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WARE People say that this is where the chimneypots stop and the countryside begins. Ware is a good old market town, which hasn’t been spoilt, and beyond it lies what the estate agents like to call the golden box – a group of handsome villages in a landscape that, despite its proximity to London, preserves a feeling of remoteness. The town has a strong sense of history. Much of the town’s wealth was created by the malt industry, and many of the old maltings have been converted into flats, mini-Docklands style. The main local employer is SmithKlineGlaxo, whose factory is set in parkland by the river. You can buy a one-bedroom flat on the water for £220,000; a three-bedroom apartment with parking for £250,000. It is a charming place to live. The narrowboats still come past and there are some pretty walks along the riverbank from where you can view the extraordinarily delicate old gazebos behind the houses in the High Street, where the gardens run down to the river.

The town centre also contains quite a few mews houses, developed from the old stables and courtyards behind the High Street. Four-bedroom town houses with paved courtyards at the back cost £435,000. There are some smart modern houses closer to the golf course on the south side of the town, where something with four bedrooms and a double garage would fetch up to £575,000. There are specialist shops – including Victoria Beckham’s sister’s clothes shop –restaurants and a farmers’ market. The town has lots of clubs and societies, which show themselves off every July during Ware Festival. There are indoor and outdoor heated swimming pools and, for team sports, Ware Football Club, Hertford Rugby Club at Hoe Lane, and cricket on the Old Hertfordians ground.

The villages are in a very different price zone. Footballers, pop stars and television personalities lurk down these country lanes, and you could easily pay up to £1.5m for an ex-farmhouse with acreage. Great Amwell is both the most expensive and the prettiest, with the New River draped in willows. Here it widens to a pool with two islands. These hold monuments to the New River’s creator, the engineer Sir Hugh Myddleton. Two miles away are the imposing buildings of Haileybury College. A period house with five bedrooms and two acres in Great Amwell could easily cost £1.8m, though you might find a little two-up-two-down for £190,000. The village has an annual flower show and every so often it opens its gardens to the public.

To the east is Hunsdon. Its timbered and weatherboarded cottages, village school and friendly atmosphere all contribute to its great appeal. Saturday coffee mornings are a regular event in the village hall, and there are societies for toddlers, tennis players and the elderly, and an enthusiastic amateur dramatics group. Small Victorian cottages cost around £240,000. Three-bedroom cottages can be expected to cost at least £320,000, and farmhouse-sized properties up to £950,000. New houses have been built in small handfuls for those at managing director level, priced at over £450,000 for five bedrooms.

In the precious northern belt are villages such as Standon and Puckeridge in the Rib Valley. Standon is favourite, with its wide curving High Street, timber-frame houses and village school. St Edmund’s Roman Catholic College is a few miles to the west. Property prices are slightly higher than those in Hunsdon. Puckeridge has a twisting High Street and more the feel of a small town about it, with Sixties and Seventies developments tacked on. More new development has followed as a result of the expansion of Stansted Airport. An older two-bedroom terrace here would cost £220,000; a new four-bedroom house £360,000. The Thurlow hunt rides out from Brent Pelham nearby.

Braughing is a film-set village built at the confluence of the River Quin with the Rib. The approach to it is by way of a ford known as The Splash that occasionally floods. It has an aviation society, local history society and fiercely active bell-ringing group. There is drama and tennis too. The family-run butcher’s, The Braughing Sausage Company, is renowned for its meat and famous Braughing sausages. The colour-washed cottages have often been used as backdrops to television feature films, and some have superb pargeting. The smallest cottage here would cost around £220,000, with prices rising to about £800,000 for the larger period houses.

Good for: charm, vibrant town life, good schools, good links to London and Cambridge.
Local knowledge: In developing new sites, Roman remains have been unearthed, as well as bodies from the time of the Black Death, shipped along the River Lea for burial outside London. What Hertfordshire sent in return was water – channelled to London’s East End by way of the New River, a canal built in the early 17th century.

other stations nearby...

BroxbourneHertfordRoydonRye House
London terminal: Liverpool St
Journey time: 45 mins
Season ticket: £2220
Peak trains: 2 per hour
Off-peak trains: 2 per hour