Award-winning credentials for residents, but just what and where is Hart? Asks Emma Caulton

It depends on which survey you accept, but according to the one compiled by the Halifax bank, Hampshire’s Hart district was recently crowned the most desirable place to live in the UK for the fifth year in a row. Yes, that’s right, the fifth consecutive year. It is getting to be a habit. This is not purely subjective. It is based on statistics with the area scoring highly for health, wellbeing and low crime rates. Personally, I would chuck at least two or three more elements into the mix, including commute and countryside.

Yet some in the country, even the county, may be wondering where and what exactly is the Hart district. Without a sizeable town or city at its heart (pun intended) or a landscape with particularly striking features, it is not a distinctive entity. Hart comprises a group of small towns and large villages in the north-eastern corner of the county. It is centred around Fleet, home of Hart District Council, but includes Hartley Wintney, Odiham and Yateley as well as a number of small, picturesque and tucked-away villages.

For those in the know, it has long been on the list of convenient and comfortable places to live, particularly if you work up in London. The train service from Fleet to London Waterloo is about 44 minutes and many of the town’s homes are within walking distance of the station, including Pondtail, abutting Fleet Pond, with an appealing mix of properties of various ages and styles. However Fleet’s most desirable address is considered to be the so-called ‘Blue Triangle’, older, larger houses in big plots in an area defined by the High Street, Reading Road North and Elvetham Road.

Back to the railway line: the next stop out of London is a country station at Winchfield, adding just ten minutes to the journey, and easy to get to from both Odiham and Hartley Wintney. However there are loud mutterings about developing a new town here which would disturb this corner’s rural calm. Next station along is the very much developed Hook, with a train service that still reaches London in less than an hour. The area is also well served by major roads: the M3 dissects Hart, while the A31 runs south of the district and the M4 runs to the north, beyond Eversley.

It’s the quality of life for families that attracts many moving out of London and its south-west suburbs. There’s a profusion of green spaces, such as Fleet Pond, Basingstoke Canal, Eversley Common, Yateley Common Country Park and Wellington Country Park for starters. Heathland and countryside are scattered with an abundance of charming villages to discover. I’m thinking Dogmersfield, Crondall, Well, Greywell, North and South Warnborough, Rotherwick, Mattingley and more, made pretty with old rectories, Edwardian country houses, cute cottages,traditional greens and cosy pubs.

Despite not having a big town at its centre, shoppers are well provided for. Fleet has a useful mix of independents and names, although locals tend to go to Basingstoke for the big brands, while Odiham and Hartley Wintney delight with an array of quality fashion and homeware boutiques, butchers, bakers, cafes and the like.

Inevitably this combination of commute, countryside and convenience has meant the area (particularly Fleet, Hook and Yateley) has seen substantial development over the last 20 to 30 years. This has run the gamut from popular Elvetham Heath on the edge of Fleet, which I consider an exercise in how to create a new community, to small and well-considered developments of townhouses in Hartley Wintney. I see there’s a new Charles Church development at Odiham which I hope will be similarly sympathetic. The demand is largely for family homes, and the infrastructure has struggled in part to keep up.

Schools have also struggled with the growth in demand with many (typically rated Good and Outstanding by Ofsted) oversubscribed. In Fleet, Heatherside Junior and Elvetham Heath Primary are Outstanding, while Court Moor and Calthorpe secondary schools are both Good and feed into Farnborough Sixth Form College - rated Outstanding.

Elsewhere in the district it’s a similar story of mostly Goods and Outstandings. Crondall Primary and Westfields Junior are both Outstanding, while Hook Junior, Long Sutton, Dogmersfield and Whitewater Primaries are all Good. Robert May Secondary School (Odiham) is Good and Yateley Secondary Requires Improvement with Good aspects (however it is still oversubscribed) and nearby Frogmore Community College is Good (yet undersubscribed).

For those looking for private schools, the area is chock-a-block with quality independents, such as The Grey House (prep school at Hartley Wintney), Yateley Manor (prep school in Yateley), St Nicholas (impressive girls’ school in Fleet) and Lord Wandsworth College (co-educational day and boarding school in Long Sutton).

All in all, Hart is very much as described in Halifax’s survey: well-connected, safe and family-orientated. House prices, as can be expected for an area within a good commute of London, are robust. Although estates of modern family homes dominate in parts, there’s a good variety of period properties. Life is easy with lively centres, good communities, and easily accessible green spaces. There’s also a decent selection of choices for eating out. Restaurants include smart Four Seasons at Dogmersfield and Tylney Hall in Rotherwick. Good country pubs include the likes of Phoenix Inn in Hartley Wintney, The Exchequer at Crookham, The Coach and Horses and Falcon Inn, both in Rotherwick, and The Leather Bottle in Mattingley, plus many more.

Hart is, understandably, a favourite with families. In my experience, many who move here when their families are young find the living so easy that they stay. And despite garnering ‘best place to live’ titles, it is, in my view, still under-the-radar and under-rated, and all the better for that.

More property…

Living the vintage dream in the New Forest - Emma Barcia is living and working the vintage dream, Emma Caulton visits her at home in the New Forest

Making the most of natural light in your seaside home - The art to good interiors is always about the light – but when you live by the coast nothing underlines life by the sea more than making the most of natural light