It is possible to have the best of both worlds – a taste of the country in the city? Words: Karen Tait
The grass is always greener on the other side. It’s easy to long for a city buzz if you’re stuck in the depths of the countryside, or for pastoral peace when rushing around London, late for your next appointment.
Despite the negative image many people have of the city – a dirty, noisy, hectic place – there are pockets of peace in London that feel more like a village than a concrete jungle. With the upsurge in popularity of farmer’s markets and artisan shops, there are more opportunities to lead a country-style life in the city than ever before.
London has always been a city made up of many villages, but especially so now when it seems like almost every week a new ‘village’ pops up. Cynics might say that just by adding the word ‘village’ to a London location, house prices go up, but there’s more to it than that. It’s the sense of community that makes the difference, and that comes from the environment as well as the residents.
Some of the best villages across the capital include Marylebone Village, Shepherd Market, Chelsea Green, Bermondsey Street, East Bloomsbury, Exmouth Market, Little Venice, Hampstead, Highgate, Stoke Newington’s Church Street, Wimbledon, Barnes and Peckham’s Bellenden Road and Victoria Park Village.
They’re characterised by quaint shops, friendly cafés and a welcoming pub, with good schools in the vicinity. No self-respecting village is without a festival or fete either, along with other village-like events such as craft fairs, Christmas markets and school open days.
Farmers markets bring a real taste of the country to the city, both literally and figuratively. You can find them all across the capital, with some great ones in Marylebone, Pimlico, Balham, Islington, Brixton, South Kensington, Peckham, Walthamstow and Wimbledon.
A village green is the cherry on the icing, where people can enjoy a quiet al fresco lunch, take their kids to play or soak up some sun – Parson’s Green and Newington Green are good examples.
‘Residents of Marylebone, when walking along the High Street, can greet their neighbours and local shop keepers just as they would in a small country market town, with the weekly Sunday farmer’s market offering further opportunities for a gossip with local faces’ comments Simon Hedley of London agents Druce. ‘Although we are in the centre of London, there is very much a rural community feel in our London village – albeit a rather glamorous one.
‘In the last few years we have seen a growth in the number of downsizers coming back into central London locations, having sold up, or handed down to children, their large country houses. The like the proximity of Marylebone to the capital’s theatres, shops and museums as well as the ease of keeping a smaller, low maintenance, property in town. Not willing to completely give up on the country lifestyle, we find these buyers often are looking for low maintenance gardens or terraces, where they can continue to keep herbs and some pots and climbers.’
Developers know the value of a village name too – Berkeley Homes’ Kidbrooke Village has rise like a phoenix out of the flames in south-east London, while Greenwich Peninsula bills itself as ‘London’s ultimate village’ with its Urban Village Fete celebrating local design, music, art and craftsmanship.
Of course, there’s more to the country than close communities. Green space is at the heart of a country lifestyle, but in London you can have that too. In fact, some 47% of London is green space, according to Greenspace Information for Greater London, which is proposing that the capital becomes become the UK’s newest national park.
From formal parks to rambling commons, London has it all. At the heart of the city, Hyde Park and Kensington Palace Gardens are beloved by locals and tourists alike, with properties overlooking the park commanding some of the highest prices in the capital. You can get lost in huge swathes of green space on Hampstead Heath, Wimbledon Common or Regent’s Park, and genuinely feel as if you’re in the country; Richmond Park is the largest green space at 995ha.
‘Living close to London’s parks presents the best of both worlds for those who keep the country close to their heart yet want the benefit of central London nearby,’ says Natasha Dunn, Sales Associate at Savills Richmond. ‘In Richmond, residents don hunter wellies and a barbour to stomp around the park (or pick up milk); you can feel like you’re in the country yet not look out of place. It also helps that we’re surrounded by country-style houses, pubs and restaurants; between The Dysart and The Lass O’Richmond, it can be easy to forget you’re in London.’
Country chic homes
For a leafy outlook and community focus, London’s garden squares and communal gardens are hard to beat, although you’ll pay more for homes in these sought-after locations.
Growing families seeking larger private gardens (and homes) often move out of Zones 1 and 2, swapping Notting Hill for Ealing or Chelsea for Chiswick, for example. But you don’t have to leave the heart of the city. Here you can find country style homes tucked away in quaint cobbled mews or in leafy streets lined with pretty Victorian terraces. And once you close your front door, you can create your own rural retreat wherever you are in London, with farmhouse kitchens and pastoral decor.