The South Downs, boasting steep, wooded hills and countryside that inspired the novelist Jane Austen, has been named as the most expensive National Park in which to buy a home.

Over the last year, the area has toppled the New Forest to become the National Park with the highest average property price, according to research by Nationwide Building Society.

Spanning Hampshire and Sussex and containing around 47,000 households, the average price tag for a home in the South Downs is now £351,000, having increased by 10 per cent over the last 12 months. Historic towns and villages in the area include Petersfield, Midhurst, West Meon, Alfriston and Petworth.

The New Forest is second on the list, with the typical home there worth £346,000, while the Lake District is in third position, with homes there costing £251,000 on average.

The “premium” that home buyers pay to live in National Parks, which are sometimes described as “Britain’s breathing spaces” due to their vast expanses of open space, ancient woodlands and picture-perfect villages, has increased over the last year, according to the findings.

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