Area Guide: The pretty Hertfordshire village of Wheathampstead
- Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO
A chocolate box village with its own micropub, Wheathampstead succeeds in blending a rich history with a very modern twist.
Ideally located between Harpenden and Welwyn Garden City, Wheathampstead has the resources of larger towns close at hand, while offering enough amenities for residents to stay mostly within their rural idyll.
It’s easy to see how a visitor could fall in love with the place and decide to stay. Even on the overcast, drizzly day we visited, its charm is clear to see, and when the sun’s out it’s even lovelier.
There’s a clear sense that local people are proud of their village and keen to take good care of it. A ‘lost’ poster taped to a bin sums this up: “Missing your wheelbarrow?” it reads, “we found one abandoned here on Friday 31st August”, followed by a number to call to be reunited with the said barrow. Not something we’d expect to see in many other parts of the country!
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Lovers of the great outdoors are well placed, as Wheathampstead is quite literally surrounded by picturesque, easily accessible countryside promoted via the well-used Heritage Trail maps.
Both Nomansland Common and Heartwood Forest are on the village’s southern edge and Gustard Wood Common and Mid-Herts Golf Club are to the north.
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To the east is the riverside walk to Brocket Hall, while the route west offers a valley-side walking route to Harpenden.
Terry Holden, who moved to the village 54 years ago, is proudly passionate about his adopted home. “It has served our family well and I have every confidence the future has a firm basis upon which to continue that way,” he says.
Now retired, Terry remains involved with Wheathampstead’s “lively community” which he says has “something for everybody”.
Settlements in the area were established in approximately 50 BC by Belgic invaders who moved up towards Wheathampstead on the river Thames and the river Lea from what is now Belgium.
Evidence of their residence was found in Devil’s Dyke, at the east side of the village, where earthworks are part of the remains of an ancient settlement of the Catuvellauni tribe, thought to be their original capital. Legend has it that Devil’s Dyke is where Julius Caesar defeated Cassivellaunus in 54 BC.
Some historians have previously suggested that the dyke was part of the same defensive rampart as nearby Beech Bottom Dyke which, if correct, would make the area one of the largest and most important British Iron Age settlements.
Current residents are active in preserving and celebrating Wheathampstead’s rich history.
“The village has constantly changed and evolved, trying to respect its heritage and still meet the needs of the community,” Terry says. “This strong ethos is still apparent today with a wide range of events, societies, clubs, sporting activities for all ages and abilities together with a very strong business support group.”
These initiatives include parish council magazine, The Pump, and St Helen’s Church magazine, The Vine. Then there’s Wheathampstead and District Preservation Society (WDPS), a group of local people working to conserve what is best about the village while remaining open to necessary change.
The village has two primary schools, St Helen’s Church of England Primary School – rated ‘good’ by Ofsted – and Beech Hyde Primary School and Nursery which was found to be ‘inadequate’ in February 2017. Safeguarding issues highlighted in that report were quickly addressed and a subsequent visit by Ofsted found the school’s safeguarding to be effective.
As a fee-paying alternative, St Albans High School for Girls has its prep school in the village while Aldwickbury School on Wheathampstead Road, Harpenden, is a prep school for boys.
Homes currently on the market in Wheathampstead range from a five-bed detached house on Harpenden Road for £2,850,000 to a two-bed ground floor flat on Hilldyke Road for £220,000.
According to Rightmove, last year’s average selling price in the village was £605,175.
Eating and drinking
The Bull – now a Miller & Carter steak restaurant – has a coveted location in the heart of the village, adjacent to the River Lea.
L’Olivo on Marford Road offers a fine dining feast which attracts foodies from miles around. Considered by some to be the best Italian in Hertfordshire, a Trip Advisor rating of 4.5 suggests it’s worth the drive.
Other local options include The Golden Elephant, a family-run Thai restaurant, and The Swan, a traditional boozer offering hearty pub grub, both on High Street.
The Wicked Lady is a family-friendly pub just outside the village, opposite Nomandsland Common.
As well as the above, plus the usual village conveniences – a Tesco Express, a few takeaways and a handful of restaurants, cafés and estate agents’ offices – Wheathampstead has recently been blessed with a rather more unusual addition: its own micropub. The Farr Brewery opened The Reading Rooms on High Street this summer, selling beer produced at their own brewery.
As Terry concludes, “In all, this makes it a very inclusive, friendly environment within which to live.”