10 reasons to visit Wheathampstead

PUBLISHED: 19:45 29 December 2015 | UPDATED: 19:45 29 December 2015

St Helen's - burial place of Antarctic explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard

St Helen's - burial place of Antarctic explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard


There are plenty of reasons to visit the picturesque village of Wheathampstead. Damion Roberts discovers 10 of the best

View down the High StreetView down the High Street

1 The River Lea runs through the heart of Wheathampstead at the bottom of the High Street where it meets Station Road. The source of the Lea is in the Chiltern Hills, and the lush valley surrounding it was historically one of the reasons the area between Harpenden and Welwyn GC was settled. Walking along the river you can see a variety of wildlife, while occasionally you may come across an angler hoping to catch a bite. The Lea Valley walk takes in Wheathampstead on its journey from north of Luton to the Thames at Limehouse.

2 From Devil’s Dyke to Nomansland Common, there are some intriguingly-named places in and around the village. The former is an earthwork dating back some 2,000 years, while the latter, on the southern outskirts of Wheathampstead, has been used for livestock grazing for more than 6,000 years. There is a deep sense of history in the village, as some of its road names suggest: Saxon, Tudor and Caesar’s.

3 Every year on the last Thursday of November, the town hosts its Christmas Lights Up. The parish council works with the Wheathampstead Business Group to organise the switch-on, which begins the Christmas season. There are stalls selling food, rides for children, choirs singing carols and, if you are lucky, you may also get to see Santa himself.

The River LeaThe River Lea

4 The Wicked Lady, on the outskirts of the village, is a pub with one of the most intriguing names. Its sign depicts a highwaywoman, complete with eye-mask, tricorn hat and pistol in her hand. Local legend says the ghost of a rider and her trusty steed appears in the surrounding lanes, continuing to terrorise the area known in the 17th century for its highway hold-ups by a woman. One theory is that the woman was Katherine Ferrers, an aristocrat who turned to robbing carriages until her mysterious death aged 26. The legend has inspired several films, most notably the 1945 Gainsborough Pictures version starring Margaret Lockwood.

5 Many people are tempted to get on their bikes or get walking as part of a New Year fitness resolution, and Wheathampstead offers the January cyclist and rambler an attractive and safe route from the village to Welwyn GC. The Ayot Greenway follows a former railway line and stretches around five miles.

The Bull by the river in the heart of the villageThe Bull by the river in the heart of the village

6 The Crinkle-Crankle Wall. Yes, that’s right. Crinkle-crankle. Made one-brick thin, these walls were made to economise on bricks without the need for buttresses, constructed in a sinuous shape so they didn’t topple. It is also why sometimes they are referred to as Wavy Walls. There is only one in Hertfordshire, and it is around the Old Rectory in Wheathampstead.

7 Wheathampstead has some 150 acres of open space and playing fields, making a trip to the village ideal for those who enjoy a crisp winter stroll. The spaces include two nature reserves – Butterfield and Marshalls Heath – and two County Wildlife sites – Bower Heath and Gustard Wood, the latter taking its name from the Old English for gorse or juniper.

8 For an opportunity to get your mitts on a Christmas pudding on November 28, St Helen’s and St Peter’s Christmas Fair will be held at St Helen’s (left) from 11am. There will be cakes and Christmas puds, a Santa’s grotto, stalls, tombolas, craft activities and mulled wine. What better way to get set for the festivities?

9 It’s not often a grave site features on a reasons-to-visit list, but this one deserves a mention. It is in St Helen’s Churchyard in memory of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who was part of the Terra Nova expedition of in 1910-13 which saw Robert Scott lead a party bidding to be the first to reach the South Pole. Cherry-Garrard had a deep love of exploring and his is a story about the endeavours of the human spirit. He tells his extraordinary tale in his 1922 autobiography, The Worst Journey in the World.

10 Wheathampstead is blessed with great pubs and restaurants including the Swan and the Elephant and Castle, which make for great Christmas celebration destinations. The Bull, by the river in the heart of the village (below), offers a wide selection of food to choose from on its Christmas menu. Starters: Truffle oil baked mushrooms, salmon gravlax, bourbon-glazed chicken wings, roasted root-vegetable soup with honey and black pepper. Mains: Hand-carved roast turkey, baked seabass thermidor, mushroom, brie and hazelnut Wellington, 30-day aged rump steak. Desserts: Mulled Victoria plum pie, Belgian chocolate torte, traditional Christmas pudding and rose and mint crème brûlée.

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