All you need to know about living in Alton
PUBLISHED: 14:59 18 June 2014 | UPDATED: 14:59 18 June 2014
Bypassed by roads and modern life, Emma Caulton finds that Alton is a treasure waiting to be discovered
When it comes to house hunting, Alton, and the villages around this old-fashioned market town, is often below people’s radar. That’s all to the good in my view. It’s good to know there are still such quiet corners of Hampshire.
Traffic bypasses it, taking the M3 to the north and the A31 or A3 to the south, leaving this landscape of rolling farmland and woodland, criss-crossed by bridleways, footpaths and byways, relatively unspoiled. Pheasants are surprised by my car as I drive down narrow country lanes. And I am surprised by the lovely long distance views across to the North Downs. It feels rural; yet you can live in one of these barn conversions or old farmhouses and commute to London in not much over an hour.
Villages include Beech, which is private: its heavily wooded slopes hiding big modern homes. There’s Bentworth which is a delight with two pubs, a village green, a village school rated Good by Ofsted, and a gold-painted post box in recognition of local Olympian Peter Charles for equestrian success. While picture postcard pretty Chawton (also with a village school rated Good) has perhaps been saved from over-development by its enduring connection with Jane Austen.
Alton itself is described as ‘Jane Austen’s Town’. She did shop here and there are still some elegant Georgian properties on the high street. But to me Alton feels like a town in flux: part old-fashioned market town, part up and coming commuter belt. There is a bit of stylish small scale development. Period properties encompass rows of colour-washed cottages here and wonky timber-framed houses there, with facilities such as a coolly contemporary library among them.
Waitrose and M&S Simply Food are indicators of local prosperity...otherwise the high street is a curious hotch-potch of promising independents and a few national names. Brock’s Farm Shop is an established stalwart while Mog’s Deli with its sackcloth and exposed brick vibe (and unexpected foodstuffs like smoked eel) is a relative newcomer. Eateries include one-off Monty’s and brands such as Prezzo and Pizza Express in the old square. Throw into the mix a wool shop, secondhand book store, arts and crafts shop, and vintage interiors, and what you end up with is a useful shopping centre with lots to interest, but not enough to compete with nearby Basingstoke and Farnham.
What it lacks in shops it makes up for in schooling. Many of the primaries are rated ‘Good’, including Butts Primary, Anstey Junior, St Lawrence and Andrews Endowed. Amery Hill secondary and Treloar School (a specialist school for physically disabled children) are also ‘Good’, while Eggar’s School and Alton College are both ‘Outstanding’.
It’s pleasantly leafy, too. Every approach runs past greens and parks such as Butts Green, boarded by the Watercress Line (the heritage line that runs between Alton and Alresford), and the expanses of Anstey Park.
Even though Jane Austen shopped here, controversial singer-songwriter Alison Goldfrapp was born here, and politician Yvette Cooper was educated here, Alton still succeeds in keeping quiet about its charms. Long may it last.
Agent talk - Nick Warren, Warren, Powell-Richards
“Alton is truly the centre of the south, but it’s also a quiet centre. It is strategically well-placed between the A3 and M3 corridors. People who live here can commute to the airports at Heathrow and Gatwick, up to Reading and the Thames Valley, down to cities on the South Coast, across to Guildford, or to London on the train.
It attracts people from far and wide, and there’s a strong local market. There’s something for everyone from studio apartments to million pound country houses.
The pricier villages are to the north and north-east, such as Bentworth, the Froyles and Bentley. But there are lovely villages which get good prices, like Selborne, Chawton and Beech. Holybourne, which is merging into Alton, is popular, too, and you can walk from the village to the station. There’s a fast service early in the morning of 67 minutes up to London. Parking at Alton station is easier than stations further up the line and as Alton is at the end of the line, you can always get a seat in the morning.
I was born in Alton and have worked in the town for the last 16 years, but I’m still discovering new things. It has a lot of history. I remember a criticism Country Life aimed at us that we hadn’t got the cappuccino effect; well, we have now.
There’s a developing programme of events and Alton is described as a walker-friendly town. Alton borders the South Downs National Park, which has good walking, biking and riding country, and it is also at the start of the Hangers Way.”