One of my absolute favourite places to visit in spring, never mind visiting open gardens to see sprawling carpets of snowdrops, just come here! Nestled out of the way down tiny, winding single track country lanes, Ayot St Lawrence sits in the countryside between Wheathampstead and Codicote and was once home to the renowned George Bernard Shaw.
A popular spot for dog walkers and ramblers, public bridleways cross fields and join villages, so when arriving by car be courteous about where and how you park. A small section of road on the approach to the ruined Ayot St Lawrence Church is your best bet. Please, no white shoes in sight, I promise you’ll get muddy.
Start by exploring the ruined church. If you’re here in snowdrop season you’ll get some fabulous images. Stop and listen to the quietness. Nothing but birds for miles around. Be careful where you stand – you have graves to navigate and flowers to protect. A structure that manages to look majestic on a sunny day and eerie on an overcast one, this really is one of the best-looking ruins in the vicinity, and it’s protected by the National Trust.
Coming out of the church, walk down the small pathway next to the adjoining cottages and start your walk across the fields. Horses graze by the kissing gate and you’ll likely see birds of prey overhead. You’ll walk towards a white building that seems remarkably Greek in origin – that’s the New Ayot St Lawrence Church, where mass is held today, and is surprisingly relatively modern. Set amidst vast fields with giant trees, take the path around the outside to loop back on yourself or walk through the middle; cattle graze here so ensure dogs are kept on a lead at all times. You can enter another kissing gate at the bottom of the field and walk all the way to Kimpton should you wish, or retrace your steps to find refreshment at The Brocket Arms.
Literary fans may want to visit Shaw’s Corner to find out about the life and work of Bernard Shaw; the National Trust now looks after his property – literally down the road from the church – so be sure to check their website for seasonal opening times.