What it's like to live in Fleet
PUBLISHED: 15:49 01 July 2019
Fleet, where the living is easy - we take a tour of the Hart district town
Fleet may not be an obvious lifestyle destination despite having been highly ranked in Halifax's 'quality of life' surveys over the years. The 'high street' is serviceable, but a bit dull. There are no distinctive landmarks or attractions other than Fleet Pond. And yet Fleet is fantastic for families.
I know this because we settled on this nondescript town, hub of the Hart district in the north-east corner of Hampshire, back when we started our family. We were attracted by the ease of a brand new property within walking distance of the mainline station and the prospect of a not too daunting commute into London (just 45 minutes or so into Waterloo). What we found was so much more: a friendly community, a choice of escapes in Fleet Pond, Basingstoke Canal and the countryside around Crookham Village and Crondall. And then, as our children grew, there was top notch schooling all the way from infants to sixth form.
I have moved further into Hampshire, yet I have fond memories of my life in Fleet. In many ways, despite significant new developments, it remains unchanged. Roads running into Fleet are still lined by rhododendron bushes with Edwardian villas glimpsed among the trees. The 'high street' (Fleet Road) has matured nicely. Trees have softened the streetscape and it has developed something of a buzz. There are barbers, beauty salons (the latest is All About Feet), fashion boutiques, a tailor (by appointment), interiors showrooms and fitness studios (such as Elements for yoga and meditation). It is an interesting mix with an emphasis on independents, the likes of old-fashioned hardware store WC Baker (family-run since 1908) alongside names such as Majestic Wine and Waitrose. Otherwise Basingstoke (with everything from Apple to Zara) is within easy reach as Fleet and neighbouring Church Crookham are positioned between junctions 4a and 5 of the M3.
The big change since my day is the profusion of eateries. Cafes include Café Amici and Loaf where you can sit in the window and people watch. Restaurants range from Indian to Italian, such as Gurkha Square, Kathmandu and Zaal, El Castello and Trattoria La Casa (where boards promise homemade fresh lemonade as well as live music every Friday and Saturday night). There are popular pubs like the Fox & Hounds on the banks of the Basingstoke Canal, The Foresters in woodland on the edge of Church Crookham, and The Heron on the Lake overlooking Fleet Pond.
It was this Pond that brought about the development of Fleet. There was little here prior to the London and South Western Railway being built in 1840 which allowed Fleet Pond, the largest freshwater lake in Hampshire, to become a destination for days out. This led to the well-to-do building houses in the area, particularly in the Blue Triangle (Green Triangle would be a more apt description) which is still considered the best place to buy. This oasis of calm bounded by Fleet Road, Elvetham Road and Reading Road North has lots of rather grand old piles half hidden behind high hedges. Personally, I prefer the Pondtail area with leafy roads leading down to Fleet Pond and a hotch-potch of architectural styles from Victorian villas right up to contemporary builds with cedar cladding and angled rooflines.
Fleet is, in effect, a Victorian new town still growing piecemeal. A heavily treed estate of sixties family homes here. Nineties estate with nature reserve there. More recent developments include Elvetham Heath: a well-landscaped garden suburb with rows of attractive townhouses and big detacheds, a pub, primary school, nursery, superstore and occasional artisan food market.
The latest development is Edenbrook. It has the feel of a modern village with narrow streets of weatherboarded houses, terraced cottages and occasional tower, plus a pretty row of detacheds overlooking a traditional green and contrasting shiny new leisure centre - a big bold structure with curving roof and metal buttresses encompassing swimming pools, gym, climbing wall and café.
The town was lacking decent leisure facilities. Next up would be a cinema or theatre, although The Harlington centre has a programme of music and comedy.
But there's enough to do with a much-used skate park behind the library and The Point youth centre. Of course, Fleet Pond still provides a breath of fresh air with family groups and individuals cycling, running and strolling along the boardwalks and footpaths in the tangle of greenery stretching around the much-loved Pond. Follow the Basingstoke Canal (on foot or bike) out past back gardens and you're quickly into countryside around Crookham Village - although I'm concerned that this village will be subsumed by Fleet and Church Crookham eventually. At present it is still a quiet retreat. A village pub (The Exchequer), near the Canal, proclaims a new vegan menu - a reminder that although quiet, this is no backwater.
As for that schooling. It is still a draw. At primary level all schools are at least 'good' according to Ofsted with Elvetham Heath Primary, Heatherside Junior and Church Crookham Junior considered 'outstanding'. At secondary level, Courtmoor and Calthorpe are 'good', independent St Nicholas is rated 'excellent' by the ISI and all three partner 'outstanding' Farnborough Sixth Form College.
All in all Fleet is just so convenient and family-friendly: the station and the M3, pond and canal, decent high street, lots of greenery, variety of family homes and impressive schools. Fleet isn't exciting. Instead it feels safe and comfortable. And while it isn't going to win any beauty contests, that doesn't mean it isn't attractive.
"Fleet offers popular appeal for families with its combination of great commuter links, Ofsted 'outstanding' schools, lavish countryside, and a mix of property that means Fleet has something for everyone. The town centre offers a wide selection of recognisable brands and independent shops, supermarkets, cafes and restaurants while surrounding developments and villages all have their own sense of community.
"Fleet is located just off Junction 4a of the M3 with a mainline station reaching London Waterloo in under an hour. This gives residents the opportunity to work in London while enjoying a slower paced lifestyle in Fleet.
"There is an exceptional quality of life on offer with so much countryside on the doorstep ready to explore. The Basingstoke Canal runs through the town and provides a wonderful place to walk the dog, go for a run or simply stroll along the leafy tow path enjoying the scenery. With two local nature reserves, one including Fleet Pond, the largest freshwater lake in Hampshire, you are never far from a rural escape. There is a strong sense of community in the town, with groups such as Fleet Pond Society pulling together to protect the natural beauty of the area, while annual events include Fleet Carnival and Fleet Half Marathon.
"The mix of property in the area is hugely diverse - from the impressive, sought-after period homes of the Blue Triangle to modern family homes on Elvetham Heath and Zebon Copse.
"I've worked in Fleet for over 25 years and have seen the property market continue to thrive, it's a stable investment for any buyer and a perfect spot for family life. While as a keen golfer I can also take advantage of North Hants Golf Club, former club of US Open Champion, Justin Rose."
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