“There is nowhere for coffee, no Soho Farmhouse or members’ clubs and just a few little shops,” says Mike Spink, a developer of uber-luxury properties, about his neighbourhood in Buckinghamshire’s Hambleden Valley.
“That helps define why people move here,” he says. “We’re an hour’s drive from London, so why would we need to repeat the urban needs of cafés and clubs here? I’d rather have a walk in nature, sit on a hilltop watching kites and go home and make a perfect coffee.”
Spink has been creating high-end properties in this part of southern England for some time — his redevelopment of Park Place in Remenham, just over the Thames in Berkshire, sold to Russian banker Andrei Borodin in 2011 for £140m, making it the most expensive home ever bought in the UK at the time — and has helped transform the place from a quiet cluster of rural villages into one of the country’s most exclusive property markets. And since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been a number of big-ticket sales in the area.
Among them is Spink’s own home Fayland House, a 888-sq metre single-storey property designed by architect David Chipperfield on the edge of Hambleden village, agreed for a sum that Spink declines to share. (Spink and his wife Maria are moving to a nearby 1700s former dairy farm.) Another property Spink has developed, a Palladian-style home known as Hamilton, sold for more than £50m in September 2020 — after initially being marketed for £77m.
The area has been popular with wealthy international buyers for generations. “What the Cotswolds is to Londoners, the Hambleden Valley is to the international market,” says James Mackenzie, head of Strutt & Parker’s country department. “They love the disarming rural British charm of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. And proximity to London is a major draw.”
Naturally, the easy access to London and Heathrow appeals to domestic buyers too — particularly those who anticipate that their post-pandemic commute into City workplaces may only be for two or three days a week.
“It’s a four-minute scooter ride to our local station in Saunderton, then just 30 minutes by train to Marylebone station,” says Rupert Leach, 34, who has his route mapped out for when he’s called back to the office for his job in commercial finance in central London.
Last September, he and his partner Sara moved from south-west London to the village of Speen in the Chiltern Hills, outside the Hambleden Valley, paying £820,000 for a 1860s house in need of modernisation but with nearly three acres of land. “We were looking in various rural areas for 18 months, then realised this place fulfilled every element on our wishlist,” Leach says. “We wanted somewhere hilly, with woodland, and a rundown house to renovate with a few acres and paddocks. We also need space for goats as Sara is starting a beauty business that uses goat [milk] soap.”
As younger buyers in the area, their willingness to take on a renovation project meant they could afford to buy in this rural hotspot. Most high-end buyers in the area, however, want “tastefully renovated houses with a pool and tennis court, but not shiny, like St George’s Hill or Wentworth,” says rural buying agent Jess Simpson, referring to Surrey’s super-prime gated estates.
“For the dream Georgian house with anywhere from five to 50 acres — of which there are only a dozen or so — you will pay £8m-£20m,” says Mark Lawson, a partner at The Buying Solution. “Whereas in the Cotswolds this would cost £4m-£15m,” he adds.
Prices in this verdant valley have also been inflated by what several search agents call “a buying frenzy” since last March. James Shaw of Prime Purchase buying agency is seeing buyers bid over the odds to beat the competition. “They’ll offer £3.5m on a house with a guide price of £3.25m,” he says, adding that prices for the most desirable properties — “old rectories or vicarages, best in class or modern houses of 5,000 sq ft plus” — have reached £1,000 per sq ft.
Three or four daily inquiries for £3m-plus properties is common at the moment, Lawson says. “Some are exchanging within 24 hours of viewing. I have heard of 50 viewings and 10 bidders in a week for properties at the lower end of the market,” he says, adding that about 70 per cent of the properties over £2m — and almost all above £10m — are sold “off- or pre-market”.
The area’s most popular villages are Hambleden, Skirmett, Turville and Fingest. Their traditional brick-and-flint cottages — often Grade II-listed and costing about £750,000-£800,000 — has not gone unnoticed by location scouts, with TV shows Band of Brothers, The Vicar of Dibley and Midsomer Murders being filmed here. “This is the first proper rural, undulating countryside you reach west of London,” says Shaw.
This may be an easy-to-reach rural idyll, but there is a catch: broadband, says Simpson. “The average download speed in the Hambleden Valley last year was 37.1 mbps and it is thought that the maximum currently available is 67 mbps — not enough for same-time trading or multiple users streaming concurrently.”
Which means that being able to commute to the London office easily may just come in handy after all.
The Hamble Brook runs through the Hambleden Valley from Fingest in south Buckinghamshire, down through Skirmett and Hambleden to the join the river Thames at Mill End.
In Buckinghamshire, there were 14 sales of £3m in the year from February 2020 to February 2021, the one of the highest of any region outside London (source: Enness Global Mortgages/Land Registry).
What you can buy for . . .
£725,000 A Grade II-listed two-bedroom semi-detached brick-and-flint house in Turville, Henley-on-Thames
£1.8m A five-bedroom Georgian-style former vicarage in Bradenham, High Wycombe, with 1.56 acres
£2.3m A Grade II-listed six-bedroom farmhouse with 8.6 acres and paddocks in Skirmett, Henley-on-Thames