If you are visiting England or live here and fancy a weekend away then look no further than Hitchin, a small market town 30 miles north of London on the East Coast Mainline. It’s been voted the 9th best town in the UK to live, James Bay the musician comes from here and Bob Hope claims he got his humour from his paternal grandfather who lived in Hitchin. It has recently been the setting for the hit BBC drama Dr Foster and is often featured on Location, Location, Location. If coming from London you can begin your trip with a Harry Potter experience at King Cross and board a train for a 30 minute journey north to the Home Counties. If you travel on the right day and time there are often steam trains running up and down the line doing tourist trips to the north of England occasionally stopping at Hitchin. If coming by car then it can be reached by the A1 and M1 motorways. You can even fly to Luton and get a bus or taxi to the town before heading in to London.
So what does Hitchin have to offer?
It has been here since the 11th century and is built around a market square with a untypically large church for a town of it’s size. The church is definitely worth a visit. The river Hiz which flows through the town was once pole vaulted by King Henry VIII who hunted in the area. The streets surrounding the centre of the town are cobbled and have historic buildings located throughout the 3 main streets of Bucklesbury, Sun and Tilehouse Streets. These are great for a wander with a varied set of independent shops, something Hitchin thrives on with very few chain shops in the town. There is a fashion show each year where the local shops present their wares to the town. For food there is a local market selling local fruit and veg, on Sundays it becomes a flea market with lot’s of random things on sale. The town has a varied ethnic mix with a yearly parade for Vaisakhi and there is also a vibrant Caribbean community. There is so much going on daily and the town has a underbelly of artists, small businesses and musicians who make this town a interesting place to live and go out in.
Getting Brunch & dinner
Many of the locals joke about the number of tea rooms and coffee shops that have opened in Hitchin over the years. It does however mean there are many places to grab a coffee or have brunch. There are a few places to check out all of which serve great food. The biggest and probably best place is a old music hall located on Hermitage Rd. Actually named after the road The Hermitage offers both a coffee shop and a full blown bar and restaurant. It has hosted a number of famous bands in it’s history including Eric Clapton and The Cream and now serves award winning food. There are other great places to grab brunch including The Groundworks and Chili B. For evening food Hitchin also doesn’t disappoint with Los Reyes which is a great local tapas venue as well as many other places to eat.
Rhythms of the World
A yearly music festival which used to be hosted for free in the town centre but has now relocated to the nearby Priory is the highlight of the year bringing in artists from around the world. It has a chilled family vibe and although you can’t camp here you do get 2 day’s of very different music to that you’d see at your average music festival. Run as a charity by people in the town it is a focal point of summer events in the town. Where else can you see India’s biggest band, Raghu Dixit? It is also the starting place for local talent via the BBC Introducing Stage and has a wide variety of local arts and crafts on display. Costs £10-15 for a day ticket and pretty much see’s the whole town attending at some point. Check out their website.
It isn’t only Rhythms though with music nightly in the town, James Bay started in the local pubs here and his brother Alex is still a regular on the local pub scene. There is Club85 which hosts a variety of bands and also a Folk night which won the BBC Folk Awards Venue in 2005 and is based in a local hotel, The Sun.
So you don’t like Music
If music isn’t for you then there are a number of other events on including Comedy with Lastminutecomedy and Mostly Comedy. Both events are monthly and get stars from the comedy circuit often practicing new sketches ahead of London or some of the bigger comedy festivals, guest stars include Aisling Bea, Sara Pascoe and Phill Jupitus. There is also a local theatre scene with arts on at both The Queen Mother Theatre (named such due to the mother of Queen Elizabeth II, Elizabeth being registered as being born in Hitchin. The queen visited recently as a result) and also the Market theatre which has a renowned rude panto yearly and many other local plays.
Explore the Lavender Fields
Seems like this place is always being featured on TV at the moment. In the summer it is a vibrant colourful day out with sunflowers and lavender growing over the local hills. The Lavender Fields are great for a day trip with a cafe onsite and you can also pick a bag of lavender for a small fee. Getting there is fairly easy and is a few miles from Hitchin station. You can get a taxi but can walk if feeling adventurous. There is a small village enroute called Ickleford which has a couple of good traditional pubs including the Old George which serves great food. Best time to visit here is August and early September when the Lavender is in full bloom (picture below is by @biggsy321 who is an avid travel blogger).
Visit the British School Museum
Want to know how British school kids were taught at the turn of the last century? Well you can learn here with a museum dedicated to the history of schools and has several classrooms which will teach you literally how school kids were once taught. Hosting the Jill Grey collection it has over 30,000 items from schools collected over the years. There is a variety of events which are hosted here so it is worth looking on the website.
Watch a Football match
Hitchin Town F.C. was established in 1865 and later reformed in 1928. It is one of only three clubs who competed in the first ever FA Cup and still do so now. It was the first club to beat Chelsea at home. There was recently a campaign which was featured on Sky news to save the club’s ground TopField from being converted to a supermarket. Although not the premiership it is a very traditional ground which has changed little over the years. There is much more sport on offer to the locals with a cycling club, the Nomads, which had Victoria Pendletons father, Max as a member. There is also a large Rugby club which hosts a annual 3 day beer festival. A running club which is run by the local celeb Jake Amos who is a two time Iron Man. If you are lucky you might also see Guillem Balague presenting a Sky Sports broadcast from a local venue.
Go on the Hitchin Bar Crawl
Not a annual event but an informal pub crawl which gives you the chance to take in the local pubs while exploring the town. There are many pubs in the town. The image below shows the crawl but you can just wander the town and find many more. Sadly the Kings Arms is no more but is now the excellent Los Reyes tapas bar, so probably makes a good mid-crawl place to refuel.
The Half Moon pub is a local award winner with a variety of guest ales, a resident cat and a new Moustache and Beard competition. The first one this year was attended from across the country and was an interesting sight which will hopefully become a mainstay in the town. The pubs provide a focal point in the town and have a variety of events on. The Victoria is probably the busiest pub and there is always something going on here including the annual Vic fest music festival. If you follow the crawl and end up here you won’t be disappointed. Apparently this year we are being invaded by Zombies so will see what that is about.
Watch the sunset on Windmill Hill
Hitchin has Windmill hill which gives stunning views of the surrounds especially at sunset. It is a short walk from the town centre and during the summer months is packed with people sunning themselves and watching the town and hills around.
Picture by Dave Woods @liverpoolimages.
Visit the Countryside around Hitchin
So Hitchin is great to spend the day in but the countryside around is equally nice for a day trip. The common lands close to the centre house impressive marsh lands where you can go and spot the local wildlife. Oughtonhead Common and the Purwell Meadows both have walks marked through them which are great for a few hours hiking.
Further afield you can hike the Greenway which is a 13 mile walk around Letchworth and also Hitchin. The Hitchin Hoop is another trail which takes you around the town and local villages, it is a good way of seeing the town and takes you through the town and also out to the Lavender fields. Letchworth which is just a few miles away was an original garden town built at the turn of the last century by Ebenezer Howard. It is also home to the UK’s first roundabout.
There are many other local villages to discover and not far away is Knebworth House and also Hatfield House. All on the main line train route. 40 minutes north is the historic university town of Cambridge. Duxford airfield is local as is the Shuttleworth collection which is 15 minutes drive away from Hitchin. Both places have a range of old aircraft to see.
This is just a slice of Hitchin life, how do i know all this? Because i live here and can’t think of a better town to live in for things to do both locally and in the surrounding countryside.