good looks.