The only way is Essex for hidden gems

ROLLING countryside, boutique shops and country pubs – but most importantly not a vajazzle in sight. Essex has a whole lot more to offer than the controversial The Only Way is Essex TV series would like to portray. The area has all the charms and convenience of the most-desired Home Counties of Surrey and Kent. The landscape is beautiful and varied, stretching from countryside to coastline. The area is brimming with top schools too since it’s one of the few places in the country that held on to its grammar school system. Chelmsford and Colchester offer some of the best schools in the country.

And if anything, the county is more convenient for City workers to commute from. They can catch the train straight into Liverpool Street or use the M11 and A12 to reach the Docklands by road.

“The county is so much more than the TV show suggests,” says Jeremy Kemp, head of Savills Chelmsford office, “we have some extremely pretty and traditionally English villages and towns – some real hidden gems.” Ingatestone, Stock, Danbury, Little Baddow, Saffron Walden, the Colnes and The Dedham Vale all the way up to the Suffolk border including villages like Nayland, and Dedham are fantastic places to live. But with this much choice we had to go in search of the very best. Here’s our pick from every corner of the county.

Why it’s a gem: This winner of the Essex Village of the Year Competition is known for its community spirit. It has a communal allotment, orchard and an active village town hall. Famous resident and architect Onley Savill-Onley put great love and care into designing many of the village’s most distinctive buildings, in particular, their celebrated twisted chimney designs (see the big picture). He was also very keen on tree planting: legend says that one of every type of tree grown in England has been planted in this little place. The area is quiet with only a few cars passing along its roads. John Gibson, a resident and consultant to Savills says that the only time that the roads get congested is when the mums take their children to the extremely popular local primary school.

House prices: The average house price sits a little below the Essex average of £369,726 at £341,890. However, the village does have a number of high-end properties. Gibson recently sold a farmhouse there for £1.5m.

Commuting: Nearby Witham Station goes straight into London Liverpool Station in 45mins. Alternatively, commuting from Braintree, close to the local shopping village, will get you into London Liverpool Street in an hour. Great if you’re keen to hit the shops after work. Driving takes an 1hr 20mins along the M11.

Why it’s a gem: This town is famed for sailing on the River Crouch that leads out into the North Sea. Its waterside location means that there’s a strong community around the sailing clubs and there’s a great selection of seafood restaurants on the riverfront. “The restaurants on the waterfront are just fabulous,” says Stephen White of Savills’s Chelmsford office, “great for enjoying a glass of wine after a long day at work.” There’s also the opportunity to buy a home with your own private mooring in this town. It’s one of the few riverbeds in the British Isles that Her Majesty does not own. The town holds a charity fund-raising pub crawl twice a year. Typically more than 100 local people walk through the town in themed fancy dress raising money for The Samaritans.

House prices: While property prices in Burnham-on-Crouch look like a county bargin at £286,819, White warns that you need to add a further 20 per cent on to that price for anything on or close to the waterfront.

Commuting: Burnham-on-Crouch Station is a 1hr 10mins commute to London Liverpool Street. Driving to the City takes over an hour and half on either the A12 or A13, while commuting to Canary Wharf is slightly quicker at 1hr 20mins by car.

Why it’s a gem: Chipping Ongar is a commuter town through and through. Its traditional boutique shops and a local butcher give it the charms that people move out of the city for. But residents aren’t completely removed from it all. The town has a big Sainsbury’s and Tescos to ensure that country life doesn’t get too tricky. The hamlets surrounding the town hide authentic country pubs for local residents to explore. It’s also not far from Epping Forest – a great space for dog-walking and running around with small children. The town is a little more vibrant than places like Stisted since it has far more people.
House prices: The average home in this town is almost £200,000 more expensive than the Essex average. Chipping Ongar properties usually go for a whopping £585,202 thanks to the easy commute.

Commuting: Chipping Ongar is almost 30 miles from the City, taking just under an hour by car along the M11. But it’s 20 minutes quicker to get to Canary Wharf by car. Brentwood Station, 7.7 miles away from Chipping Ongar, offers rail access into the City. The train runs into Liverpool Street Station in 34mins. Alternatively, it’s a 6 mile drive to Epping underground station, which is on the Central Line.

Why it’s a gem: “Stock draws in loads of City people,” says White, “it’s a traditional village with four pubs, a supermarket and a cricket pitch.” Most of those that end up here have followed what locals call the A12 corridor migration pattern, where Londoners working in the City, start in Epping and work their way north to Stock as they get older. Nearby Ingatestone is similar, but Stock has the upper hand because it’s more sheltered from the noise of the motorway. It also has a popular Church of England primary school, some charming local boutique shops and a butcher.

House prices: Average house prices in Stock are at the top end of the Essex market at £713,808 with a fair few £2m plus homes knocking about.

Commuting: Commuters from Stock only need to hop aboard a train at Billericay station to reach London Liverpool Street in 30mins. The village is 33.8 miles from the City, so driving takes just under an hour.