From the stark mountain landscapes of the Scottish Highlands to the lush streams and heathlands of Berkshire, we bring you the most rural places to live, in the last instalment of this week’s “Wild” series in The Times.
Some are in the middle of nowhere, some are within a short drive of the nearest Waitrose, but all will give you that wonderful feeling of being in the fresh air, enjoying the best of the British countryside.
1. The High Weald, East Sussex
If you’re looking for a weekend bolt hole close to London, you could do worse than go for the unspoilt splendour of the High Weald, an area of outstanding natural beauty. Long revered for its patchwork of meadows, meandering hedges, wooded valleys and farmsteads, it has several train links to London, including one from Buxted, an hour and a quarter from London Bridge. The area escapes the noise of aircraft en route to Gatwick and has good schools, including Mayfield. Three-bedroom terraced houses in nearby Tunbridge Wells or in Buxted start at about £250,000. For those with deeper pockets, there are plenty of grander, more rural homes. Strutt & Parker is selling the former home of the actress Vivien Leigh. Tickerage Mill Estate includes a five-bedroom home with views over the mill pond, 70 acres of gardens and woodland, plus stables and the original mill house, for £3.25 million.
2. The Black Mountains, Wales
Best known as the host of the annual literary festival, the market town of Hay-on-Wye lies in the middle of one of the most majestic mountain ranges in the UK. The Black Mountains, spread across Powys and Monmouthshire in southeast Wales, are imposing and less well known than the Brecon Beacons hotspots, which means that there are wonderful walks, without the crowds. There are plenty of estates with sporting rights for sale, and holiday-home hunters can usually snap up two and three-bedroom bargains in the villages or nearby hills for less than £300,000.
3. Sedbergh, Cumbria
Some of the best walks are just to the east of the M6 between Sedbergh and Shap, where the lakes turn into the Yorkshire Dales. Here you can enjoy wild fell walks and mountain views off the main tourist drag, with a landscape mighty enough to rival the Scottish Highlands. Sedbergh is packed with independent bookshops, while the grey limestone rooftops, cafés and rail links of Kendal are only seven miles away. Savills is selling the Lilymere Estate, with a pheasant shoot, roe-deer stalking, fishing and duck flighting, as well as tremendous lake views, for £3 million.
4. Bridport, Jurassic Coast Dorset
ThinkBroadchurch, minus the murders. The detective series did a lot for the Jurassic Coast’s tourism industry but in-the-know second-home hunters have long been looking to small coastal towns in Dorset for a cheaper alternative to Devon. A simple two-bedroom terraced house in Bridport costs about £170,000. The beaches are full of fossils, the coastline crumbles dramatically into the sea and the local communities have farmers’ markets that are more than an upmarket alternative to Waitrose. The grub is good too. “The Hive Beach Café, in nearby Burton Bradstock, remains a firm favourite, while The Riverside in West Bay has been popular for as long as I can remember,” says George Wade, a partner at the independent buying agent Property Vision.
5. Montrose, Angus
You can still see locals with traditional salmon-fishing nets on St Cyrus beach, so it’s no surprise that a fair few of the properties in and around villages in this area of Angus and Aberdeenshire are either old salmon fishing stations or former ice houses, where the ice used to take the fish to market was stored (Strutt & Parker has the stunning Rock Hall, a five-bedroom former fishing station on a cliff edge, for £530,000). This is as wild as it gets.
6. Lochbroom, Scottish Highlands
If you’re looking for somewhere seriously remote, the area around Ullapool, on the east shore of Loch Broom, in the northwestern Scottish Highlands, may do. More than 50 miles away from the nearest city, Inverness, the area has dramatic rocky hills such as theoften-snowcapped peaks of Ben Mor Coigach, rare wild plants and a surprising number of music festivals. House prices in the area start at about £180,000 for a three-bedroom house. If you happen to be on the hunt for your own island, CKD Galbraith has Tanera Mòr, an 800-acre island a little over a mile off the coast, for £1.95 million.
7. The Burnhams, Norfolk
This stretch of sparse coastline, salt marshes, reed beds and grazing marshes is a paradise for walkers and bird-watchers. The area supports local bird life including rare species such as the sandwich tern and little tern. From the hamlet of Burnham Overy Staithe you can catch a ferry to nearby Scolt Head Island nature reserve, a lost world of shingle spits and longshore drifts, or try the Overy Staithe Sailing Club. Burnham Market, sometimes known as Chelsea-on-Sea, has trendy shops, delis and antique stores. Enjoy Cromer crab and other local produce at the popular restaurant and hotel The Hoste. A holiday cottage won’t set you back too much, but larger houses in the area can be pricier, reaching £3 million or so. Trains from London Liverpool Street to King’s Lynn take about two hours.
8. Inkpen Common, Berkshire
Just southwest of Newbury, this Berkshire heathland has some unexpectedly wild walks for a place so close to London. Villagers had rights to graze livestock and collect firewood on the old Inkpen Great Common; today it’s full of heath plants such as gorse and heather, as well as oak and birch woodland and crocus fields. Inkpen Common is a hamlet near the market town of Hungerford and the small town of Kintbury, which has trains that take just over an hour to London Paddington. You can pick up chocolate-box thatched cottages here from about £250,000.
9. Dovedale, Derbyshire
On the border between Staffordshire and Derbyshire is the popular valley of Dovedale, a Peak District gem mentioned by Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. Here, longstanding community events such as village fêtes and sheepdog trials go hand in hand with trout fishing, natural limestone formations and exquisite Georgian architecture, such as Casterne Hall, an impressive 11-bedroom stone mansion with 180 acres of rolling grassland, on sale for £3.25 million with Knight Frank. Ilam, Ashbourne, Buxton and Milldale are popular villages and towns near by, with detached cottages from £150,000.
10. The Blackdown Hills, Devon
A lesser known part of the West Country, this area of outstanding natural beauty stretches across East Devon to the Somerset border, between Taunton and Tiverton. It has dramatic landscapes, narrow lanes and tiny villages such as Churchinford, Broadhembury, Hemyock and Luppitt, where the pub sells only local beers. Robin Gould, of the buying agency Prime Purchase, says: “In most of these places it is still possible to see the rural life of 40 or 50 years ago which quietly goes on underneath the tourists’ noses.”
11. Kintyre Peninsula, Argyll
Life doesn’t get more remote than on the Mull of Kintyre, the tip of the Kintyre Peninsula on the west coast of Scotland, with views of the islands of Gigha, Islay and Jura and to Northern Ireland beyond.
12. Thames Estuary, Essex
Walks near places such as Leigh-on-Sea have internationally renowned bird-watching — plus there are old-fashioned jellied eels and a quick commute into London.
13. Challacombe, Exmoor, Devon
Properties in small villages such as Challacombe have direct access to the wilds of Exmoor, as well as views of the river at the bottom of the valley. Good beaches are a short car trip away.
14. Bodmin, Cornwall
Birthplace of the Cornish Rebellion, Bodmin is a tranquil town, with idyllic cycle routes to Padstow and Wadebridge. Bodmin Moor, with its slate mines and subterranean lakes, is just down the road.
15. South Hams, Devon
The wilderness of Dartmoor is to the north and the sea to the south. Try Kingsbridge for affordable homes.
16. Runswick Bay, Scarborough
The North York Moors are strikingly beautiful, with fabulous moorland and impressive hidden villages such as this pretty coastal spot, with its red-roofed houses and fossil-hunting potential.
17. Saltburn-by-the-Sea, Yorkshire
Bursting with Victorian charm, it offers the authentic seaside experience. No shortage of breathtaking views; it’s surrounded by preserved woodland, golden sands and rugged sea cliffs.
18. Kielder Forest, Northumberland
Visiting this striking spot in the Northumberland National Park is
like taking a step back in time, with farmsteads and unspoilt villages such as Otterburn. All the benefits of Durham and Newcastle are close by.
19. Canonbie, Scottish Borders
Known as the Debatable Lands, from the days when Scotland and England disputed the area’s ownership, these rolling hills and valleys are one of the least populated areas in the country.
20. Blockley, Gloucestershire
Popular with commuters and second-home owners looking for adventure without isolation, the woods around villages such as Blockley have plenty of child-friendly activities, including paintballing and mountain-biking.