SITTINGBOURNE Like the Medway Towns, Sittingbourne is more affordable for first-time buyers and has grown considerably over the past few years. Much of the town centre looks more like Coronation Street than Kent, with terraces fronting straight on to the pavement. A two- or three-bedroom house here could be bought for between £80,000 and £115,000. Yet it is still only an hour by train from London. The north side of town is the old industrial area, now joined by smart modern developments where prices for a four-bedroom house are between £180,000 and £300,000. On the south side of town, Thirties’ detached houses and semis – some of them with good long gardens – sell for £200,000 or more. There are new estates here, too, with three-bedroom terraces at just over £160,000.
The mile-long High Street still displays something of its history as a market town (there is a Friday market) and coaching stop. Pilgrims used to rest here on their way to Canterbury. The Red Lion, the George Inn and Ypres Tavern are still there, and there is evidence of Georgian buildings behind the High Street’s modern façades. Plans are taking shape for a proposed town regeneration scheme to provide more shopping and leisure facilities. Sittingbourne was also once a busy harbour town. The muddy Milton Creek running into town from The Swale is lined with warehouses, factories and reedy inlets. Funding is in place for the Milton Creek Gateway Landscape project, which will enable people to walk beside the water. The town’s prosperity used to depend on the hugely expanding demand for bricks, paper and cement in the late 19th century. Of these traditional local industries only paper-making remains, the others have been replaced by modern light manufacturing. For recreation there is a huge, multi-million-pound leisure centre, The Swallows.
House prices rise a little as you move out to the villages. To the west is Stockbury, which has a pub, green and a farm shop housing the village shop and post office. It would be difficult to find a property here for less than £200,000 – for which you might be lucky to get a two-bedroom bungalow. A four-bedroom house would be closer to the £380,000 mark. Closer to Sittingbourne is Borden. It is quite smart and attracts executives. Some parts of it are very old indeed; a 13th-century church is set in the conservation area, which contains some quaint, white-painted weatherboarded cottages. You would pay from £130,000 for a semi-detached house. Four-bedroom bungalows start at around £330,000. Much of the building is in brick, with some timber-frame and some modern infilling. At the heart of the village is the Playstool – an old Kentish name for a playing field on two levels. From the top level you have wonderful views across the countryside. The main street is called The Street and has a pub. The village has a high proportion of elderly people as well as a thriving primary school.
Less than a mile away is Tunstall. Prices here are similar to those in Borden, though the village itself is tiny, with a good primary school, but no shops. Due south of here is Milstead. Opinions and signposts vary about the correct spelling (several maps and guides, though not the Ordnance Survey, omit the a), though there is no doubt about its status as the most sought-after village in the area. It has a truly Kentish feel to it, with leafy lanes on the slopes of the North Downs giving on to a church, a pub, a thatched cricket pavilion, a primary school and old thatched cottages which tend to be occupied by well-paid professionals. A four-bedroom barn conversion on the outskirts of the village costs £500,000. The village itself is a conservation area and the surrounding countryside is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. At the centre there is a tiny green with an old cedar tree growing on it, framed by a row of tile-hung cottages, the church and Milstead Manor. It is a busy place. The cricket attracts people from neighbouring villages. It is worried about becoming a dormitory village, though there are truly local families who have lived here for years. A car is essential for all those who do not want to have to use the post bus.