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Striptease, cheese and Japanese in best-kept Cottered

PUBLISHED: 11:33 22 April 2014 | UPDATED: 11:33 22 April 2014

The village is renowned for its neatness

The village is renowned for its neatness

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Surprising things go on in Cottered - a village renowned for its beauty

John Hawood-BeeJohn Hawood-Bee

With chocolate-box thatched cottages and sympathetic barn conversions, Cottered is a village of well-kept greens and neat borders. Residents are proud of the fact it has been voted best kept village – topping different categories of the Campaign to Protect Rural England Hertfordshire contest four years on the trot. The surrounding countryside has pleasant walks used by both locals and ramblers. In fact, residents appreciate the village so much they even have their own appreciation society.

Off the busy road running through the village, you will find a community just as busy. When funds were needed for speed signs, residents got together – or one should say got in the altogether – for a calendar. It was all done in good taste and reputations were left intact.

John Harwood-Bee, who was involved in the project, said, ‘It was shortly after the WI naked calendar had been done. A couple of women were worried about the speed of vehicles going through the village, but were told that there had not been enough deaths to warrant speed restrictions, so they decided to do something about it.

‘It was a great deal of fun. Someone even heard about it in America and sent some money addressed to the ‘Calendar People of Cottered, England’. It helped to make in excess of £14,000 for the village.’

St John the Baptist ChurchSt John the Baptist Church

John had always admired the village and bought his house in Stocking Hill in 1996. ‘Even back then the place had a good reputation,’ he says. ‘I was brought up in a small country village, so moving here was deja vu.’

Praising life in the village, John adds, ‘I have lived in various places around the world but without doubt the people in Cottered are the most friendly. The way in which we were welcomed when we moved here and the social network that crosses all age groups is what makes the village special.’

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Japanese influence.

Pools and oriental structures are features of the Japanese gardenPools and oriental structures are features of the Japanese garden

John is chairman of Cottered Village Day, when the whole community comes together to fundraise. It is also the one day in the year the renowned Japanese garden at a private address in the village is open to the public. Last year the garden attracted more than 2,000 people in five hours after featuring on the BBC’s Gardeners’ World. Following the programme, the village website crashed and on the day the village was brought to a standstill with more than 4,000 people visiting.

The garden was created by Herbert Goode, a wealthy china and glass merchant who came to live in Cottered in the early 1900s. On a visit to Japan in 1905, he was so captivated with the Japanese style of gardening he decided to create his own in Hertfordshire based on a garden he had seen in Kyoto. It is reputed to be one of the best privately-owned Japanese gardens outside Japan.

Cottered resident Caron Lawton has been head gardener at the site for 15 years. With her assistant Eddie, she works hard to keep the garden in perfect condition. Their dedication has clearly paid off. Gardeners’ World presenter Joe Swift described it as ‘amazing’ and Caron has recently been asked to design another Japanese garden.

She says, ‘As Mr Goode’s interest in the Japanese style grew, he acquired a practical knowledge of Japanese gardening. In 1923 he personally directed his men in the placing of the various stone lanterns, images and tea house and worked out the whole scheme. Garden designer Seyomon Kusumoto improved the arrangements of the buildings and bridges and finalised what we have today.

The garden is considered one of the best Japanese-styled gardens in the countryThe garden is considered one of the best Japanese-styled gardens in the country

‘My favourite place is the tea house. But a good place to view the garden is the mountain shelter overlooking the dry lake. It’s a tiny shelter with wrens nesting – you have to be very quiet and still.’

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Cheese epiphany.

It was the natural environment around Cottered that inspired Toby Archer while he was walking his dog. The 48-year-old had what he calls a ‘cheese epiphany’.

Toby Archer outside the Cheese PlateToby Archer outside the Cheese Plate

‘I was in the middle of a field with my daughter Hope and my dog Norman. My daughter asked, “What are you going to do dad?” And I replied “I am going to open a cheese shop”.’

He opened The Cheese Plate in nearby Buntingford in October 2012 after leaving the family injection- moulding business.

‘Everybody thought I was mad and one of my friends thought it was a joke but the village have given me great support.’ Despite Toby having no professional knowledge about cheese and going on a hunch, the shop has proved popular and in March he teamed up with the village pub, The Bull, where he hosted one of his regular cheese and wine tastings.

He says of Cottered, ‘It’s a lovely village with lovely people. There is a great mix of characters. We have a good community spirit. If people ask for help it is always there.’

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