DIDCOT PARKWAY Didcot itself lacks any romance. It has about 25,000 residents and is soaking up new housing like a sponge with 3,300 homes, as well as schools and sports facilities, due to be built before 2018. Recent improvements to the town centre have included a shopping centre, Sainsbury’s, five-screen cinema, Centrepiece theatre and the £7.4m Cornerstone arts centre. The most attractive part is Northbourne, which is old Didcot and still very beautiful. East Hagbourne, just outside, is distinctly special, displaying all the architectural eclecticism of the area – timber frame, thatch, zig-zag brickwork – clustered around the old village cross by the church. West Hagbourne is similar, but quieter, with a village pond. Both are popular with staff at the Atomic Research Station at Harwell who can afford to pay from £500,000 for a three-bedroom 17th-century cottage. The tranquillity of the Hagbournes is under threat from plans to build a bypass south of Didcot.
Perhaps the village with the most charm and vigour is Blewbury, set against the Downs. The village has pretty old inns, a football club, a cricket green, brass band, church choir and a dramatic society. Once you get off the B4017 the prices are high. A four-bedroom Victorian cottage with garden and annexe, costs around £700,000; a four-bedroom modern house on a small new development, £435,000. The asking price for a new five-bedroom eco-home, with ground-source heating and rainwater reservoir, is £635,000. East Hendred, to the west, is a typical Downland village peppered with thatch and timber. It is close to the ancient Ridgeway, which enables you to walk at a giddy height for miles in either direction. ‘It’s very horsey and a bit arty-crafty. Lots of Volvos with dog stickers,’ is how one local resident describes it. Harwell, by comparison, is plainer with plenty of workmanlike Victorian houses. A three-bedroom semi-detached cottage here can be had for £330,000; four-bedroom modern houses cost up to £480,000.
The combination of riverside with proximity to London makes some of these villages obvious film-star territory. Shillingford, on a bridge over the Thames, and Warborough both reek of money. Wallingford has a pretty shopping centre with a bookshop and lots of Georgian houses. Riverfront houses cost from £500,000 into the millions; in the side streets a Victorian three-bedroom terrace will cost £250,000. The town is the fictional Cawston in the television drama Midsomer Murders.