Why you should move to Alton
PUBLISHED: 15:00 19 August 2020 | UPDATED: 13:55 17 September 2020
Photography by Emma Caulton
Jane Austen, steam trains and countryside that makes you go ‘ahhhhh’, there’s a lot for the home hunter to enjoy in Alton
The Stamp Duty holiday, lockdown easing, and the release of pent-up demand has pushed up activity in the property market. Estate agents are experiencing a mini-boom. In particular, townies are reported to be rushing to escape to the country.
Lockdown has impacted on lives and lifestyle choices, but those relocating still have many variables to consider. With working from home predicted to be the new normal (at least for part of the week), some are upsizing for a home office, however others are downsizing in a time of financial uncertainty.
Some are upping sticks to the countryside to self-isolate, while others are heading to a market town in search of community support.
For those hedging their bets, Alton, an old-fashioned market town near the source of the River Wey and on the edge of the South Downs National Park, covers many bases.
To start, its location ticks the access to countryside box. To Alton’s north is an expanse of quiet, undulating mixed agricultural land. I’ve heard this attractive patchwork of hedgerow-edged field and copse described as the empty part of central Hampshire. There are no settlements of any size between Alton and Odiham - and it’s all the better for that.
To the west is a scattering of delightful hamlets and villages such as Bentworth and Beech – the latter was once home to Barleywood, the Gardener’s World garden at Alan Titchmarsh’s then home.
To the south is the South Downs National Park and a landscape of lavender fields, orchards and beech hangers. Villages of note include charming Chawton where the author Jane Austen lived.
To the east are smart villages, among them Bentley, Binstead and Froyle. This area is home to a TV presenter who knows all about the importance of location, location, location. Phil Spencer is also evidently wise to value, value, value.
That’s another bonus. You get a lot more house and land for your money in this area – particularly when compared to property prices just over the Surrey border.
Another factor is choice. What’s the dream? A converted barn or hop kiln? A grand manor house? An old Rectory? Quaint thatched cottage? They’re all here, in the countryside round and about.
Meanwhile in Alton itself are rows of Victorian and Edwardian houses, generously proportioned mid-century family homes and developments of stylish modern properties.
As Alton has not (yet) spawled too far, most homes are within walking distance of the mainline station. This provides a train service to London Waterloo in an hour and five minutes – perfectly manageable for an occasional or even regular commute.
Even better, as Alton is at the beginning of the line, there’s the reassurance that boarding the morning train shouldn’t be too much of a scrum. Otherwise, the M3 to the north and A31 to the south provides accessibility via the road network.
The schooling box also gets ticked. All primaries and secondaries are judged ‘good’ by Ofsted with Alton College, the principal sixth form college for the area, considered ‘outstanding’. Ditto Treloar’s in Holybourne, which provides “enabling education for disabled young people”.
Local independents include Alton School, a co-educational Catholic school rated ‘excellent’ by the Independent Schools Inspectorate.
Last, but certainly not least, is lifestyle. The after-shocks and unintended consequences of Covid-19 have left many of us reassessing what we want from life and what we value. Alton feels like a gear change.
An understated High Street is garlanded with floral displays and has shops and services focusing on the useful and the independent – From Home Hardware to Waitrose. Bonuses include the Curtis Museum, home to a fine local history collection, and the Allen Gallery, housing an inspiring collection of ceramics, from 1250 onwards.
A big surprise is the spectrum of activities available for those looking for a new interest. These include the obvious - walking, running and cycling through some of Hampshire’s loveliest countryside.
There’s also brand spanking new £20 million “state-of-the-art” Alton Sports Centre with hi-tech main pool, large gym, climbing ‘wall’ and spa (which opened just a couple of months before lockdown), and a golf course or three (Alton, Worldham and Blacknest). But then there’s the definitely different.
This includes one of the largest gliding clubs in the world at Lasham. What a great escape – ascending up into the clouds! Or travel back into the past by stepping up to the (foot)plate as a volunteer on the Watercress Line - the heritage railway running between here and Alresford.
Participate in what is usually a lively events programme encompassing a walking festival, Jane Austen Regency Week, charity cricket tournament, plus entertainments in the Public Gardens (acres of parkland with bandstand and bowling green behind the High Street), and funfair on The Butts (which has the appearance of a traditional village green).
Incidentally, other much enjoyed green spaces include King’s Pond, vast Anstey Park and Flood Meadows, a semi-wild area near the source of the Wey.
Post-lockdown we’re rediscovering the simple pleasures in life – such as a decent cup of coffee and an inviting country pub. It seems low key, however Alton and surrounding villages have top notch foodie credentials.
One of the UK’s best-loved cheeses, Tunworth, is made up the road at Herriard. Gin distillery Gorilla Spirits (now at nearby Upton Grey) was founded here and excellent Crane Patisserie (delectable cakes and afternoon teas to click and collect) pitched up recently.
There are weekly traditional street markets and monthly farmers markets. Cafes include Austen’s Café, Bottega dei Saperi and Coffee Cherry. As for country pubs, try The Rose & Crown in Upper Farringdon, The Royal Oak in Lasham and The Greyfriar in Chawton.
Also in Chawton is Cassandra’s Tea Room, which morphed into a pop-up corner shop in response to community need during lockdown. I think Jane Austen would approve.
What the Agent says...
Rob Price, Co-founder & Director, Homes Estate Agents, Alton Office
“Having grown up in Alton and been in local estate agency for 20 years, I feel fortunate to be living in such an attractive part of Hampshire and enjoy walks, cycling and great pubs right on my doorstep.
“Alton sits in a prime location between Guildford and Winchester, is well-connected via road and rail with quick access to the A31 and M3, and has a regular train service into London Waterloo.
“The market town has some pretty Georgian architecture with green spaces and parks dotted across the town. It is close to the South Downs National Park and surrounded by farmland, woodland and unspoilt countryside.
“Alton has tended to be overlooked by many buyers, but this is rapidly changing. People are discovering that it is more affordable than Petersfield, Winchester and Farnham. You can get more bricks for your money, without compromising on choice of property. For first- time buyers, young professional couples and families relocating for work, there is a broad range of properties.
“These include stylish new builds, Victorian villas in leafy streets, like Queen’s Road, pretty period cottages, large detached family homes on generous plots in sought-after King’s Road and Winchester Road, or city centre refurbished flats.
“Since the easing of lockdown we have seen a surge in interest from buyers relocating from further afield and those wanting to leave London on a quest for a better work/life balance.
“Covid-19 provided an opportunity for people to reassess their homes, working arrangements, prioritise well-being and plan for the future. In addition the Stamp Duty holiday and extension of the Help to Buy scheme have boosted the level of interest. All eyes are on Alton.”