Why you should move to...Sonning-on-Thames
PUBLISHED: 16:02 08 February 2008 | UPDATED: 15:01 20 February 2013
Situated just outside Reading, this pretty Thames-side village is oozing with character, says Carol Evans...
WITH its pretty country cottages and weeping willows overhanging a sleepy river, Sonning is a classic example of the picture-postcard village for which rural Britain is renowned. The centre of this community, just a 10-minute drive from Reading, is now a conservation area and many of the properties that line the narrow roads are listed buildings.
St Andrew's Church which dates back to Saxon times and The Bull, a former pilgrims' guest house and now an inn still belonging to the church, are also listed properties. The village is home to many large mansions. Among the most impressive is The Deanery in Thames Street, an Edward Lutyens designed home with a Gertrude Jekyll garden set behind a redbrick wall said to be more than 400 years old. The house was originally built as a showhome for the founder of Country Life magazine in the early 1900s.
Psychic spoonbender Uri Geller also owns a huge riverside property here.
But there is more to Sonning than the quaint village centre. Crossing the river into neighbouring south Oxfordshire lies Sonning Eye, a tiny hamlet with a smattering of charming houses.
In the opposite direction, the parish extends across the A4 to its boundary with the railway line - the famous Sonning Cutting, an impressive steep-sided gully hand-dug in the mid 19th century by navvies as part of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Great Western Railway.
This is the more suburban side of Sonning, where private roads contain substantial family-sized homes on large plots, some with swimming pools and au pair suites. Sonning is a highly sought-after location and prices are among the highest in the area. Potential buyers can expect to pay around £350,000 for a semi-detached or terraced cottage up to £3 million-plus for a riverside mansion. It has escaped the claws of large housing developers and is now an interesting mix of old world charm and attractive 20th century architectural styles.
The village is well-placed for Reading's business parks and IT companies. "A lot of successful businessmen would be very attracted to Sonning as somewhere to live. There is a strong village community and it is close to Reading, particularly Thames Valley Park, off the A4," says David Tate, co-owner of Davis Tate estate agents. And it is the community spirit that makes this village so special.
There are numerous social clubs and societies, a twinning association with the French town of Ligugé, near Poitiers and sports clubs. A very active village amenity group, the Sonning and Sonning Eye Society, looks after parishioners' interests on highway and planning matters. "It's a tremendous place with a fantastic community feel to it. We could be out doing things every night," says Gordon Barnett, who edits the very newsy parish magazine.
The village contains two fine hotels with restaurants, a pub that serves good food and an excellent Indian restaurant. It also boasts its own professional theatre. The Mill at Sonning, a dinner-theatre which was the first of its kind in the country, created from a derelict 18th-century flour mill 25 years ago, which now hosts regular productions.
The village lost its only shop two years ago, but The Ivy, the Indian restaurant on High Street is open between 11am and 3pm to provide villagers with basic needs. However, nearby Woodley Precinct and Caversham both have a wide range of shops including a Waitrose supermarket. An award-winning florist, Sonning Flowers, has recently opened at The Old Forge in Pearson Road. Every two years, the community lets its hair down at the Sonning Festival, a three-day event which began as a Millennium activity in 2000. It includes a jazz concert, a picnic event and a village Scarecrow Trail.
The next Festival, which also encompasses the Sonning Regatta, takes place over the Spring Bank Holiday in 2008.
Out & about
Property Prices: Depending on location, prices range from around £200,000 for a mews maisonette up to £3 million for a substantial family home with extensive grounds. Asking prices for small two-bedroom, semi-detached or terraced cottages start around £350,000. A four-bedroom house on Sonning Meadows, an 80s-built development, is around £650,000 while a three-bedded extended 1920s semi can expect to go for £370,000.
Best areas: All parts of Sonning are highly desirable, although properties in the High Street, Pearson Road, parts of Thames Street and West Drive command the highest prices.
Ups: The riverside location makes Sonning one of the prettiest villages along the Thames. It has its own unique dinner theatre, The Mill at Sonning, hotels and restaurants and pleasant Thames-side walks. The village is four miles equidistant from Reading and Henley and well placed for the A4 and M4. The nearest railway stations are Reading
and Twyford, each with fast trains to London Paddington.
Downs: In the morning and evening rush hour, commuter and school traffic is very heavy in the queue to cross Sonning Bridge. A bid for another Thames crossing has been a controversial subject between local councils for years.
Amenities: Pearson Hall in Pearson Road is the hub of the village where local clubs and
societies meet. These include art groups, a flower arranging club, working men's club, the WI and the Royal British Legion. Amateur dramatic society, The Sonning Village Players, perform plays there regularly. On the sporting side, Sonning Golf, Hockey, Cricket and Tennis clubs are all highly regarded and attract members from a wide area.
Restaurants and Pubs:
The French Horn and The Great House face each other on opposite banks of the Thames and serve excellent food. The Bull is a cosy, 16th-century half-timbered inn next to the church, with an imaginative menu. The Ivy has been described by villager Gordon Barnett as 'serving the best Indian food outside India'.
Schools: The Reading Blue Coat School is a highly regarded independent school for boys (and sixth form girls) located at Holme Park in Sonning Lane. The Abbey, in Reading, is the nearest independent girls' school. Waingels College in Woodley and The Piggott School in Wargrave are the closest state comprehensives. Younger children can attend Sonning Primary School.
What the locals say: "It's a very sociable, caring community," says resident of 42 years, Jane Gascoine. "I just love this village. You only have to walk down the street and you'll see someone you know."