ASHFORD INTERNATIONAL People haven’t been kind about Ashford since it had to swallow a large amount of post-war development. But as it happens it has got the Eurostar high speed rail-link, which has attracted huge investment. Designated a growth area in the Seventies, thousands of new homes were built. Today it is the fastest growing town in the south-east with a population of 111,000 and plans to build 31,000 new homes by 2031. Park Mall and the newly extended Country Square offer all the major high street stores, including Debenhams. Sainsbury’s, Asda, Tesco and the UCL multiplex cinema have set up shop alongside junction 9 of the M20. Sports are catered for at a number of leisure centres, including the Stour Centre for swimming and the Julie Rose stadium for athletics.
Alongside the domestic station used by South Eastern Trains, there is now the International Passenger Station used by Eurostar, with combined traffic of more than 8.5m passengers each year. Lydd’s London Ashford Airport is just a few miles away, operating a scheduled service to Le Touquet.
Among the swathes of modern housing a three-bedroom semi with a garage will cost £150,000 to £180,000; a modern four-bedroom detached house £200,000 to £265,000. A two-bedroom period cottage will be over £225,000. Ashford has two good grammar schools, Highworth School for Girls and Norton Knatchbull for boys, and three mixed high schools. Ashford Girls’ School is private and takes both boarders and day-pupils.
On the slopes of the North Downs are several tiny hamlets amounting to little more than clusters of houses. Boughton Aluph (pronounced Borton Aluf) is rather more substantial. It is centred around a village green on which cricket has been played since 1752. This is flanked on one side by neo-Georgian houses and on the other by the green-painted, corrugated iron village hall, known as the Iron Room. The village has one or two distinguished Elizabethan houses but there is no shop, and the church (a mile away since the village was displaced by the Black Death) is used only in summer. The Stour Music Festival is an annual thrill for lovers of early music. The big house, Eastwell Manor, has become a hotel with a spa and restaurant. A three-bedroom detached chalet bungalow in Boughton Aluph will cost £295,000; a four-bedroom spacious late-Victorian house with large gardens will cost over £695,000.
Challock, (pronounced Chollock) also in the north, is similarly priced. The name Challock means ‘enclosure of calves’. The village has a considerable number of new houses squeezed between the old, and there are a couple of modern closes. A four-bedroom modern detached house will cost £345,000 or more. Challock is high up on the Downs – 630ft above sea level – and there are some spectacular footpaths and bridleways. The price you pay is that it can be very cold, windy and foggy in winter. The village has a post office-cum-general store, a pub and a The Barn Shop, selling locally grown fruit and vegetables, cheeses, pies, preserves and plants. Each September the village hosts a Goose Fair to support village projects.
Note: in 2009 service will commence from St Pancras International via the high speed Channel tunnel route, serving Ashford and stations to the east into Thanet. The season ticket rates quoted for the stations between Ashford and Canterbury West will then change.