Hertfordshire offers rural idylls and compact towns in prime commuter territory.
What to expect living in Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire ranked third in the top 10 places to live in 2015, according to uSwitch's Best Places to Live in The UK Quality of Life Index.
It has a combination of vibrant towns and, because much of the county is protected by the Green Belt, swathes of unspoiled countryside. It’s also just a short journey to London.
Average property prices currently stand at £489,124, significantly higher than the national average of £297,893, according to Zoopla.
Where to start your property search
If you’re planning to commute from the countryside, there’s a variety of pretty villages to choose from. Ashwell, Barley, Harpenden and Aldbury all made the cut in Country Life’s 2016 Best Places to Live for Commuters survey.
You’ll find award-winning independent businesses, an art gallery and several pubs in the heart of Ashwell. It also hosts a country fair and music festival. Luxury properties, new-build homes and more affordable semi-detached and terraced houses are all available here. Trains from Ashwell & Morden station to London Kings Cross take 43 minutes.
The villages of Much Hadham (38-minute train journey from Bishop’s Stortford to London Liverpool Street) and Aldbury (37-minute train journey from Tring to London Euston) are particularly picturesque. So much so, that Aldbury, with its attractive period properties, many timber-framed, has been used as a set for ITV drama series Midsomer Murders.
For town centre living:
But if you’re after the buzz of urban life, try the county town of Hertford, which offers plenty of green space, good schools and a healthy economy. Property ranges from flats, terraces and town houses, to detached and luxury abodes, including new-build homes.
The leafy town of Harpenden is full of Elizabethan and Jacobean architecture, as well as modern builds, and is conveniently situated between the M1 and A1(M). Trains between to London Blackfriars take 39 minutes. Alternatively, try Hertford for its small-town charm.
And if you’re looking for something a little more bustling, Watford is a popular choice. It offers particularly easy access to London, plenty of shopping opportunities as well as industrial and business parks.
Likewise, the prosperous, historic Cathedral city of St Albans offers good transport links, attractive suburban streets, several large parks and many excellent schools – both state and independent.
For the best combination of rural and urban living, Welwyn Garden City was designed in the 1920s with the specific aim of combining the benefits of the city with countryside living, avoiding the disadvantages of both.
Getting around in Hertfordshire
Train: Hertfordshire is well served by the national rail network, with four main lines linking the county with the Midlands, the north of England, Scotland and Wales.
Car: The M1 and A1(M) stretches from the north of England to London, cutting through Hertfordshire. And the M25, which circles London, also passes through the county. Meanwhile, the M11 skirts the edge of the county, just over the border in Cambridgeshire and Essex.
Air: London Luton Airport in Bedfordshire and Stansted Airport in Cambridgeshire are the closest international airports, both just a 30-minute drive from Hertford. But thanks to the road and rail network, Gatwick and Heathrow are also within easy reach.
Things to do in Hertfordshire
The great outdoors:
Hertfordshire is well known for its countryside, and you’ll have immediate access to the rolling hills, farmland and woodland of the Green Belt.
There are plenty of walking and cycling opportunities in the area. Look out for the River Lea’s towpaths and the disused railway line on the Cole Green Way in Hertford.
Meanwhile, the 26-mile-long, 10,000-acre Lee Valley Regional Park, which runs along the south-east border of Hertfordshire, provides outdoor and sporting activities as well as walking routes.
Parks are scattered across the county, with St Albans’ award-winning Verulamium Park among the best. This 100-acre space is named after the Roman city on which it stands, and the old city walls are still visible today. A museum on the site houses objects excavated from the area.
You can also get close to nature at the Paradise Wildlife Park in Broxbourne and the Butterfly World Project in St Albans, both of which are particularly suitable for a family day out.
History and heritage:
St Albans Cathedral marks the burial site of Britain’s first martyr, and has been a place of pilgrimage for more than 1,700 years. Several structures are thought to have existed on the site, but today’s cathedral, a former abbey, is of Norman Romanesque style, built between 1077 and 1115.
Berkhamsted Castle is evidence of the county’s strategic importance in the 11th to 13th centuries, following the Norman conquest. And great estates such as Old Gorhambury House and Hatfield House hark back to the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras.
More recently, Hertfordshire was home to sculptor Henry Moore, whose house, studios and gardens can be visited at Perry Green, and playwright George Bernard Shaw, whose country home, Shaw’s Corner, is now owned by the National Trust.
The county is synonymous with the British film industry, with such blockbusters as Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and The King’s Speech made at its Elstree Film Studios.
Perhaps better known today, though, are the Warner Bros Studios in Leavesden, where the Harry Potter films were produced. Here, you can immerse yourself in the world of Hogwarts through the Warner Bros Studio Tour.
Scott’s Grotto in Ware was built in the 18th century in the grounds of what is now called Amwell House, by Quaker poet John Scott, the owner of the estate at that time.
Extending 20 metres into the chalk hillside, this series of connected chambers is decorated with thousands of shells and pieces of flint and coloured glass.
Narrowly avoiding complete demolition in the 1960s, it was restored in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and is now a Grade I listed building. On the hill above, there is also a Grade II listed summerhouse.
Reasons to live in Hertfordshire
Excellent transport links and short London commute
An abundance of green spaces and easy access to the countryside
Plenty of ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ state schools, as well as top-performing independents
Rich heritage, with many historic and cultural sites and events