Hertfordshire Pleasures

Brenda Watkinson finds more visit opportunities and interesting ideas for group activities than she might have expected in the county of Hertfordshire.

Hitchin Lavender

Hitchin Lavender

As one of the ‘Home Counties’ located just north of London, Hertfordshire has some surprisingly rural and remoter corners along with unusual and interesting historical and quirky places to visit. It has an intriguing history with stately homes such as Knebworth and Hatfield House to explore as well as beautiful gardens, wildlife parks and nature reserves. Groups interested in antiques and the arts are also well catered for, whilst dozens of museums, both large and small, relate the fascinating heritage of this county.

Redbournbury Watermill

Redbournbury Watermill

Stately homes and gardens

One of the principal attractions in the county is Hatfield House, Park and Gardens on the outskirts of Hatfield, where visitors can follow in the footsteps of Elizabeth I, who spent much of her childhood at The Royal Palace of Hatfield (c1485) located in the West Garden. Hatfield House itself was built in 1607 and has been the home of the Cecil family for 400 years. Group visits are welcome from Easter Saturday to the end of September daily except Mondays and Tuesdays. Discounts apply to groups of 20 or more when booked in advance and guided tours can be pre-booked for an additional charge.

Another famous Hertfordshire stately home, Knebworth House Gardens & Park, near Stevenage, reflects over 500 years of English history and has been home of the Lytton family since 1490. Discounts apply to pre-booked groups of 20 or more when the house is open to the general public; out of season visits can also be arranged. Optional guided tours focus on a range of subjects including architecture, women’s rights and rock music.

Hatfield House

Hatfield House

Also near Stevenage, Benington Lordship Gardens are open for visitors to explore the kitchen garden, herbaceous borders, rose garden and folly. A popular film and television location, the garden has been fully restored since 1970, taking great care to preserve its Edwardian character. Out of hours visits can be arranged.
Further north, near Hitchin, groups are welcome at Hitchin Lavender, where members are encouraged to stroll through the picturesque rows of lavender and pick their own bunches. Pre-booked groups of 10 or more are offered complimentary tea and coffee on arrival and guided tours can also be arranged. The season runs from June until September and bookings are currently being taken for 2011 (fully booked for 2010). Lavender products can be purchased from the shop.

Animal attractions

Located just five minutes drive from the M25, Paradise Wildlife Park near Broxbourne is home to a wide range of animals including tigers, lions, monkeys, meerkats and penguins. Talks and shows are held throughout the day and there is also an opportunity to hand-feed many animals such as camels, alpacas and zebras. Other highlights include The Wonders of the Rainforest exhibit, home to many types of tamarins, marmosets and armadillos, and The Angkor Reptile Temple, where you will come face to face with snakes, tortoises, cockroaches and also a Chinese alligator. Discounts apply to groups of 20 or more if booked in advance.

Visitors admire a Meerkat at Paradise Wildlife Park

Visitors admire a Meerkat at Paradise Wildlife Park

In the east of the county, just north of Hoddesdon, RSPB Rye Meads Nature Reserve is located beside the River Lee and features a wide range of wetland habitats, reed beds, open water and meadows. There are 10 hides offering great viewpoints of the many species of birds. The reserve is popular with walkers, bird watchers and photographers. Groups are welcome and must book in advance to avoid busy periods. General admission is free. Guided tours can be organised by arrangement for which a donation is requested.
To complement your visit to RSPB Rye Meads, you might like to consider a cruise down the River Lee. Operated by the Lee Valley Boat Centre, private group bookings can be made on board the Pride of Lee (15-22 persons) or the Lady of Lee Valley (25-56 persons). There is an excellent choice of trips including the ever popular Cream Tea Cruise. All cruises leave from and return to Broxbourne.
Just across the county border to Dunstable in Bedfordshire, ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is home to more than 2,500 animals, many of which are endangered in the wild. Daily events here include keeper talks, animal feeds and animal demonstrations. A free Safari bus operates around the zoo stopping at all the main exhibits whilst The Jumbo Express steam train weaves its way through the elephant, rhino and camel enclosures.
The Zoo operates a system of peak, mid and winter pricing with discounts available to groups of 10 or more.

Antiques and arts

Hertfordshire boasts a number of antiques centres and, for interested groups, Enjoy! Hertfordshire has compiled a full day’s itinerary leaving from Sawbridgeworth and taking in four such centres.
Located in Sawbridgeworth, Herts & Essex Antiques is home to over 70 independent dealers offering a wide range of interesting, rare and retro items including furniture, clocks, ceramics, glass, silver, jewellery and collectables.
Further west, in the county town of Hertford, a Tudor-jettied, half-timbered building is home to Beckwith & Son Antiques, whilst By George Antiques Centre in St Albans houses 15 antique dealers in a 16th century coaching inn and mill.
Travelling westwards to Berkhamsted, this pretty market town is well worth visiting. For keen shoppers, the High Street is known for its individual shops; not to be missed is Home & Colonial Antiques, a leading antique centre focusing on high quality antiques and collectables from the 19th and 20th centuries. There are four retail floors to explore plus the Attic Café serving freshly prepared meals and snacks. Berkhamsted Castle also offers free admission to explore its Norman motte and bailey ruins.
For art lovers, the Henry Moore Foundation at Perry Green holds a vast collection of images and sculptures relating to the artist. Located near Much Hadham, in the east of the county, the 70-acre estate includes Hoglands, Henry and Irina Moore’s former home and garden, the artist’s studios, the Sheep Field Barn gallery, and sculpture gardens and fields. Groups must book in advance and guided tours can be arranged.
Nearby, in Ware, the Artshed is a contemporary art venue situated on the Rib Valley Leisure Complex at Westmill Farm. Artshed stages many exhibitions throughout the year with the Christmas Jewellery & Gift Festival (26th-28th November) particularly popular with groups. Artshed also runs craft workshops, all of which can be adapted for your group.

History and heritage

In the town of St Albans, the Verulamium Museum is on the site of one of the major cities in Roman Britain and details everyday life during these times. There have been several archaeological excavations of this Roman city and the museum displays many of the artefacts from the digs. Discounts apply to pre-booked groups of 15 or more. Guided tours can be arranged for an additional charge.
Continuing on this theme, the Roman Theatre of Verulamium was built in about 140AD and is the only example of its kind in Britain; rather than an amphitheatre (or theatre-in-the-round), it is a theatre with a stage at the front of the auditorium. The ruins seen today were unearthed in 1847 and further excavations have revealed a row of shop foundations, a Roman villa and a secret shrine, all thought to date from the 1st century. Discounts apply to parties of seven or more. Guided tours can be arranged at an additional cost.

St Albans South Signal Box

St Albans South Signal Box

Also in St Albans, the Museum of St Albans continues the story of the town from the departure of the Romans to the present day. In the medieval gallery, visitors will learn about Alban, Britain’s first Christian martyr, and the abbey that grew up around the site of his martyrdom. Discounts apply to pre-booked groups of 15 or more.
It is also possible to link this with a visit to St Albans Abbey where visitors can continue the story of Alban and see how the building has changed over the centuries, first as a monastic abbey and now as a cathedral. Private guided tours can be arranged in advance for a charge.
In the far west of the county, visitors can discover a fascinating range of animals collected by Lionel Walter Rothschild at the Natural History Museum in Tring, housed in a fine Victorian building. As well as many galleries of exhibits, not to be missed is the Rothshild Room, set out like a Victorian office, where the Museum’s original curators, and Lord Rothschild himself, may have worked. General admission is free and it is a good idea to download the ‘Wild, Weird, Wonderful’ self-guided tour from the website.
If your group is interested in aviation, the de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre can be found a short drive south-east of St Albans. Geoffrey de Havilland was one of the key names in pioneering aviation who designed a range of machines at his aeroplane complex at Hatfield, including the Mosquito prototype designed during the last war. Pre-booked group visits include a welcome talk, guided tour and light refreshments. Evening visits can be pre-booked by arrangement.

Another attraction relating to transport is the St Albans South Signal Box, which opened to the public in 2009 following extensive restoration. The Box is the largest preserved Midland Railway box in the country and is still in its original 1892 position, alongside a fully functioning and busy main line. Visitors can watch modern trains pass outside the windows whilst reliving the former days of semaphore signalling. Organised visits for groups of 10 to 40 people can be arranged in advance, which can include a buffet in the nearby Constitutional Club if desired.

Frogmore Paper Mill and Visitor Centre

Frogmore Paper Mill and Visitor Centre

Restoration is also now complete at Redbournbury Watermill, just two miles north of St Albans. Built beside the River Ver, this 18th century working watermill produces stone ground organic flour, which is used in the attached artisan bakery. Group visits can be booked by arrangement in the daytime and evening, and can include light refreshments (minimum 15 people).

On a similar theme, Frogmore Paper Mill & Visitor Centre is located near Hemel Hempstead. The Mill dates back over 800 years and paper has been made here since 1774. In 1803, the world’s first commercial paper machine was installed at the Mill, starting paper’s industrial revolution. For groups of 10 or more, a talk and tour lasting two hours can be arranged on weekdays, with occasional evenings by arrangement.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

Enjoy! Hertfordshire
Email: anniehawkins@enjoyhertfordshire.com
Web: www.enjoyhertfordshire.com