The Long Gallery is adjacent to the Library – where Lara Croft did some research in her tomb raiding days – which is only a staircase above the Armoury where Batman considered his beginnings. Not to mention that the Marble Hall at the original back entrance of the house was where Elizabeth I faced her assassin.

Where Shakespeare fell in love

Hatfield House has been used so often as a film set, visiting it is like taking a trip to Universal Studios. But, instead of a long-haul flight, it’s only 25 minutes from London’s King’s Cross train station.

In fact, the east of England is scattered with so many famous movie locations that a new website, has recently been launched to help film buffs follow in 
the footsteps of their cinema heroes.

Seven of the greatest movies of all time – the first four Star Wars epics and three of the Indiana Jones expeditions – were all shot in Hertfordshire at Elstree Studios (apart from the scenes both movie franchises filmed in Tunisia).

And if that’s not enough, it was here that Shakespeare fell in love, Private Ryan was saved, Cliff Richard went on a summer holiday and a host of famous actors, such as Hugh Grant, found love actually at Christmas.

Fans of Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple might choose to venture to Knebworth House just a stone’s throw up the A1 to witness the scene of many an ITV murder mystery.

That famous first sentence

But even without the big screen, Hertfordshire can hold its own as a destination. It was in Hatfield House’s Old Palace that Henry VIII lived with his children, future English monarchs Mary, Edward and Elizabeth.

In lavish Knebworth House – built in 1490 – Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote that famous first sentence of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford: “It was a dark and stormy night.”

He also coined the phrase: “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

It was Baron Lytton’s literary chum and regular visitor to Knebworth House, who had the common touch to emerge as the greatest writer of that era, though – Charles Dickens.

From religion to romance

Nearby St Albans is home to splendid Ye Olde Fighting Cocks – the oldest licensed pub in England and a favourite of Inspector Morse – but also has a majestic cathedral.

It was here that Rowan Atkinson as Johnny English managed to pull down the pants of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The holy building was a church double for Westminster Abbey, whose authorities wanted nothing of the film on their premises.

The latest movie to boast Hertfordshire as a backdrop is Jane Campion’s Bright Star, about the English poet John Keats, which was shot almost entirely in the east of England.

The scenes for this romantic drama were filmed on location at the National Trust’s Ashridge Estate, Hunsdon Woodland in East Herts and Bower Heath Woodland in Harpenden.

And therein lies the beauty of this filmic county. From space sagas to romantic poets, Hertfordshire sets the scene.

» Piet van Niekerk visited Hertfordshire with East of England Tourism and stayed at the Corus Hotel Elstree, Edgwarebury House.