Wheathampstead is a “village” of about 7,000 people, in the lovely county of Hertfordshire. It’s rumoured to have been first settled in 50 BC, and various archeological excavations have found some pretty cool relics that are displayed in the Verulamium Museum in St Albans, the nearest city.
The main street of the village is beautiful, and all of the old buildings (like the old mill, and the old bakery) are now home to new stores. There’s a funky little jewellery design studio which I used to detour past at any opportunity, so I could stare longingly at the beautiful earrings and pendants in the window.
Wheathampstead is home to around 20 pubs, which is quite impressive when compared to its population. Our favourites were The Bull (delicious steak served with kitsch wedges of iceberg lettuce drizzled in blue cheese dressing) and The Wicked Lady (named for an infamous highwaywoman who roamed those parts; they serve an awesome 1/2 chicken, and make the tastiest Pimms cocktails), both of which we frequented often. It also has a couple of really good restaurants: Dildar II, serving modern Indian cuisine, and The Golden Elephant, serving delicious Thai.
There’s a lot to do around the village, too. You can ramble to your heart’s content – across the cricket pitch at the almost-200-year-old cricket club, across the pay-and-play golf course, through Stocking Springs Wood (best seen in early spring when the ground is covered in bluebells and daffodils), around the river, or down to Devil’s Dyke (the remains of a defensive ditch dated around 75-50 BC).
Our first flat in the UK was in Wheathampstead, on the 5th floor of an apartment building called ‘The Barn’. We moved in with a suitcase and a pack full of clothes, about £100 in our bank account, and a handful of cookbooks. We borrowed a little TV from a woman I worked with, and took turns sitting on a rickety old chair we found in the loft. For the first two months, we slept on an airbed and ate a lot of cheap pasta-based meals, until we’d both been paid and could afford to buy some furniture.
1. that neither of us could stand hand-held shower nozzles. Have you ever tried washing your hair while sitting in the bottom of a bath, in the middle of winter, in a bathroom with no heating and no shower curtain? Let me tell you, it ain’t much fun!;
2. that you can kit out an entire flat by shopping – online – at one of four stores: IKEA, Wilkinson, Argos or Tesco Direct. We knew we were only going to be in the UK for a limited time, so didn’t want to spend heaps of money of expensive furniture and appliances etc. The bed we bought from Argos was super-comfortable, and our dinner set from Wilkinson was pretty tough;
3. that living away from our friends in London was much harder than we expected, and that having a gas-guzzling car (our beloved Gordy – a big old Ford with seat warmers) didn’t make it easier to go visiting;
4. that we could spend less than £50 at the supermarket, but still eat well; and
5. that we were happier than we’d ever been, experiencing a new country, meeting new people and planning our first trip to Europe. And that we were doing it together.