Yes, Hertfordshire is a visitor destination

By | Category: Travel destinations

Of course, everyone dresses like this at Knebworth!

Knebworth to follow, but first … Stevenage. Yes, the new town where they make satellites. Space exploration is big business in Stevenage. That’s probably just as well. Let’s face it, a space rocket would be most people’s choice of transport when asked how quickly you’d want to leave Stevenage. Functional, convenient for the A1, and, well, that’s about it. Still, the football team’s quite respectable and, if your first stage happens to fail, well, with a bit of luck, you’ll fall gently back to Earth, amid the lavender fields and manicured gardens; or maybe in St Albans, creating a Russian concussion of meteoric proportions, crashing through a pane of stained glass at the Abbey.

 

Not the most auspicious entry to the Roman-founded monasterial town, but you’d hardly be the first to indulge in recreational defenestration at the Tudor Abbey. Romans, Tudors, historic epochs abound in St Albans. Oh, hang on, the windows. Yes, defenestration. That happened in the Reformation – probably to the monks, and, with the exception of one pane, all the fine glass in the magnificent second-longest nave in Britain is Victorian reproduction. Winchester is longer by the thickness of a round table, by the way. Still as Dean Jeffrey John will tell you, St Albans Abbey has not one but two of the handful of shrines of England, and a holy relic to boot. Not bad at all, and if your visit permits time, a walk across Abbey Park, calling in at the Olde Fighting Cocks on the way will permit you to imbibe in the oldest established ale house in all of Great Britain, a shrine for real ale enthusiasts, if you will. Stuff that up your Arthurian legends, Winchester. While you’re at it, march into the Verulamium Museum, where a legion of roman artefacts and exhibits are enthusiastically displayed, interpreted and offered for handling by the erudite and enthusiastic staff.

trying not to pass Ye Olde Fighting Cocks

There’s not a lot of handling encouraged at our next highlight, but, then again, this is no museum, and these are no exhibits. Stately homes are all very well, but it’s not every day that the owner does the touring duties. Still, it’s not everyday one visits Knebworth, and it’s not every house that’s still in the hands of the same family, nine hundred years on. So, when Martha Lytton says welcome, you know she means it. Not that there are just the ten public rooms to see. Knebworth is a conference centre, garden stroll, and, I believe, the venue for the odd music recital on the lawn.

What can you say about Broxborne Zoo, that hasn’t already been said in court? The notorious scrap yard with an animal pend attached was closed down years ago. The happy ending to this story is that speedway star Steve Samson proved to be the unlikeliest of savours and, after a decade of labour, and a total transformation, the site – for geography is all it shares with the old incarnation – welcomes over 200,000 visitors to Paradise Animal Park, one of the leading conservation zoos in the world, and an exemplar of animal management.

Dreaming of lunch

Oh, and it’s also brilliant fun if you like the idea of proper big cats behaving like proper moggies.

 

If that heady air of success is too much for you, head for Hitchen, where the bouquet of success has a lavender air. Now there are two things to learn about Hitchen. First it’s the national centre for that dreamy herb’s production – you can pick your own if you can stay awake in the restfully scented fields. Second, it’s home to the Edwardian themed British Schools Museum. No sleeping at the back! Costumed guides take you through your eleven plus – that’s groups of eleven plus, you understand. Individual tuition is of course available.

Who would think to visit Hertfordshire and not mention the Hatfield Galleria? Well, most men of course, who would probably find an excuse for visiting Stevenage Borough for a League One fixture. Regrettably, they were away to Carlisle on our visit, so the shops it was. We’d have happily settled for cream tea at St Michael’s Manor, another of St Albans divine treasures, but, alas, twice in two days at the luxurious boutique hotel would be sinful over indulgence.

Harry Potter in Herts

There’s a devil of a performance at Leavesden Aerodrome too, where flights have long since given way to young Harry’s game. Yes, the magic of flying has given way to the magic of Harry Potter as Hertfordshire becomes Hogwartshire at the Warner Brothers studio attraction devoted to the precocious little wizard. Pricey? Possibly, but nobody is arguing about the popularity. Well, nobody who hasn’t been turned into a Muggle, anyway. The studios are live, so, you never know, you might meet some superstar wandering off an adjacent sound stage. Then again, you might just leave with a souvenir of your own starring role on the green screen. Ah, the magic of the movies. As for Hertfordshire, that’s a wrap.

 

Simon stayed with Novotel Stevenage, very handy for the A1; was chauffeured by Chambers Coaches of Stevenage; and was a guest of the local authority’s Hertfordshire initiative

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