Is Bristol or Bath to London a Realistic Commute?

When we first moved to Bristol and opened our office out West, the plan was to continue to work in London 3 or 4 days/week. That process continued for only three or four months.

With Bristol and Bath becoming major destinations for those looking to escape living, but not working in London, we thought it would be useful to have a reference point for people looking to see if commuting from the West is a viable plan. 

Firstly, on paper this doesn't look like a back-breaking journey - journey times are currently 80 or 90 minutes from Bristol Parkway or Bath Spa to London Paddington (105 minutes from Temple Meads). Parking is easy at each Bristol station, but varies from relatively cheap at £7/day at Parkway to £15-20/day at Temple Meads. Bath Spa has more difficult parking, but is more central, so parking should be less necessary. 

The big news round these parts is that these train journey times are set to be reduced by a further 20 minutes when the Great Western Railway electrifies at some point (although recent news seems to be suggesting that the completion date will now be much further away than expected - 6 years longer!). That would put journey times from the West Country to London on a par with locations more traditionally labelled as commuter belt (I'm looking at you, Guildford). 

Or would it?

When I was commuting on a more regular basis, it dawned on me that the headline 1hr 20mins train time was actually 2hr 30mins door to door from NW Bristol to Threadneedle St. This was therefore 5hrs/day of travelling. Yes, a lot of it was overland with various degrees of internet connectivity (Bristol to Swindon - none, Swindon to Reading - 3G, Reading to London - 4G), so work could be done, but it's the way back that kills you with a commute like that. Some wind down by watching a downloaded film, some refer to the evening London to Bristol/Bath trains as the 'Cider Express', and remain standing in the buffet car for the entire journey - not a good idea if you've left your car at the station.

But my problem was working in the City. I would argue that if your work was based in the Paddington area, then the West Country is a much more viable option than most of the other commuter-belt options out there. Both Bristol Stations offer Brompton Bike Hire which, for the more adventurous commuter, offers the option to get moving as soon as you arrive in Paddington ( www.bromptonbikehire.com ). And at £2.50/day, the Brompton is not only healthier, but cheaper than the tube. The Brompton would allow you to get to Marble Arch/Mayfair/Picadilly areas in 5-10 minutes from Paddington. I used to find that it would take me 25mins to actually get on the tube to the City. *can I just say that if 100 people read this article and move to the West with the Brompton solution in mind - there ARE NOT 100 Bromptons available!

What we did...

After 15 years in London, our plan when moving to the West was to keep our London focus. This was based on our understanding that London was the center of everything and there wasn't enough business outside of the City to survive. This was, of course, ludicrous. Yes, within 3-4 months of moving to the West, I was very tired of the commute, but I was also falling in love with the West and building an understanding of the markets out here. There are dozens of major financial institutions, law firms, consultancies and commercial organisations. Several industries have the West as their base and new tech sectors are booming. We have kept our core client base in London and still venture over for client meetings and candidate interviews, but I don't feel that ritually commuting to London more than 2-3 days/week is feasible for the long-term. Commuting to the City is a definite 'no'.

I'm going to offer you a breakdown of the costs of travel and accommodation next. Both obviously play a massive part in any decision-making. The cost of travel is almost certainly significantly higher than more traditional home counties commuter belt commuting. 

Bath

Annual season ticket: £9,396 (+ car parking, bus or taxi)

New journey: About 60 minutes (now delayed by 6 years)

The exodus west has been under way for some time in Bath, which explains why its property prices have appreciated by 42 per cent in the past decade.

Many buyers come from London and are attracted to period properties, within walking distance of the station.

The ambience and the architecture draw incomers to the city centre. For those seeking bucolic charm, the nearby villages of Biddestone, Kington St Michael and Lacock fit the bill.

However, if you want more house for your money, try nearby Chippenham where the average price for a semi-detached was £205,072 last year and detached homes sold for £341,969.

Bristol

Annual season ticket: £11,120 (+ car parking, bus or taxi)

New journey: 60-80 minutes (now delayed by 6 years)

Bristol has one of today’s hottest property markets outside London, with prices up 46 per cent in the past decade, according to Knight Frank.

According to Rightmove, the majority of sales last year were terraced properties with an average price of £236,950. Flats sold for £193,459 on average. For a good value family home in an up-and-coming area, Toogood recommends Totterdown where a three-bedroom, period terraced house costs about £320,000.