A Good Life In The Rural South

Parts of the south coast have been named among the top rural areas in Britain with the best quality of life.

A report by the Halifax says people in East Dorset have the highest life expectancy, at 82 years on average - while the Isle of Wight's been named as the sunniest place, with 37 hours of sunshine a week.

The South East dominated the list of countryside districts with the best lifestyles, with Northern England accounting for just three places in the top 50 through Selby, the East Riding of Yorkshire and Hambleton, while Scotland and Wales were not represented.

The Home Counties triumphed, with Uttlesford in Essex in second place and neighbouring East Hertfordshire third in the survey, which scored districts on a range of criteria including health and life expectancy, exam results, employment and earnings, the environment, crime rates and house price affordability.

Meanwhile, Rushcliffe and South Northamptonshire in the East Midlands were the only local authorities in the top 10 list from outside the South East or East of England.

Waverley takes its name from Waverley Abbey, reputedly the first Cistercian abbey in England.

The borough, which was recently a backdrop for Steven Spielberg's film War Horse, contains an area of outstanding natural beauty in Blackheath Common and is bordered by the North Downs. Its historic towns include Godalming, whose origins can be traced back to Saxon times.

The Halifax Quality of Life Survey found that Waverley performed strongly across the board in the factors it looked at.

Male Waverley residents have an average life expectancy of almost 81 years and 97% of the population generally is deemed to be in "good health". The average weekly wage in the area is £888 - significantly above the UK average of £609. The employment rate is almost 80%, which is also well above typical UK levels.

House prices are also relatively affordable at about £325,000, which is 5.6 times local earnings. Across rural Britain, house prices cost around six times annual earnings.

Martin Ellis, housing economist for Halifax, said: "While Waverley is not the top area in any one indicator, its strength is that it performs strongly across the board. The average resident has a high weekly income, enjoys above average health and life expectancy and low crime rates."

Nearly a third (16) of the 50 local authority districts with the highest quality of life were in the South East while the East of England claimed 13 spots and the East Midlands had 11.

Of the remainder, five places went to the South West, three to Yorkshire and the Humber and two were taken by the West Midlands.

While Northern England made a scant number of appearances on the top 50 list, the report found that the North tended to come out on top when it came to school exam results and house price affordability, as well as having relatively low population densities and amounts of traffic.

Copeland in the North West was the most affordable rural area to buy a house, with homes costing around three times local annual earnings. East Ayrshire in Scotland came in second place, with homes costing 3.6 times the local wage.

People looking for a rural retreat with low crime rates should head to the Orkney Islands, which has just one burglary for every 10,000 households. Traffic flows and population density were also found to be at their lowest in Scotland.

Here are the top 50 rural areas in Britain with the best quality of life, according to Halifax:

1. Waverley, South East

2. Uttlesford, East of England

3. East Hertfordshire, East of England

4. Chiltern, South East

5. Maldon, East of England

6. South Cambridgeshire, East of England

7. Rushcliffe, East Midlands

8. Vale of White Horse, South East

9. South Northamptonshire, East Midlands

10. South Oxfordshire, South East

11. Rutland, East Midlands

12. Mid Sussex, South East

13. Aylesbury Vale, South East

14. East Cambridgeshire, East of England

15. West Oxfordshire, South East

16. East Dorset, South West

17. Tandridge, South East

18. Harborough, East Midlands

19. Suffolk Coastal, East of England

20. West Berkshire, South East

21. Tonbridge and Malling, South East

22. South Kesteven, East Midlands

23. St Edmundsbury, East of England

24. Huntingdonshire, East of England

25. Wychavon, West Midlands

26. East Northamptonshire, East Midlands

27. New Forest, South East

28. Wealden, South East

29. Test Valley, South East

30. East Hampshire, South East

31. Mid Suffolk, East of England

32. North Kesteven, East Midlands

33. Selby, Yorkshire and the Humber

34. South Norfolk, East of England

35. Melton, East Midlands

36. Shepway, South East

37. Babergh, East of England

38. Tewkesbury, South West

39. East Riding of Yorkshire, Yorkshire and the Humber

40. Broadland, East of England

41. Cotswold, South West

42. Hambleton, Yorkshire and the Humber

43. Cherwell, South East

44. Malvern Hills, West Midlands

45. Hinckley and Bosworth, East Midlands

46. Forest Heath, East of England

47. Newark and Sherwood, East Midlands

48. Wiltshire, South West

49. Purbeck, South West

50. West Lindsey, East Midlands