Letchworth: Green Spaces and Pleasant Cafes

There’s plenty to learn and discover for 20th Century history fans at Letchworth Garden City.

Unlike most other towns in the area, Letchworth (or Letchworth Garden City as it was previously known) is a settlement that did not develop naturally. A town that was essentially built from the ground up between 1903 and 1907, it’s one of the first examples of a completely purpose-built and planned town, as opposed to the older, organically formed settlements that surround it.

Social reformer Ebenezer Howard was the man behind the plan; he believed that a truly modern city should embrace aspects of both the rural and the urban – the purchase of 16 square kilometres of land just outside the market town of Hitchin was his chance at proving his theory right. Architects were hired and soon the town was under construction, with the strict instruction to avoid felling trees at any cost. By the time construction had been completed, only one tree had been felled and the UK’s first ‘Green Belt’ had been preserved for agriculture – a large stretch of land which would help feed the growing population of the new town.

The abundance of green space, unusually quiet evenings and proximity to surrounding rural areas makes Letchworth an ideal destination for walkers and tourists alike.

Where to Walk

Whilst there are many great trails and footpaths in the surrounding areas of Letchworth, the best routes to follow are the ones that have been there for almost as long as the town. The Garden City Greenway is far and away the most popular path for visitors. Stretching around the perimeter of the town it runs for 13.6 miles with plenty of opportunities for sight-seeing and picnic breaks. You can find more information about the paths and trails through Letchworth right here.

Where to Stay

There are only a handful of hotels to choose from in Letchworth, but thankfully the standard is high across the board, so you can almost guarantee a good night’s sleep after your long day of exploring the town.

The Broadway Hotel offers a good standard of customer service with good sized rooms for all kinds of clientele, whilst the Mercure Letchworth Hall is priced similarly and is set within the grounds of a converted 17th Century manor house.

If you’d rather keep away from the larger establishments, then there’s a supporting network of Airbnb hosts with reasonable prices and well-placed locations.

Where to Eat

Being of a moderate size now with a good-sized population, you’ll be able to find a restaurant representing most popular World cuisines, however the best-rated establishments are the clutch of small, understated cafes that dot the town centre. At the top of the list is David’s Bookshop Cafe, a recently opened establishment which pretty much does what it says on the tin.

There’s a great selection of cakes and sandwiches, plus there’s always a large stock of reading materials for bargain hunters. You could easily miss The Potting Shed as it’s hidden away in the grounds of Thornes Garden Nursery, it’s only small but serves well-presented cafe fair in a relaxed, un-stuffy environment.

What to Do

Letchworth has always sported a thriving sporting community, thanks to the large amounts of green spaces that were incorporated into the construction of the town. Whilst you’re in Letchworth you can get in on the action, either bring your own gear or buy some whilst you’re there.

Whilst there aren’t any wholesale sporting stores to shop at, there are a handful of shops that can help you get running, cycling or swimming. Trisports can fit you out with some quality sports gear, sometimes at good discounts, whilst Just Racket caters specifically to tennis, squash and badminton players.

Hatfield: The Corner of British Modernity

Civilised, Peaceful and Austere.

The ‘New Town‘ of Hatfield might not be the most rural of destinations that you could visit within the area, but it’s classy modernist architecture and (relatively) small population makes it a great go-between the isolated villages in the local area and the larger towns of St. Albans and Watford.

Historically, there has been a settlement around the area since 970, however it wasn’t until the construction of Hatfield House that the town as it’s known today began to truly take shape. Back in those days the construction of houses had a massive effect on the local economy. Where before there might have simply been just a handful of hovels and a few fields, the building of such a stately home would have done a lot to attract people from far and wide.

Hatfield House created an economy and town around it, simply by existing. The house hired people to till the land, to guard the grounds and to build more supporting structures – not to mention hiring a whole retainer of staff to keep the house in tip-top condition. If it wasn’t for the building of Hatfield House, there would certainly be no Hatfield – a town that is still a joy to visit to this day.

Where to Walk

Whilst you might have to trundle for a while to escape the bustling centre of Hatfield, it won’t take you long to bump into a few quality paths which can take you off and away into the surrounding areas. Your easiest and most direct escape from the centre is by following the old railway line away from the town. This charming, straight path is in good condition and is relatively safe for younger kids. Walk to Hill End Lane and then dive down Hixberry Lane to discover The Plough, a nice little pub with a great children’s play area.

Where to Stay

If you’re staying longer than a few nights then it’s worth checking into one of a handful of Hatfield’s quality chain-owned hotels. Whilst you might not be able to relax in the kind of boutique B&B environments that are fashionable right now, you can at least guarantee an affordable, clean stay at a minimal cost. Straying onto sites such as Airbnb is not recommended as you will risk a night’s sleep in a sub-par room which might still cost you an arm and a leg.

Where to Eat

There’s not a huge range of food options in Hatfield, however the establishments that they do have produce their food at a good standard and at a decent price. Try a classic donner kebab or delve into something a little more adventurous at Turkish Kitchen, where the food is always beautifully presented.

f you fancy something a little more traditional then you can head to The Red Lion for affordable pub grub with a decent pint. Lastly, you can always count on Bengal Spices, a well-run authentic Indian and Bangladeshi restaurant which also offers takeaway delivery, if you’re feeling a little lazy.

What to Do

This one’s a no-brainer really, the ultimate Hatfield-based attraction is Hatfield House – the stately home that laid the groundwork for the town itself, as well as being the home for numerous high-ranking members of British aristocracy over the years.

It’s been reported that Elizabeth I first discovered about her ascension to the throne whilst staying in the Old Palace at Hatfield House, some even say that she held her first Council Meeting there. Regardless of the rumours, it’s still a great place to come and visit, especially if you’re looking to fill a whole day.

Wheathampstead: Your Own Slice of Idyllic English Country

Settled within the calm sea of rural Hertfordshire, this charming good-sized village makes for a great base to start your hiking adventure.

Short drives will take you to the nearby tourist towns of St. Albans or Welwyn Garden City, but why would you need to leave when there are some truly fine countryside walks at your disposal right here?

A long weekend spent in Wheathampstead offers much more than just a simple relaxing retreat. This vibrant village has an extremely active community, centred around a number of village halls popping your head into any one of these buildings will offer a glimpse into the social life that the people of Wheathampstead enjoy. Everything from a Wine Club to Yoga Classes and even a knitting class, should you wish to pick yourself up one of many locally made faux fur pom pom hats.

Where to Walk

There are an abundance of trails and paths that run their way from Wheathampstead, all the way round the surrounding Golf Clubs and adjoining towns in the area, but the best route to take can be found through the National Trust. A robust circular route winds it’s way around from Wheathampstead, following in the steps of playwright George Bernard Shaw and even stopping off at his home, Shaw’s Corner.

Where to Stay

You’ll be glad to see that there are no large budget hotels crowding the small village centre of Wheathampstead, however it might leave you scratching your head as to where you should bed down for the night. Thankfully, there are a decent handful of options for couples happy to stay in Airbnb accommodations.

The standout for many travellers is Sally’s White Cottage Garden Annexe. A completely separate living space gives you privacy as well as comfort, just a short walk from the Wheathampstead village centre. Groups of three or more might struggle finding a place together, however The Silver Cup, in nearby Harpenden, offers comfortable rooms at a close distance to the village.

Where to Eat

There’s enough variety to keep a voraciously hungry couple satisfied for a few days here in Wheathampstead. Should you wish to significantly top up your red blood cell count then well renowned Steak chain Miller & Carter serves up good quality meat at a good price. However, if you’d rather eat on a budget throughout your stay, then there are a few quirkier corners that you could stop in at. Charlie’s is a traditional English cafe which will feel instantly familiar to any British local, serving up classic pasties, sandwiches and the like. There’s also the obligatory Indian, Chinese and a handful of Pubs to choose from too.

What to Do

If you’re a little worn out by the hiking, then there are plenty of places to kick your feet up in Wheathampstead. Should you wish to get a better grasp of the stunning surrounding landscape then there are four golf clubs that essentially surround the village.

You won’t need to be a member to play and there’s an amiable atmosphere in all of these places that matches the genteel nature of Wheathampstead’s populace. Short drives will also take you to sights such as Knebworth House, Tewinbury and Heartwood Forest.

Maple Cross: The Heart of the Colne Valley

Settle into the historical centre of a stunning English valley retreat.

Up until the end of the Second World War, Maple Cross consisted of not much more than a single pub, blacksmith’s shop and a handful of cottages. The placid village was really more of a hamlet then; trapped in time and somewhat isolated through dint of it’s remote location in the Colne Valley Regional Park, this was all to change with the construction of some 800 government funded homes, intended to house a portion of the thousands of Londoners that had been rendered homeless after the destruction of the Blitz.

Only two historical buildings remain in the village, the 17th Century Cross Inn was converted into flats but remains outwardly the same and a traditionally made barn exists on the outskirts of the village. Although hardly what you would call a tourist village, Maple Cross nonetheless has enough spare rooms to keep a couple or lone traveller comfortable for a few nights.

Where to Walk

One of the benefits of staying in Maple Cross is the location. Right in the middle of the Colne Valley Regional Park, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes hikes, whether you fancy a peaceful stroll through quaint villages and hamlets, or a more robust walk past the myriad of rivers and lakes that dot the Park. This site collects together a number of charming circular walks that will keep you busy for a few days at the very least.

Where to Stay

Being as small as it is there are only a small handful of places that you can stay in Maple Cross itself. The best night’s sleep that you’ll be able to find in the area will most likely be at pubs or inns – with that being said, it’s never a bad idea to take a quick look at Airbnb to see if there happens to be a room going spare when you visit. Book in advance and you’ll be able to stay at one of many idyllically situated country pubs. Well-established pubs such as The Oaks, a well-kept traditionally planned public house, or the Dumb Bell, not only offer rooms but also have evening regular evening entertainment on for locals and visitors alike.

Where to Eat

Although you’ll want to spend the majority of your time exploring the area, it’s worth portioning out some time to check out the excellent gastro-pubs and country style restaurants that are spotted around the Cole Valley Park. Highlights include the popular Coy Carp in Harefield, microbrewery The Fat Cow and authentic Thai Restaurant, Sukanya Thai in Denham Green.

What to Do

If you grow a little weary from hiking and are looking for a more cultural diversion then the Chiltern Open Air Museum is a great choice for History buffs or active kids. Offering a completely unique look at the historical landscape of the Chilterns area, the Open Air Museum is home to over 30 ‘rescued’ buildings. When a local historical building is in danger of being demolished, this organisation finds a way of taking them apart an reconstructing them for the public to enjoy. Regular events take place at the Musuem, so it’s always best to take a look at their website first before planning a visit.

St. Albans – A Roman Gateway to the Countryside

Taking a stroll through History…

If you’re thinking of taking a visit to Hertfordshire then St. Albans should certainly be top of your agenda.

Although this quaint Roman town might not be on top of many tourists’ wishlists, there’s a whimsical charm to it’s curious planning, along with plenty of historical landmarks that demand to be seen. 

Being an early Roman settlement, one of the first built in Britain, the town is bristling with points of interest; for this reason a bracing walk around St. Albans, stopping off for a spot of tea or even a nice pub lunch, can easily fill up a day or two. Spend a couple of nights in this quirky English city and you’ll have the chance to explore it’s other attractions, such as the classically Victorian, Clarence Park or the 8th Century St. Michael’s Church.

Where to Walk

Head to EnjoyStAlbans.com to find a handy city map and trail guide that will take you on a circular route starting from the Visitor Information Centre. On the way you’ll see a preserved Roman Mosaic, the iconic Abbey Gateway and the Marlborough Almshouses.

Where to Stay

A quick peep on Airbnb will unearth a number of spare rooms that you can choose to lodge in, if you’re looking to save money and spend most of your time out and about. However, trawl the internet a little further and you’ll soon find a number of quirky places to stay that might cost you a little more, but will no doubt improve your stay immeasurably.

At the top of the bill is St. Albans’ very own country retreat, Sopwell House. This 17th Century country home turned hotel is the closest that you’ll come to truly living in the history of the town. It sits in it’s own grounds on the edge of the town, making it feel like a true respite from the bustle of the city.

Fancy something a little more laid back and cosy? Fleuchary House, on Upper Lattimore Road, is a comfortable B&B experience that caters to both couples, as well as families. The owners of this place have taken their experiences of owning a luxury lodge in Perthshire and transplanted those hospitality to St. Albans. Ideally located in the centre of town, it makes for a great starting point for walks in and around the city – plus their full English breakfast is possibly the best to be had in St. Albans.

Where to Eat

Like most English cities, you’ll be able to find all manner of cuisine in St. Albans. However, before you think about dropping in at one of the cities many fine restaurants, such as Thai Rack or local favourite Devdas, you should plan a visit to one of the city’s oldest pubs.

The Boot has been serving the best cask ales to St. Albans for centuries now, with the pub first opening it’s doors in the 14th Century. Today it remains as one of the city’s most popular venues, with live music, bombastic food and carefully sourced beers drawing a crowd in seven days a week.

If you’ve got a full day ahead of you, however, and don’t quite fancy starting your day with a pint of ale, then you can always drop in to Abigail’s Tea Room for a light snack and a cup of tea. The English Tea Room is a concept that is often copied but never truly emulated and Abigail’s, with it’s tiny sugar cubes and quaint china crockery, is a perfect example of how charming they can really be.

What to Do

Whilst there’s plenty of historical sights to take in on your walk around the city, there are a handful of other attractions that are well worth a visit if you’re considering spending more than a couple of days in St. Albans. The Pioneer Club, is one of the oldest skate parks in the UK whose historical roots lie during WW2, by the 1960s a purpose built hall had been erected to create a venue for live music and by the 1990s it had been gutted and transformed into a place to skate.

For those wanting to keep their feet on solid ground, The Odyssey is a unique, art-deco cinema experience that has to be seen to be believed. Channelling the early days of the cinema, the seating arrangement utilises a now-defunct tables and chairs setup that will certainly please vintage lovers.

Welwyn Garden City: Britain’s Utopia

 Verdant, green, bustling and ornate.

These are all words that you could use to describe Welwyn Garden City, the second and last of it’s kind to be built in England.

Sir Ebenezer Howard was the man behind this brave new concept of the ‘garden city’ – his idea was to control the rapidly growing urban sprawl and improve the lives of thousands, by building settlements that blended the best aspects of the town and the country – without any of the negatives.

After successfully adapting the town of Letchworth to suit his concept, Howard was able to raise the necessary funds to purchase land in Hertfordshire to build his first Garden City from scratch.

The town is now nearly a hundred years old and has seen significant development since it’s founding. Although you could argue that the current incarnation of Welwyn Garden City is a far cry from how it’s founder would have envisioned it, use your imagination and you can get a glimpse of what Howard wanted to achieve. The Parkway, a stretch of green land that runs through the centre of the town, remains much the same, complete with fountains, mall and walkways – it’s both ordered and peaceful, a perfect place for a walk.

Where to Walk

Despite almost a hundred years of developments reshaping the town, you can still get an idea of what Ebenezer Howard was trying to achieve when he set out to build this place. Although you could use Welwyn as a base to explore the surrounding countryside, first you should embark on a tour of the town itself. The AA features a great 4-mile route that takes you around Howard’s vision of Welwyn – a must-see for first time visitors.

Where to Stay

There are a wealth of traditional hotels and accommodation options in Welwyn that are sure to satisfy most, but should you wish to buy into Ebenezer Howard’s unique vision of the country and town combined, you should stay at Tewin Bury Farm Hotel.

Set on the outer limits of Welwyn, this converted farm is by no means as rustic as it sounds. Although the exterior suggests rugged design and might put the fear in those who crave home comforts, any doubts will be dispelled after you take a look at one of their rooms. Retaining the original features of the farm buildings, whilst adding modern aesthetics, this hotel would have been right up Ebenezer’s street.

If you’d rather stay in more austere surroundings, then the 18th Century Brocket Hall will be the place for you, prices are steep but the sense of grandeur and the two 18-hole golf courses more than makes up for this.

What to Eat

Ebenezer Howard’s first town of Letchford was notorious for it’s ban on the sale of alcohol. The new residents voluntarily lived in a dry town until 1958, when they turned it over after a referendum. To this day there are very few pubs in that town. Welwyn was not populated under such restrictions though, so there are plenty of places to grab a drink and a bite to eat. Try out the Doctors Tonic for a quiet pint and humble grub. If you’d rather have a taste of the seaside, Lee’s Fish’n’Chips is the local favourite and is renowned for it’s excellent customer service.

What to Do

Whilst there are tonnes of interesting things to see for budding historians, Welwyn might prove to be a little dry for the tastes of children. Saying that, one historical attraction young ones will certainly find interesting is the Roman Baths, it’s easy to imagine the Roman’s stepping into their steaming hot pools and the tunnels that take you there are always a win with kids.

If history really isn’t their bag though, there are a handful of activities that can fill a couple of hours and truly rescue a child from potential boredom. For a couple of quick hours of high octane fun, the town’s dedicated rollerskating rink, Rollercity, is open all day during the weekend and in the evenings on Monday, Thursday and Friday. You can hire skates there, so all you need to bring is a smile, a sense of balance and your dancing moves!

Broxbourne: A Base for Adventure

Peace, Quiet and White Water Rafting

With a small population of just over 15,000, Broxbourne is more of a commuter town than anything else, but that doesn’t mean that you should avoid visiting it.

Spend a weekend in this quaint town and you’ll soon see why so many Londoners have flocked to this town. Whether it’s the ghost town vibe that permeates the weekdays or the serene silence that reigns over the town on a Sunday evening, Broxbourne might not offer a great deal in the way of entertainment, but this cosy settlement has more than enough character to make up for it, not to mention a winning proximity to two of the county’s finest green spaces.

With that in mind, you’ll only have to drive 5 or 10 minutes to bump into some stellar activities that will keep the whole family entertained. There are a loads of things to do for outdoors obsessed kids and also some fun venues that hold occasional events in the evenings.

Where to Walk

For those wishing to invest their time in a bit of topographical surveying, the deep forests to the west of the town should be left until after they’ve explored the massive Lee Valley Regional Park. With 26 miles of trails to enjoy, there’s enough hiking here to keep avid walkers entertained for at least a long weekend.

There are plenty of routes available to preview over at the Lee Valley’s site – our favourite is the Artworks routes which take you on a tour of all the sculptures and natural play pieces that are dotted around the park.

Where to Stay

Broxbourne is only a small town so there are few traditional accommodation options at your disposal. Unless you want to spend a night in the local chain hotel, your best bet is going to Airbnb.

It might not be a hotel experience, but you’ll be able to save money and also get some recommendations from the host that you stay with. For big groups and families, you can stay at The Pumping Station, a big country house style home that can sleep 7. If you’re holidaying as a couple or by yourself, then you can stay with Donna on her canal boat. Usually birthed in nearby Chestnut, she’s always happy to move the canal boat to a location closer to you!

Where to Eat

Thanks to the gentrifying effect of Broxbourne’s commuter population, the pubs in the town are less in line with Hertfordshire’s tradition of old school, 17th century boozers and are more akin to the trendy gastro-pubs that you’re likely to find in the capital.

Still, regardless of the rather clinical setting, pubs like The Crown and The Bull are fine places to sip down a pint and grab a quick bite. If you fancy something a little more left-field then you can nip down the road to Hoddesdon, where the chefs at Heidi’s Kitchen serve up fresh, healthy food that’s usually vegetarian and very colourful.

What to Do

Besides taking yourself around the plethora of walking trails that inhabit both the Lee Valley Regional Park and nearby Broxbourne Woods National Nature Reserve, there are a couple of neat attractions tucked away that you’ll want to visit, especially if the sun’s shining.

Not many people are aware that the Olympic Games found their way to the Lee Valley Park in 2012. The Lee Valley White Water Centre was constructed to host the white water rafting and it’s now open to for the public to check out! If water sports aren’t your thing then perhaps you might fancy spotting some wild animals in Broxbourne Woods. Paradise Wildlife Park is hidden away in the woods where you can find tigers, lions, zebras plus loads more creatures to keep the kids entertained.

Royston: Summer Strolls and Fine Food

You’d perhaps be forgiven for overlooking Royston as a travel destination.

Closely situated to a handful of larger, more iconic towns and cities (such as Cambridge, Milton Keyes and Bedford) Royston is much smaller than it’s neighbours but has the advantage of feeling more intimate, allowing visitors staying in the town’s quietly bustling centre to easily adapt to it’s idyllic ebb and flow.

Although there might not be a large variety of cultural activities to keep yourself busy during the evenings, the town is home to several magnificent eateries and the surrounding areas make for some truly satisfying hiking. 

Where to Walk

There are miles of well looked after tracks and paths in the surrounding areas. We found this route from BritishWalks.org to be the most satisfying, but there are still plenty of others to explore.

Where to Stay

Despite it’s diminutive size, there are a wide range of accommodation options in the town. For those with deep pockets, the modern yet classical Banyer’s House is one of the most luxurious hotels in town.

Double rooms at this swanky establishment can cost up to £179, but if you do choose to stay here you’ll have the convenience of having one of the best restaurants in town in the same building.

Serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner with an ample brunch menu to boot, some may find the prices a little steep, but the quality is hard to argue with.

If you fancy saving on accommodation (and enjoying a stay with less intrusion) then Laurels Holiday Cottage could be right up your street. Offering a cosy double bedroom with a sofa bed for an extra guest, this tidily presented self-catered option is perfect for walkers who’d rather stay on the fringes of the town. Technically speaking, this cottage is closer to nearby Barley than Royston, but it’s nevertheless a great choice for those looking to tackle the 17.2 mile mile hike that circles around the town.

Where to Eat

Sometimes a packed lunch just doesn’t quite cut it. If you’ve spent a day hiking for miles around, you’re going to be hungry and a hastily prepared home-cooked meal might not be the best way to solve that hunger. Luckily, there are some great places to eat in Royston and despite the area’s reputation for being rather expensive, they won’t all cost you an arm and a leg.

The Fox & Duck is situated around 3 miles outside of Royston, having been awarded the Best Pub prize in the Hertfordshire Food & Drink Awards for the third year in a row, this is a family friendly country-style pub that you should definitely pencil in a visit to. Although they’re frequently lauded for their excellent roast dinners, it’s the cheerful ambience that makes this a wonderful place to visit. Arrive in the afternoon for a couple of drinks, have a home-cooked meal and then walk back to your bed, happy and satisfied.

If you’re looking for somewhere to eat in Royston proper, where you can sit down to a relaxed meal after a long day of hiking, then the Jolly Postie is the place for you. A pub owned by local brewery, McMullen, the charm of the Jolly Postie is in it’s kitsch decor which blends traditional pub elements with that of a modern bar. The highlight has to be the retro Postman’s van which can seat 6-8 people and makes for a wonderfully cosy place to munch down on some lovely pub grub.

What to Do

There’s a bit of a dearth for activities for children in Royston, however there are a still a handful of attractions that could fill out a day. The Royston Caves are small, but will no doubt fire up the imaginations of amateur historians both young and old. For older kids and adults, Apocalypse Paintball is a great way to explore the local forests and get your pulse racing at the same time!