England’s South East region is one of the country’s most visited. It’s an economic powerhouse and an exciting destination for lifestyle property hunters. Its familiar idyllic landscape is dotted with some of the most sought-after lifestyle properties in this part of Great Britain, from quaint Tudor houses in Kent, cottages in Hampshire, Victorian houses in Surrey, or, for the really well-heeled, huge estates in Berkshire and cliffside houses in Hastings. The region holds much interest, coupled with its proximity to London, to keep travellers (and property buyers) coming back for more. Owing to its proximity to the capital, South East England is a very prosperous region, with the second largest regional economy (after London). Its GDP in 2006 is valued at £177 billion (USD 267 billion based on 2013 exchange rate). In the housing front, a Rightmove survey shows that the rental market in the region is ‘overheating’. Data from the estate agent show that about 30% of tenants in the South East are spending more than 50% of their take-home pay on rent. In terms of capital appreciation, many of South East England’s towns are considered over-performers for the year 2012, according to Halifax. Data show that Basingstoke (Hampshire), Rochester (Kent), St Albans (Hertfordshire), and Dartford (Kent) registered the second, third, fourth and fifth highest house price increases in 2012 (14.7%, 13.3%, 13% and 13%, respectively). Average house prices in each of these towns in 2012 were as follows: Basingstoke, £220,320 (USD 332,869); Rochester, £184,908 (USD 279,380); St Albans, £371,131 (USD 560,747); and Dartford, £209,557 (USD 316,629). In the following sections, we explore in detail what makes the counties comprising this region such a magnet for travellers and lifestyle property buyers, starting with….
Hampshire is the South East’s largest county, and perhaps best known for its maritime history, especially the towns of Portsmouth and Southampton. It is also famous for two of Britain’s most famous writers, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. Further inland, two of Hampshire’s most important cities are Basingstoke and Winchester. The former is an important economic centre and is the location of the UK headquarters of many technology companies; the latter is a historic city boasting well-known landmarks such as the Winchester Cathedral. Winchester’s architectural and historic interest, and its fast links to other towns and cities, make it one of England’s most expensive and desirables areas.
One of England’s oldest counties, Berkshire dates back to the 80s and has seen its fair share of great battles. Nowadays it is one of England’s most prosperous, home to many technology companies, especially the areas around Reading. Despite this the county has preserved its idyllic, English countryside feel. Its famous Berkshire Downs – ranges of chalk downland hills – are probably what comes to mind when
one thinks of ‘the rolling hills of England’. But perhaps Berkshire is most famous for Windsor and its namesake, the Windsor Castle, one of the official residences of the British Royal Family. First built during the time of William the Conqueror, it is the longest-occupied palace in Europe and attracts almost a million visitors a year. Imagine living close to it.
As part of the historic county of Sussex, it traces its roots to the ancient kingdom of the South Saxons, who established themselves in the area after the departure of the Romans. East Sussex is a varied county that’s a favourite weekend retreat of Londoners – or whenever the weather’s fine. Located just north of the English Channel, the county has some of the most spectacular seaside and cliffside towns in England, the most famous of which is Beachy Head, a chalk headland close to the town of Eastbourne and immediately east of the equally stunning Seven Sisters. But the county isn’t only about quiet, seaside hamlets. One of its towns, Brighton, is a vibrant nightlife destination, a long-time favourite for party weekends and family holidays, and boasts the most thriving bar, restaurant and café scenes anywhere outside London. Brighton is also the site of the Royal Pavilion, King George IV’s India-inspired palace, and arguably a masterpiece of overthe-top architecture and English quirkiness.
North-eastt of London is Buckinghamshire, home to the renowned Pinewood Studios and the Dorney Lake, where the rowing events at the 2012 Summer Olympics were held. Its sections close to London are also declared part of the Metropolitan Green Belt, a statutory green belt around London, which aims to protect and preserve ‘green’ open parts around the capital. Also known as ‘Leafy Bucks’, this county sits close to Heathrow Airport, and boasts numerous tourist attractions and shopping opportunities. The county’s largest town is Milton Keynes. Often derided as a soulless, ‘new’ city, the British government designated Milton Keynes as a new town in 1967 to relieve housing congestion in London. Deliberately located equidistant from London, Birmingham, Leicester, Oxford and Cambridge, the government’s original intention was to make the town self-sustaining and eventually become a major regional centre in its own right.
In J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Harry’s magichating relatives, the Dursleys, live in the fictional town of Little Whinging in Surrey, in a perfectly ordinary house along a perfectly ordinary street. However, in reality, Surrey is far from ordinary. It boasts many interesting attractions, such as Box Hill, the Devil’s Punch Bowl, Leith Hill, the well-manicured Claremont Landscape Garden, and the Surrey Hills, a designated area of outstanding natural beauty. Surrey is also one of England’s wealthiest counties, and many of its inhabitants are from affluent backgrounds. Guildford is Surrey’s largest town and has retained much of its historical charm. A short walk up its cobbled high streets shows old buildings, many of which are hundreds of years old.
Officially the sunniest county in the UK (an average of 1,902 hours per year, according to 29 years of Met Records), West Sussex offers a wide range of sights, from the rolling hills of Wealden to the chalk hills of the South Downs. The county is also home to an impressive array of stately homes, such as Goodwood, Petworth and Uppark. In addition, over half of the county is a designated protected area, making its outdoors a major selling point of West Sussex’s tourism scene. Its only city is Chichester, a cathedral city that has been continuously inhabited since the Roman times. The city is also home to some of Britain’s oldest churches.
Often marketed as the ‘Garden of England’, Kent is the region’s easternmost corner and one of Britain’s warmest areas. The county has also provided inspiration for notable writers and artists, chief of whom are Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, and artist J. M. W. Turner, famous for his seascapes. Canterbury is Kent’s major tourist centre, and parts of its ancient quarters are a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Though heavily bombed during the Blitz, it still contains many ancient structures, such as a city wall founded during the Roman times and rebuilt in the 14th century, plus the ruins of Saint Augustine’s Abbey, and The King’s School. Modern development within the town centre is also strictly regulated by the town’s officials.
Oxfordshire and its major city Oxford are perhaps Great Britain’s most famous college town. Straddling the upper reaches of the River Thames, the county has vast areas of archetypal English landscape. And as home to the University of Oxford, the county has a large concentration of local science- and technology-based companies, significantly contributing to its already booming economy, bolstered by the education and tourism industries. Indeed, the University of Oxford’s ‘dreaming spires’ are so iconic that they play a large part in making Oxford the sixth most visited city in the UK. While every corner of Oxford screams history, the city also has its fair share of modern attractions, such as a lively arts and entertainment scene, thanks to its predominantly young student population. There are plenty of cinemas, art cafés and live music venues to choose from – including the excellent Sheldonian Theatre.
Isle of Wight
Perhaps another testament to English quirkiness, the Isle of Wight has the distinction as England’s smallest county – but for only half of the time. During high tide its area is slightly less than that of Rutland, but not during low tide. Regardless, the Isle of Wight is home to many resorts and is a favourite holiday destination since of the time of Queen Victoria. Despite lying a mere 15 miles across the sea from Southampton, Wight seems a world apart. Dubbed ‘England in Miniature’, its landscape offers an incredible diversity that changes dramatically in the space of a few miles. Nowadays, traditional, upmarket tourism gradually gives way to watersports and outdoor activities favoured by the younger lot