From city to county
PUBLISHED: 09:00 21 December 2015
For a special winter wander, our columnist James Matthews suggests a visit to Heydon - but you've got to be going there ...
Have you ever driven through the Norfolk village of Heydon?
If your answer to that question is “Yes, I think I have” then you could well be getting it confused with one of our county’s other picturesque villages, because it’s actually a trick question. Heydon has no through road, it’s effectively a cul-de-sac. You can’t easily stumble across it on your way to somewhere else - if you’re going to Heydon, you’re going to Heydon.
Unless you’re me. I did manage to stumble across it on a convoluted drive to the coast in the summer, mistakenly following a convoy of cars that I had assumed were heading to the same destination. But they weren’t - they were in fact heading to Heydon’s (clearly very popular) village fete. And we had such a lovely time in the sunshine that day we completely forgot about our planned afternoon at the coast.
You see, Heydon is wonderful in its uniqueness. As well as it being at the very end of a single country lane, it’s one of only a dozen or so villages in England to be entirely privately owned, sitting at the entrance to a grand stately home in Heydon Hall. And being a conservation area (Norfolk’s first, in 1971 ... thank you Google) has ensured the village’s character has been retained, with no new buildings erected in the village since a new well was built in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria! It was this ornate well, positioned in the middle of the village green, that I found myself peering into having decided to return to Heydon for a chilly Sunday walk a couple of weeks ago. Without the bustle and frivolity of the village fete to distract me I got to have a proper look around. With rows of terraced cottages, a quaint tea shop and an inviting, traditional pub taking up three sides of the green and an imposing church on the fourth side, Heydon really does paint the picture of a perfect village. I imagine it’s the picture tourists arriving to our little island from various corners of the globe have in their minds when they think of rural England.
It was so perfect I couldn’t help feeling I was standing in the middle of a movie set. And it turns out I was. Heydon has been used for external shooting on numerous period films and TV dramas since the 1970s. No wonder it felt like at any moment a horse and cart would trot around the corner, or a woman in a bonnet would dart across the green and into the church.
In many ways Heydon is a mini representation of Norfolk. People say you have to want to visit our fine county because, unlike other parts of the country Norfolk is not on the way to somewhere else - you don’t “pass through”. If you’re going to Norfolk, you’re going to Norfolk. And much like Heydon, we know that’s what makes it extra special.