Best of Both worlds?

Quieter than a city but with more facilities than a village, market towns are proving the ideal location for an increasing number of retirees

If you believe later life inevitably means moving to a traditional retirement location such as the coast or the countryside, think again – many of today’s retirees are heading for the café culture and growing culinary reputation of Britain’s market towns.

The big advantage of market towns is that they increasingly have the facilities of a city but on a far more human scale. Therefore they attract retirees moving up from villages where they may feel cut off, and moving down from large conurbations which may appear less hospitable to older residents.

“I’ve seen a lot of people wanting to move to market towns recently,” says Ben Pridden of estate agency Savills, which deals with large numbers of buyers approaching retirement or having already stopped work. “Post offices are closing and local village shops are struggling to stay open, making villages less appealing for people to retire to and in turn making market towns much more popular,”

Specialist retirement developers are often a good gauge of trends among older owners. “People may be attracted to retiring to the country, but the reality is that a move to a rural area can be too drastic on several levels,” says Angela South of specialist Beechcroft. “The most obvious is isolation; following severe winter weather there’s always a dramatic increase in the number of visitors from rural areas registering interest in market-town developments.

People may be attracted to retiring to the country, but a move to a rural area can be too drastic” – South

“Many buyers are aware they may need to give up their cars in the future. Living in the country means they’re reliant on private transport. A market town offers an excellent compromise: shops, services and open countryside within easy reach.”

There is no firm definition but the Association of Market Towns – an umbrella group to promote small communities – says the population of such a town will be between 2,000 and 35,000, and it will have good shopping including local specialist stores, plus a doctor’s surgery, bank and cashpoint, a library and a market.

Market towns typically have a good variety of property types, too – most such towns are historic so there will be Georgian, Victorian or even older homes, often close to the centre where a market tends to be held still on one or two days a week. But many also have convenient modern properties on the outskirts as the towns have grown in recent decades.

Diana Winterson, a retired book-keeper originally from Enfield in north London, wanted to move closer to relatives and to what she calls “a more liveable location”, so chose Ludlow in Shropshire. An amateur dramatics enthusiast, she found that she began to drop out of activities in London, and started going to fewer theatrical events, because travelling was difficult and expensive. Now she believes she goes to more events in a year than she did in London – and walks to most of them.

“I’d visited the town over the years and liked it. There was a lot of character but it offered almost all of the practical conveniences that I’d enjoyed in Highgate, plus a lot more in terms of culture and entertainment. It seemed a logical move and I’ve been very happy ever since,” she says.

Reports from estate agents suggest that many other prospective and existing retirees want to take a leaf out of her book and enjoy an increase in activity in later life, rather than the decrease that often happens in villages and big cities.

Location, location, location

Out of 200 or more market towns across the UK, which should you choose? Here are ten of the best, complete with typical property costs:

Ballater, Aberdeenshire

Ideal for active retirees with walks and cycle paths aplenty, and characterful homes offering great value for money, many with superb views.

Three-bed homes: from £225,000;

Bonus: Balmoral Castle and the Cairngorms are close by.

Burford, Oxfordshire

It’s hilly and expensive but beautiful and historic. It is also close to Oxford and Cheltenham yet surrounded by protected countryside.

Three-bed homes: from £450,000;

Bonus: Perfect for touring Cotswolds villages and gardens.

Dorchester, Dorset

There is plenty of variety here – classic homes in the centre with thoughtful, modern and environmentally friendly homes in trendy Poundbury on the town’s fringe.

Three-bed homes: from £325,000;

Bonus: Work is under way on a new shopping, leisure and housing complex.

Hay-on-Wye, Powys

Just on the Welsh side of the border, there are only 1,600 residents – but 80,000 visitors during June’s book festival. Thatched cottages and period houses abound.

Three-bed homes: from £375,000;

Bonus: Many retirees rent out their home during the festival.

Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

Perfect for retirees who love sailing, packed with character homes and good shopping for landlubbers.

Three-bed homes: from £425,000;

Bonus: Well under an hour by train from London so good for culture-vulture retirees.

Ludlow, Shropshire

There are more than 500 listed buildings, many from medieval times, and the town is surrounded by beautiful countryside.

Three-bed homes: from £300,000;

Bonus: The town has year-round music, drama and food festivals.

Pickering, North Yorkshire

This is Heartbeat country so expect beautiful stone houses and a friendly community. Plenty of tourists visit, so facilities are good and year-round.

Three-bed homes: from £250,000;

Bonus: Near the North York Moors National Park.

Totnes, Devon

There’s a relaxed foodie vibe to this town packed with independent shops and boasting one of the south-west’s busiest communities.

Three-bed homes: from £350,000;

Bonus: Centrally located for the sea, moors and booming Exeter.

Uppingham, Leicestershire

Its centre has period stone houses with newer estates and barn conversions on the outskirts. There is a great market and distinctive shops.

Three-bed homes: from £400,000;

Bonus: There’s yet another excellent market in nearby Oakham.

Wymondham, Norfolk

Despite a flurry of new house building, this is one of the prettiest market towns in East Anglia. The area is flat, characterful and has a tradition of excellent local food.

Three-bed homes: from £300,000;

Bonus: Nature parks, walks and bird-watching areas proliferate.

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