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In Royal regard: St Paul's Walden and Whitwell

PUBLISHED: 17:51 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:06 20 February 2013

The memorial at All Saints Church for the late Queen Mother

The memorial at All Saints Church for the late Queen Mother

Only a mile separates the narrow villages of St Paul's Walden and Whitwell, which breathe together as one close knit community - fiercely proud of its royal heritage. Jessica Clark takes a look at what keeps the parish of St Paul's Walden ticking

Only a mile separates the narrow villages of St Paul's Walden and Whitwell, which breathe together as one close knit community - fiercely proud of its royal heritage. Jessica Clark takes a look at what keeps the parish of St Paul's Walden ticking

PUBS bustle with regulars, walkers reappear and disappear down country paths and repeated friendly greetings echo in the air - the atmosphere of the villages is evident on a bright early spring afternoon. In Whitwell early brick and half-timbered houses line the main road, while the winding network of roads reveals beautiful houses tucked behind the scenery in St Paul's Walden.
Many years ago St Paul's Walden was the larger of the villages, but it is plainly clear this is no longer the case - with Whitwell outgrowing its neighbour over the years. It provides the parish school, St Paul's Walden Primary School, Whitwell Post Office & Stores, and two pubs - The Maidens Head and The Bull - although the parish All Saints Church, dating back to the 14th century, sits proudly on the main road through St Paul's Walden. It is easy to imagine the meadows and fields rolling deep into the distance, but Stevenage is just four miles away while the town of Hitchin is only around six miles north of the parish.
It is one former resident who really put the villages' names on the map - the parish proudly played home to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, during her childhood and youth. The popular royal figure grew up in the stately home of St Paul's Walden Bury, standing elegantly between the two villages. It is even rumoured that it was within the grand gardens of her home that she finally accepted a proposal of marriage from Prince Albert.
It is a history villagers are honoured by, with The Queen Mother's regard in the area best exampled by her striking memorial at All Saints Church. Simon Bowes-Lyon, nephew to the late Queen Mother, and his wife Caroline are the current family owners of the house and are keen to share the beauty of their Grade I listed gardens with the rest of the community, and in fact the country.
Inspired by French design, the gardens have stayed in exactly the same style since the 1720s when the family first owned the house. The couple open up their spectacular gardens three days a year to the public, or with help from local organisations, and raise money for charities in the area. Grand statues, a man-made lake and geometric avenues flowing into the countryside, along with a colourful display of flowers, makes for a popular attraction in the warmer months.
Caroline Bowes-Lyon says, 'We're very involved in the village life so we do enjoy opening up the garden. I think the history of the home and the gardens is something that is quite prominent in the village. The memorial just shows how well thought of the Queen Mother is in the area.
'It's lovely to involve the local community but we have people from all over come to view the gardens. In the summer we have open-air concerts and theatre shows which are wonderful. Parts of the grounds are public footpaths and there are woods open to the public.'
Another vibrant part of village life is Nine Wells Farm on the edge of Whitwell which has been growing watercress for nearly 200 years. It is now only one of two such farms in the county, selling its produce far and wide as well as at local farmers' markets. Named after its nine wells that provide vital fresh spring water, the farm's growing process hasn't changed since the day it started. The ownership of the family-run business is passed down to each generation, and is currently owned by brothers Ron and Patrick Sansom.
Thelma Sansom, 65, who has lived in Whitwell all her life, has helped out on the farm since marrying Ron.
She says, 'It's been here for so long that it has become a landmark and is one of the historic parts of village life in Whitwell.
'The parish is a lovely place, it is changing and becoming expensive but it's still just as lovely as always. It's important, if we can, to retain the village life, but we don't want to stand in the way of change. It's the friendliness and concern for one another that makes a village, something that is still alive in Whitwell.'
Thelma regularly organises tastings, walks and talks around the farm and is accustomed to locals frequently popping in.
A common feeling of pride, and a desire to hold on to traditional life is what makes Whitwell and St Paul's Walden a community to envy. The passion for family values - whether shown through the church community, the plentiful groups of ramblers or the local businesses - encircles this parish where residents are more than just neighbours.

WHAT TO SEE

1. The River Mimram begins just next to Nine Wells Farm, flowing east out of Whitwell, and provides a pleasant
riverside stroll


2. There are two manor houses to admire, St Paul's Walden Bury and Stagenhoe Park, now a Sue Ryder Nursing home


3. The two pubs along Whitwell High Street both offer food - The Maidens Head and The Bull Inn


4. A petting farm at Waterhall Farm and Craft Centre will keep children entertained


5. Newly opened Emilies Tea Shop provides a nice afternoon coffee break for parents


6. The annual Whitwell Steam and Country Fair is a fun community event open to all. This year's event is on the weekend of June 7 and 8


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