What do leafy country lanes, the musical ‘My Fair Lady’ and England’s King Henry VIII have in common with a charming 14th Century pub, Lawrence of Arabia and a man who hated his local church?
The answer to that riddle lies in a romantic vale nestling in the southern English county of Hertfordshire
Do I hear a chorus of “where”?
Nestled among quintessentially English estates, narrow roads bounded by tall hedges and a maze of walking footpaths, Ayot St Lawrence is about 25 miles from central London.
However, it is a world away in reality – an area of jaw-dropping beauty and stately houses.
All the over-worked but time-honoured phrases like ‘quaint, picture-postcard village’, ‘chocolate box scenery’ and ‘frozen in time’ certainly apply to this area.
But, there’s a lot more to Ayot St Lawrence than just the vision of the sunshine seeping through the undergrowth along its roadsides – as beautiful as that is.
Atmosphere plus at the Brocket Arms.
Take, for example, the Brocket Arms – a wonderful country inn that dates to 1378 and was originally the monastic quarters for the Norman church. Legend has it that a priest was hanged there and that it has been haunted ever since.
With low ceilings, oak beams and a 17th Century fireplace that features a priest’s hiding hole, the Brocket Arms provides high standard accommodation in a rustic inn that is literally the centre of the community.
Friendly locals – often accompanied by numerous dogs – mingle easily with travellers like us; wonderful hotel staff; and day-trippers up from London to soak up the atmosphere.
Watch for our upcoming review specifically about the Brocket Arms.
As well as the pub, Ayot St Lawrence boasts ancient and well preserved homes, including an old Rectory that dates to 1291 and is now divided into three.
There’s also the Tudor ‘Manor House, that was owned, at one stage, by Sir Richard Parr, whose daughter, Catherine, was the sixth wife of Henry VIII.
According to local folklore, Henry courted Catherine at the manor
Another reason for our visit to Ayot St Lawrence was the George Bernard Shaw factor.
The famous writer and dramatist, who won an Oscar for Pygmalion (or My Fair Lady) lived in the village for more than 40 years from 1906.
The house features sweeping lawns and a small, rotating writing hut, where Shaw created many plays.
It is preserved like a time capsule – with hats, walking sticks, toothbrush, photographs, books, typewriter, Oscar, Nobel Prize – giving the impression that George has just stepped out for a while.
When Lawrence visited George
Shaw had many VIP visitors to the area and locals still like to tell a story about Lawrence of Arabia roaring around Ayot St Lawrence on his motorcycle.
Ayot St Lawrence is also known as a photographer’s dream, largely because of the partially demolished Old Lawrence Church.
Dating back to the 12th century, the church met an awkward fate, because Sir Lyonel Lyle, the Lord of the local manor took a dislike to the building in the late 1700’s.
Claiming that the stone church blocked the view from his house, Lord Lyle decided to pull down the building and erect another resembling a Greek Theatre.
Today, the old church is a much-sought backdrop – and the new one has two separate pavilions – one containing Sir Lyonel’s tomb and the other for his wife.
According to local folklore, the Lord of the manor declared that the church made him live with his wife when he was alive – but it sure wasn’t going to make him stay with her after death!
True or not, he certainly made his mark on the district – and the ruined church has a starkness and beauty that it may not have achieved if left intact.
Ayot St Lawrence, with its striking buildings and fabulous Brocket Arms inn is yet another gem of a village – with an intriguing story or two.
We loved our time mingling with the locals and, for a few days, becoming part of their community. Once again we were able to join in village life, not just observe.
Not the sheep!
Within hours of arriving, we were invited to a special surprise birthday party for Kelly, the charming owner of the Brocket Arms. The pub’s staff took us under their wing and we had a wonderful time at the party / although neither of us tried our hand at riding the mechanical bucking sheep
Ayot St Lawrence has village history in spades; beautiful scenery; wonderful, warm people and probably the most comfortable and friendly village pub we have encountered.
It is ideal for a village experience – but the real secret is that Ayot St Lawrence is only about 40 minutes drive from Heathrow Airport.
We used a local cab company called Point to Point Car Services, from nearby Codicote. The owner, Nick Payne, treated us well.
Note; The writer flew to Europe courtesy of Scoot. Why not take Scoot to Athens and then journey from there into other parts of Europe and the UK.