Wheathampstead is a village full of life

With so much to do and such beautiful surroundings, Nicola Piggott discovers what is attracting young couples to the village of Wheathampstead

IT IS impossible to write about Wheathampstead without mentioning its history. The village has a rich and fascinating past that includes the claim to be the first English village mentioned in written history.

Resting in the middle of unspoilt countryside the village offers an island of idyllic English rural living. Current resident, Barbara Green, explains how that 'Englishness' attracted her and her husband when they moved from South Africa 30 years ago. Barbara, who is parish council clerk, explains, 'At the time Wheathampstead offered it all. Most shopping needs were catered for; we had a baker, where you could buy freshly baked bread, a butcher, a supermarket, a shoe shop and a gentleman's outfitters, to name just a few.

'Unfortunately, today we have lost a lot of those businesses, although we still have a very good butcher, a wide selection of high-standard restaurants and some lovely pubs.'

The village remains self contained by a swathe of green countryside that forms an invisible defence barrier to the outside world, just as the area's Devil's Dyke did in Saxon days for villagers and their livestock during times of upheaval.

It is the same preserved charm that continues to attract young couples to the village, such as Helen Connolly and her fianc� Richard, who moved here three years ago, as it did for parish councillor Niel Clements back in 1968.

'We are very lucky to have such a choice of scenic country walks,' comments Helen. 'You really get to appreciate just how beautiful the surrounding area is and knowing that you could be tracing the footsteps of Julius Caesar is also quite a thrill.'

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Niel says, 'We are very strong on community spirit here, which can probably be said of most villages, but it is certainly true here. The village has most of the services that one could need, including a library, medical centre and tennis courts. For those who want to get involved there is the WI, several football teams, a photographic club and highland dancing - you name it we've got it.'

Barbara agrees: 'It's a very welcoming village with lovely open spaces and plenty of activities to join. The real advantage is that we have such good amenities here, without the drawback of becoming a town.'

While a gloriously colourful history and a bountiful present may form the allure of Wheathampstead today, does the village have an auspicious future to look forward to? Well yes actually, thanks to the foresight of the current parish council, which, having bought acres of Wheathampstead's surrounding land and placing them into a trust through the National Playing Fields Association, has managed to protect the village boundaries.

Barbara explains: 'We have put our open spaces into a trust for perpetuity. It remains our land but it can never be sold on for housing. This way we can ensure that land is preserved for either recreational areas or just country walks. It's an investment for the future.'