It took Julie Thompson Dredge and her husband Toby Chappell years to make the move out of London. But when they did, their timing was sublime.
They moved to Petersfield in Hampshire in February 2020 — which meant that rather than being stuck in a three-bedroom flat with two young children, they spent lockdown in a five-bedroom house with a third of an acre of garden.
The couple were just ahead of the curve in terms of moving out of London, a trend which has been ignited by lockdown.
For those still looking for an exit strategy, Hampshire is a county which has everything from charming cities to rural villages, although its hotspots tend not to be shoestring budget options.
Moving to Petersfield
Just on the fringes of the South Downs, you won’t go short of open country in this historic Hampshire town, which is great for walkers, runners and cyclists.
In the town centre, the physic garden — a 17th-century herb garden — is a lovely little oasis.
Petersfield is a busy local centre with lots of annual fairs and festivals, it has a resident-run community garden and Petersfield Festival Hall hosts plays and concerts year round.
There is a sports centre with a pool, a lido and tennis courts, as well as lots of sports teams to join. All the local schools are rated either good or outstanding by Ofsted.
Because Thompson Dredge and Chappell were in the happy position of having two London flats to sell, the move has worked out well financially for them. Their new house cost £1 million, slightly less than the combined value of their flats.
Two years on and the couple’s children — Sylvie, four, and Rufus, three — can barely remember living anywhere but Petersfield.
Thompson Dredge, 43, runs her own public relations company and has found working remotely a more productive way to operate. Chappell, 46, is now closer to where his company, Trader Motor Yachts which designs and builds boats, is based.
“We feel amazingly lucky, both with our house and with the town,” says Thompson Dredge. “So far, fingers crossed, it has worked out perfectly.”
For someone used to the buzz of London, Thompson Dredge agrees Petersfield might feel quite sleepy but on the flipside a particularly pleasant surprise about life in the town has been the local community.
“They have been incredibly open and warm,” she says. “It is an unpretentious sort of place — not the blow dry and Range Rover set you can get in Surrey.”
Moving to Winchester
Set on the river Itchen and beside the South Downs, Winchester has a charming old city centre but it is vibrant and quirky enough to keep Londoners happy.
There are lots of hipster-friendly little cafes, traditional pubs and cocktail and wine bars, so you won’t miss your cafe culture too much. You will also find there are some really excellent independent boutiques to explore.
Annual events include a wine festival, several music festivals and later this year the city will host the region’s first design festival, too.
It’s handy for the south coast, while trains to Waterloo take just over an hour. All but one of Winchester’s schools are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, which is a lot better odds than you’re likely to find in London.
Buying agent Emma Seaton, a director of Prime Purchase, her husband and their two children left a three-bedroom terrace in Wandsworth and traded up to a five-bedroom house with an acre of gardens in one of the city’s satellite villages four years ago.
“We picked Winchester because of the commute and because it is still a great city which gives you history, architecture and lots of independent cafes, shops, and restaurants. And there is amazing countryside all around it,” she says.
“I love the diversity of Winchester, it is a bit like Chiswick or Muswell Hill and it does not have the tweeness that somewhere like Hazelmere has.”
Winchester, like Bath, Brighton, Oxford and Cambridge, is not a cheap option — Seaton’s move added an extra £200,000 to her mortgage.
If you want one of the dreamy period townhouses right in the centre of the city or one of its smart satellite villages like Sparsholt or Micheldever, you are looking at asking prices upwards of £1 million — yes, London prices.
But there are streets of Victorian terraces and semis priced from about £600,000, and a budget of £400,000 to £500,000 would buy a two to three-bedroom terraced cottage in town.
Moving to the New Forest
This 285 square miles of ancient forest sits right on the south coast and is heaven for outdoorsy types. It is perfect for walking, running or letting a horse do the hard work.
Its herds of roaming ponies add to the ahh factor, although the attentions of generations of treat-wielding tourists mean that they can’t really be classed as wild anymore.
There are lots of activities, from a day out at the National Motor Museum Beaulieu to Peppa Pig World, or catching a movie at the art deco Regent Centre cinema in Christchurch.
Nightlife is fairly low key although one thing the New Forest does very well is country pubs. And things get livelier on the coast, particularly around the yachting town of Lymington.
Traditionally the forest has been seen as too far away for London commuters but the pandemic has changed all that.
“Over the past year we have had a big groundswell of people thinking: ‘I have done my time in Fulham with a 10 sq ft garden, and there is no reason for me to be in London anymore’,” says Kevin Allen, associate director at John D Wood estate agents.
The forest’s big catch, however, is its prices. Allen recommends both Lymington and pretty Brockenhurst, which has a good high street and train services to London (about 90 minutes to Waterloo). Both have great schools, although during the summer the towns are besieged by tourists.
A four-bedroom house in one of these areas would cost about £1 million.
For more bang for your buck you could go for New Milton, which also has a station but is more built up and less quaint than Brockenhurst.
Alternatively try Sway, a sleepy village light on amenity but heavy on charm. Here a similar house would cost about £800,000.
Or you could look at the market town of Ringwood, where a four-bedroom house is likely to cost from about £750,000.