Why we love Hemel's villages
PUBLISHED: 10:02 15 October 2015 | UPDATED: 12:53 26 October 2015
The rural area around Hemel Hempstead in west Herts is a treasure trove of independent shops, enticing places to eat and historic places to visit. Sandra Smith takes a tour
Shendish Manor Hotel, Apsley The origins of this country house date back hundreds of years yet its elegance is timeless. It is set in 160 acres of parkland, and an 18-hole golf course is available for guests as well as residents – not that you need to be a golf enthusiast to appreciate the manor’s delights. Visitors may bask in the tranquillity of the grounds, enjoy traditional afternoon tea or dine in the Orangery Restaurant, where views over manicured gardens offer the perfect backdrop to sophisticated dining.
Rumblers Farm Shop, Potten End
When Barny Hilsdon built his farm shop in 2002, his wife’s cakes were so popular he was soon sourcing baking from other cooks. Nowadays home-baked tarts, locally grown vegetables and free-range eggs are all temptingly displayed. But a visit also provides the opportunity to purchase much more, from fresh bread and preserves to gifts and plants, all at the same time. If Barney is busy tending his dairy herd when you pop in, just leave your money in the honesty box.
Its popularity as a film and television location for the likes of Midsomer Murders, Inspector Morse and Bridget Jones is hardly surprising given Aldbury’s chocolate-box charm. Yet delve a little deeper and you will discover much history. Positioned at one end of the village duck pond are stocks, a reminder of former public punishments. Opposite, the decorative red brick and timber façade of the 19th-century Memorial Hall is complemented by a nearby row of 400-year-old cottages which, as alehouses, for centuries provided sustenance for villagers and visitors alike and are now home to the invitingly-rustic Valiant Trooper. The Greyhound Inn by the pond is another favourite destination for hikers and weekend visitors.
High in the Chiltern Hills, the ancient parish of Wigginton is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty through which pass the Ridgeway, the Chiltern Way and numerous public footpaths. Among a mix of pretty cottages and farmland, one of the oldest buildings is St Bartholomew’s Church. Here the Wigginton Café is open each Tuesday afternoon from 2.30-4.30pm, with homemade cakes and refreshments on offer in quiet surroundings, bringing respite to walkers or those exploring this historic building and a picturesque corner of west Hertfordshire.
Three Horseshoes, Winkwell
A stone’s throw from a busy road in one direction and railway line in the other, the Three Horseshoes is nevertheless one of the most delightfully located pubs in the county, for the Grand Union canal runs alongside offering scenes of wildlife and boating activity.
A towpath which runs the length of the canal allows for a stroll either before or following a hearty pub meal. With popular Comedy on the Canal nights each month and regular quiz evenings, this welcoming pub is a vibrant attraction.
Frogmore Paper Mill, Apsley
The world’s oldest mechanised paper mill and birthplace of a paper revolution, Frogmore Paper Mill remains a working mill thanks to the Apsley Paper Trail group conserving its Victorian heritage, much of which is on show.
Guided tours explaining the history of paper and its production are available on Thursdays and the first Sunday of each month. An art gallery, exhibition hall, shop and café are also housed in the visitor centre where hand paper-making and letterpress printing demonstrations take place.
Kings Langley overflows with attractive shops showcasing an inviting selection of products. They include Sweet as a Button where jars of colourful sweets tempt and hampers are available to order. For designer fashion items at fair prices, the Dresser is a pre-loved clothes agency oozing quality. Design Workshop boasts an array of household decor items, gifts and fabrics, while Flower House provides flower arrangements for home or any occasion.
Dacorum Heritage Cycle Trail
One way of exploring the area around Hemel is via a Dacorum Heritage Cycle Trail. Easy to operate electric bikes and safety equipment hire from tour operator electricbiketours.co.uk starts at £35 (£50 for a couple) with trips for groups of up to eight every Friday taking in Gadebridge Park, Old Hemel Hempstead, Little Gaddesden, the Ashridge Estate, Ashridge House, Potten End, the River Bulbourne and Boxmoor.
Each four-hour ride includes visits to historic sites and buildings with a tour guide providing supplementary information. Routes avoid public areas, though some on-road cycling is necessary.