Henley-in-Arden, Warwickshire: celebrity ice-cream eaters, comedy writers and an unsung rail hero

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Fifteen minutes away from me by train is the upmarket Henley-in-Arden. My first memory of this town was when I was 10 years old and spotted Chris Tarrant eating an ice-cream. As I had been on his wacky Saturday morning TV show “Tiswas” 3 years prior, I was perhaps not as star-struck as I should have been.

Henley-in-Arden is best known for its own brand ice-cream parlour which won the UK’s best ice-cream award in 1937. It did shut down during wartime though to become an air raid post. For vegans they have soya-based ice-cream in the freezer (only in vanilla) and four sorbet flavours. Here is the mango.

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I nearly dropped my cone on leaving the shop as I thought I spotted Cillian Murphy stuffing in an ice-cream at an outside table. It wasn’t, which was a pity as he really needs to know just how much he unnerved me in “Red Eye“.

Henley Ice-Cream parlour’s logo features a carefree looking cow easily clearing a waxing crescent. A far cry from the sordid dairy industry.

Henley-in-Arden is a small town around 8 miles away from Stratford-upon-Avon. It started up in the 12th century and the Arden part refers to the former huge Forest of Arden. Shakespeare set the comedy “As you like it” in this forest, best known for the line “All the world’s a stage and the men and women merely players”.

The town has a mile long historic High Street which shows off over 150 listed buildings and many pretty cottages such as this with obligatory roses around (or near) the door.

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The court leet meet at the Guildhall building (next to St John’s church) every November, a late 13th century town tradition which is still continued in a handful of British towns. A local Rev has confirmed “It’s not just about dressing up in red robes. The leet involves the mayor and and his posse agreeing administrative matters and organising entertainments such as bringing in morris men.

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Historically, Henley had four private lunatic asylums in the 18th and 19th centuries, worryingly even two going at the same time. Today there is purely a general medical centre which receives 5 star reviews from its patients. Apart from one who had been “lectured about my weight“.

“Father of the Railway System” William James (1771 – 1837) was born in the house below. He was the earliest promoter of the railway yet his name has been overshadowed by the fame of George Stephenson and his Rocket. Stephenson was convinced that rail travel could never exceed 10 miles an hour yet visionary James knew that train speeds could reach 30 miles an hour (to date the fastest trains we have in England whoosh by at 124 miles an hour).

The 16th century White Swan inn is reportedly haunted by a prankster women wearing grey who yanks bedclothes off guests in the middle of the night. When I was there some months ago for a nice vegan pizza my mystic powers sensed no spooks, just a nice ambience. I was probably up the wrong end.

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Retro gates – there is still a working fire station in the town.

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The childhood home of comedy writer and editor of “The Sketch” magazine Keble Howard (1875 – 1928) is now a Costa Coffee shop. On the brighter side, his books are going for a fortune on Ebay.

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There are several churches in Henley but the 15th century St Nicholas in Beaudesert Lane (just off the High Street) is my favourite.

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Next door to St Nick’s is the peaceful gated Jubilee Garden.

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There is more enjoyable nature off both sides of the High Street but I preferred my walk on the side across the road from the golf course since it was litter free.

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