HAYWARDS HEATH This is prime commuter country, close to the M23 and the M25, fed by fast trains to London yet close enough for trips to the sea. Successful local businesspeople and airline pilots from Gatwick also help to put up prices. The town feels hugely superior to Burgess Hill, which is three miles away and probably has slightly better shops, though Haywards Heath has both a Marks & Spencer and a Sainsbury’s to boast about and a major town centre regeneration scheme is in the pipeline. Property prices are high. A simple one-bedroom flat will cost around £115,000, rising to between £150,000 and £200,000 for a two-bedroom flat. A modern detached four-bedroom house with two bathrooms is likely to cost around £500,000. Better parts of town are in the conservation areas at Lucastes and Lewes Road. Also popular is Muster Green, where the large Victorian and Edwardian houses have ample gardens around an open space that has much of the character of a village green.
You can throw money at houses in the Haywards Heath area. Villages such as Wineham are very popular. Here, a three-bedroom period cottage might cost around £350,000. Lindfield has all the ingredients of the perfect village: a high street with plenty of independent shops, tile-hung Sussex houses, five pubs, a junior and primary school, a pond with ducks, a large open common and a historic parish church. There is a wide range of housing from Elizabethan and Georgian to 20th-century, including some ex-council properties. Stockbrokers’ houses are slipped into the lanes round about. A Victorian house with four- to five-bedrooms could be bought for £500,000, a three-bedroom Victorian semi with a long garden will cost over £400,000.
Further north still, Horsted Keynes is another village that mutated during the Fifties. You drive through the centre thinking how lovely the village green is, then turn a corner and confront a mass of cheap housing. The pretty bit is still very popular and commands higher prices than Haywards Heath. A mid-terrace two-bedroom cottage with a little garden will cost £230,000. About a mile away is the privately-run Bluebell Railway, a great delight for steam-train enthusiasts. Paxhill Park is popular for its golf course, but lacks a real village spirit.
To the east is Scaynes Hill. It has been sliced in two by the A272 but has some dignified Victorian houses and a fine village hall, The Millennium Centre, completed in 2000. A two-bedroom bungalow might be snapped up for £225,000. Fletching is tiny, but has a lovely collection of 16th-century houses and a couple of pubs, including The Griffin Inn, a renowned gastro pub.
Less than two miles to the west of Haywards Heath is the tall spire of Cuckfield parish church, which German bombers used as a landmark during the Second World War. Beyond it you negotiate a tortuous bend, then climb the beautiful 15th-century high street, lined with medieval cottages. At the brow of the hill the spell is broken and medieval England dissolves into Victorian and modern. A Fifties’ three-bedroom semi here could be bought for £225,000 upwards.
Since the village was once a staging post it is well-endowed with pubs; there are five altogether, for a population of 3,000. Cuckfield is extremely active and shows its independence in eccentric ways. A fight with the district council in the late 1960s over the ownership of the playing fields resulted in the village declaring independence and producing its own passports, currency and stamps. It still holds mock elections for a mayor every year, and residents pay one penny to vote. The Independent State of Cuckfield is the eccentrically named local pressure group, which does much charity fund-raising. Cuckfield has its own museum and local beauty spot, New England Wood.
To the west are the more remote hamlets of Bolney and Warninglid. Both had strong connections with the medieval iron industry. They are rather beautiful and kept scrupulously tidy by their inhabitants. A four-bedroom house with Tudor features will cost £500,000.