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Sue Armstrong discovers home baking, roaring fires, country walks and intrigue in the village communities surrounding Buntingford
The picturesque village of Cottered can be found three miles west of Buntingford, divided from the town by rolling fields and countryside. The boundary of the Roman road, Stane Street, runs close by and the narrow roads and lanes have many tales to tell and plenty of interesting and centuries-old buildings to spy.
Amongst them is the 14th-century church of St John the Baptist with its tall spire marking the skyline. The ancient walls of the church contain an intriguing mural of St Christopher with a medieval backdrop dating from around 1500. Whilst the actual figures on the mural are now mainly obscured, the detailed background of the landscape is still quite clear. Theory has it that the drawing might have been intended as an illustration of Cottered village and the surrounding area all those years ago.
A strong community spirit exists in Cottered and the modern village hall is a magnet for a host of activities. The pub, The Bull, also gives people a good excuse to get together and enjoy regular evenings of entertainment.
Tina Reed has lived in the village for 28 years and is the lettings secretary for the village hall. The hall is at the heart of the community and is used for all sorts of activities including yoga, badminton, bowls and archery. Cottered is a very friendly place with plenty of social events and most of us know one another.
A thriving pre-school nursery Jumping Jacks has become established in the village, catering for two to five-year-olds. The nursery is owned by Lynne Premadas who opened it 15 years ago. I needed a nursery for my daughter, but there wasnt one in the village when we arrived, so I decided to start one up myself, explains Lynne. Cottered is a very peaceful village, with a good community spirit. Its a great place to bring up children.
Four miles west of Buntingford, Brent Pelham sits tucked away quietly, seemingly untouched by time.
The 16th-century Black Horse Inn provides a friendly welcome and everything you need for a relaxing drink or meal, with a roaring fire in the winter and a beautiful beer garden for the warmer months. Noel Payne has been managing the inn with his wife, Linda, for just a year now and says, When we first took over we arranged for the inn to be refurbished, in keeping with the age of the building of course, and the changes have proved very popular. Linda has also introduced a small library in the family room and people can come in and borrow a book for 50p with all the proceeds going to charity its one of the many charms of village life. Brent Pelham is a lovely village and the locals have made us really welcome theyre a good crowd!
Close by is the medievel church of St Mary the Virgin, set in a beautiful churchyard with stocks still on show near the main gate. The church has a fascinating tale to tell of Piers Shonks, who was Lord of the Manor of Pelham many centuries ago. Legand has it that he was a giant who lived on an island in Shonks Moat, just one mile east of Brent Pelham. One day when he was out hunting, he encountred a ferocious dragon and killed it with an arrow. Unfortunately for Shonks, the dragon was favoured by the devil who vowed vengeance on Shonks soul, whether he was buried inside or outside the church. Shonks decided to be buried in a cavity within the north wall of the church as a ploy that his soul rest in peace. And there the eleborate 11th-century tomb is said to lie, with an inscription that concludes: Shonks one serpent kills, tother defies and in this wall, as in a fortress lies.
If you travel just a couple of miles south of Buntingford youll arrive in the rural village of Westmill. Here youll find the idyllic setting of pretty cottages around a village green, a beautiful 11th-century church and a 14th-century inn you could almost imagine that time has stopped still.
The Westmill Tea Room provides the perfect opportunity to come indoors, out of the winter chill, and sample village life. Here you can sit in cosy surroundings overlooking the green and enjoy a warming cup of tea whilst tucking into some good old-fashioned home made cakes or scones. Locally produced Braughing sausages and delicious homemade soup are also included on the tempting menu.
Like many rural villages, Westmill was originally a farming community but only a few farms still operate here these days. One of them is Knights Hill Farm, just on the edge of the village, which is run by Julie and Bob Williams.
Ive lived in the area for over 50 years, explains Julie. My parents farmed here originally but when my father died my mother and I continued to run the farm together. When she became ill Bob, who was working nearby, came to help me weve been married now for 18 years.
Whilst we still farm on a small scale, around five years ago we began providing bed and breakfast too and we love meeting our varied guests. Many of them come to stay with us when they are visiting relatives in the area, others may be on business and weve also had guests from as far away as America or Australia who have been tracing their ancestry.
Our farmhouse is listed and dates back to the 19th century. It has lovely views over the farmyard pond and beyond to parkland. We encourage our guests to take advantage of the private walking in these historic surroundings or set off across the fields to the centre of Westmill. We can provide gumboots if needed particularly at this time of year!