Berkshire commuter towns: your guide to the best places to buy for connections, countryside and canals

Maidenhead offers Thameside living and good connections to the capital  (PA)
Maidenhead offers Thameside living and good connections to the capital (PA)

West Londoners tend to look along the M4 for inspiration when considering a move out of London.

Their first stop is Berkshire, possibly the most varied of the home counties, with its mash up of new towns and ancient settlements, Crossrail hotspots and backwaters, adorable country villages, and of course the most regal town in Britain.

House price growth in Berkshire has been an equally mixed bag over the past decade.

The best performers have been affordable pockets like Reading and Bracknell which have been gaining traction amongst buyers priced out of both London and more affluent areas.

If you are considering a move to the Royal County of Berkshire its sheer variety could seem overwhelming.

To help you choose the perfect spot, Homes & Property has curated a guide to the highlights of the county with up to the minute price data from estate agent Hamptons:

The train from Bracknell to Paddington takes under an hour (PA)
The train from Bracknell to Paddington takes under an hour (PA)

Value for money: Bracknell

In 1949 this sleepy market town was declared a new town and expanded to provide desperately needed homes for displaced post-war Londoners.

The legacy of this decision is far too many roundabouts and underpasses, and swathes of slightly dismal-looking, boxy estate homes (and many of the current crop of new homes are equally uninspired).

But Bracknell is also a bona fide regeneration zone, with a brand new town centre, a growing cluster of tech companies, and many practical plus points.

Affordability is an obvious reason to consider Bracknell. Average prices stand at £410,000, and you could pick up a flat for an average £232,000. Prices have fallen slightly this year but are still almost 12 per cent higher than at the start of the pandemic, and up 63 per cent in the past decade, the best performance of today’s towns.

Trains to Paddington take from just over 50 minutes, and there are also direct services into Waterloo, which take just over an hour.

All schools in the town hold an Ofsted rating of either “good” or “outstanding”.

Green space is also a plus point. There are town centre parks, of course, but also Swinley Forest, which offers 2,600 acres of Crown Estate open land perfect for walking and mountain biking just south of town.

The River Thames runs right through historic Windsor (Eduardo Vieira  / Pixabay)
The River Thames runs right through historic Windsor (Eduardo Vieira / Pixabay)

Most like London: Windsor

Set on the River Thames, steeped in history, and absolutely rammed with tourists, Londoners will feel perfectly at home in this ancient market town.

Windsor, which has provided a home to the royals since the days of William the Conqueror, also has great commuter links, schools, the Great Park, cute shops, and a thrumming restaurant and café scene.

Average prices in the town are amongst the most expensive in the county, at £605,000. The cost of living crisis and rising interest rates has taken a toll, with prices down four per cent during the past year but are still 13 per cent above pre pandemic levels. Over the past decade they have grown by a solid, not stellar, 42 per cent.

Reasons to live in Windsor include its schools which, like Bracknell, are all rated good or outstanding by Ofsted. trains to Waterloo take a fraction under an hour.

Castles aside, central Windsor property ranges from Victorian terraces to riverside townhouses and Georgian villas. The poshest spot is the golden triangle, bound by Osbourne Road, Frances Road, and Kings Road. A home here will make you popular when there’s a royal event on the horizon since its houses back onto or overlook the Long Walk which leads to the castle. But you’ll find better value to the west of the town centre.

Windsor has its own theatre, a contemporary arts venue, The Firestation, with a programme encompassing everything from film to comedy, and an annual music and literary festival. For younger readers, Legoland will be a big draw, while the Royal Windsor Horse Show was one of Queen Elizabeth’s favourite outings.

For a bite to eat you could hang out at Patch on the Plaza, an al fresco restaurant, serving an inventive seasonal menu – try pink houmous, lamb from Bagshot Park, or beer battered courgette flowers.

Or make the two mile journey out to Oakley Green to try out The Greene Oak, a gastropub run by two chefs formerly of The Ivy.

For cocktails there is The Eton Mess, just on the other side of the river. And in Bray, a village five miles from Windsor, you will find probably the richest concentration of Michelin starred dining rooms in Britain.

Kintbury offers canalside walks and waterside pubs (Michael Weir via Unsplash)
Kintbury offers canalside walks and waterside pubs (Michael Weir via Unsplash)

Least like London: Kintbury

Set within the North Wessex Downs, Kintbury is a tranquil and beautiful village beside the Kennet & Avon Canal. Being canalside means long walks or cycle rides down the towpath punctuated by one of the area’s waterside pubs.

Its diminutive size may come as a shock to Londoners, but Kintbury is big enough to have a village pub, The Blue Ball, a shop, and a primary school rated “good” by Ofsted. Older pupils will need to travel to either Hungerford (three miles) or Newbury (five miles), where school standards are also high.

A reason why Kintbury is particularly popular with those who will still need to travel regularly to London is that it has its own train station, with services to Paddington taking just over an hour.

Average prices in the RG17 postcode, which also includes Hungerford, stand at £474,000. For this sort of budget in Kintbury you could pick up a two or three bedroom period cottage in the centre of the village. Lower budget? You could buy a slightly dated three bedroom estate house for less than £350,000.

Average prices are 13 per cent higher today than they were back in 2019 and have grown by 41 per cent in the past decade.

Thameside  Maidenhead has open spaces and fast services to London (PA)
Thameside Maidenhead has open spaces and fast services to London (PA)

Best connected: Maidenhead

A year ago, Crossrail services to London began, heralding a new era of rail transport for the Domesday Book town of Maidenhead.

The town already had commuter trains to Liverpool Street (from just over 50 minutes) and fast services to Paddington (20 minutes). What Crossrail has brought to the party was a seamless transition onto the tube. Journeys to the West End take about 50 minutes.

For drivers the town is just north of the M4, and Heathrow Airport is 13 miles away. There are also bus services to Windsor, Bray, Reading, and Henley.

Despite its Thameside setting and long history, until recently Maidenhead was a bit of a dreary kind of place, dismissed as a “clone town” stuffed full of chain stores by the New Economics Foundation. But things are looking up.

There is a new leisure centre, work is underway on The Landing – a development of rental properties and shops in the town centre – and the sixties Nicholsons shopping centre is earmarked for redevelopment (although traders are fighting hard to block the plans).

Maidenhead is also blessed with plentiful open space, including the Braywick Nature Park, with its outdoor gym and sports pitches, and Kidwells Park, which has a skate park and hosts the annual Maidenhead Festival.

The average property price in the town stands at £605,000, with flats trading for just over £300,000. Values have dropped by five per cent in the past year, but are nine per cent higher than pre-pandemic prices and have jumped 56 per cent since 2013.

Neighbourhoods to know include Pinkneys Green, a villagey outpost two miles from the town centre which contains some of the area’s grandest homes, and Furze Platt, hugely popular with parents thanks to its outstanding primary school.

Reading has the cosmopolitan feel of a city with trains to Paddington taking under half an hour (Marco Zuppone / Unsplash)
Reading has the cosmopolitan feel of a city with trains to Paddington taking under half an hour (Marco Zuppone / Unsplash)

Family friendly: Reading

If Maidenhead is still a bit of a work in progress, then Reading is the finished article – a once-dreary commuter town which has seen seismic changes in recent years.

Although technically a town Reading has a city feel – and with 300,000-plus residents it is bigger than Newcastle or Nottingham. It is also properly cosmopolitan, with 150 languages spoken.

The most obvious reason Reading appeals to families is the incredible quality of its schools – ten mainstream state primaries rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, plus top rated grammar and non-selective senior schools for older pupils.

Transport links are good, with Crossrail services plus mainline services to Paddington (from 25 minutes).

There is masses to do for kids of all ages – walk the Thames Path, view the Bayeux Tapestry at Reading Museum, scale new heights at Parthian Climbing, visit Beale Wildlife Park, or take in a match at the Madejski Stadium.

Outdoor swimmers can do so in style at the impeccably restored Thames Lido, and Reading Festival is the highlight of the town’s year, with Billie Eilish, The Killers, and Sam Fender on the bill last summer.

Meanwhile, Reading’s restaurant scene is thriving with options like The Reading Room, at boutique hotel The Roseate, and The Corn Stores, a steak restaurant/ members club by the station.

Homes in Reading cost an average of £463,000 and have managed to push upward – admittedly only by 0.9 per cent – during the difficult last year. Values are up 19 per cent since 2019, and by an impressive 60 per cent since 2013.