England travel guide: Stevenage
There are so many fantastic destinations to take a UK city break and top of the list would be London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool, York and Bath to name a few but there are so many towns in the country which are worth a drive or a quick rail ride to and Stevenage is one of them.
Located 50km north of central London and can be reached within twenty minutes on the intercity services out of Kings Cross (or the commuter trains out of the same station or St Pancras) and an hour’s drive (or even more if you get caught up in the dreaded rush hours which seems to run from 5am-10am and 3pm-7pm) of the main Motorway (A1(M)). A lot of people will usually bypass the town when either traveling by car or rail to somewhere up ‘north’ but I do have people coming up to me saying that they have heard of the town, they have seen it out of the window while wizzing pass the station at 125mph but never gave it anymore thoughts and I always have to explain why they have to visit the town.
Stevenage hails as a small village back in the days when horse and carts roamed the roads, where the bars on the high street were packed with carriagemen as they drove goods to and from the British capital (back then, there were 25 bars while Queen Victoria was in charge but now has gone down to eleven now (I think, it’s been awhile since I tried to attempt an pub crawl down the historic high street). The village remained sleepy like its neighbouring villages of Chells, Shephall, Broadwater until the Second World War came along. That’s when the Nazi Germans decided to fly over the East End of London and bomb it to bits. Once the war was over, the government passed an act known as the New Towns Act in 1946. Here there were plans to build new towns and over the next few years they were completed. This also meant people who lost their homes in London, moved out of the city and made a new life in places like Basildon, Harlow, Bracknell, Corby, Hatfield, Hemel Hempstead, Milton Keynes, Telford and Runcorn (to name a few) but the first to be completed was Stevenage.
The new town is located smack bang of all the villages which all got sucked in and the whole town became known as Stevenage with the suburbs named after the villages. Since it’s completion there are beautiful areas such as St Nicholas, Pin Green, Symonds Green, Fishers Green, Bedwell, Chells, Chells Manor, Shephall, Broadwater, Roebuck, Popular and since then Great Ashby. Stevenage is still expanding all the time with new housing estates being built to cope with the huge demand for housing as the town is now a popular destination to live in, especially with those who work in London.
One of the selling points for people to come and visit the town (or live) is the green space. We have the stunning Fairlands Valley with its man-made lakes (where I think my dad fell in before it had any water in it whilst as a child and bruised his skin, think it was the first accident recorded in the lakes accident book, if there is one!), lots of green space, lots of geese and ducks, fishing, sailing, children play areas, a totem pole and there is a maze (but in all the years I lived there, I have never seen it as I can’t find it!) Also a lot of people who play Pokemon Go are always flocking to the park as there are rumours of a rare Pokemon somewhere in the bushes near the start of the weekly Parkrun (a free 5km run which takes place every Saturday morning) course.
The town has its sporting greats of course, like Ashley Young who plays for Manchester United football club, Jack Wilshere (formerly of Arsenal), and ex-football Kevin Phillips. There are also Ian Poulter the golfer, Peter Harper (rally driver) and Ollie Garbas, international marathon runner for one of the running clubs, Stevenage Striders. Also Lewis Hamilton who does Formula One racing driving and won a few trophies recently but in essence, the town has great sporting stars and rugby, athletic, running, football clubs. Mentioning football, the town does have a football league side who got promoted from Non-League in 2010 and have reached the later rounds of the FA Cup. Stevenage FC also made history by winning the very first cup final (FA Trophy) back in 2007 at the New Wembley Stadium beating Kidderminster Harriers 3-2 after being 2-0 down at half-time in front of 55,000 supporters.
Stevenage is in the record books to! The town is the first to have its own cycle network and is currently getting upgraded as I write this. The town is known as ‘The Amsterdam of England’ but I think cities like Cambridge and Oxford may disagree. The town also has the largest church to be built in the country after the Second World War and still stands near the town centre, along with the town’s underground museum (that’s a museum which is located under street level! No, the town does not have a subway system!). The town also has many roundabouts (and I think we edge it in the total number against the town of Milton Keynes who claims to have more roundabouts than Stevenage) and also has Britain’s tallest lamp-post.
The town has an excellent cultural scene with the main focus being on the Gordon Craig Theatre where amazing shows and concerts are performed throughout the year but the main event is the annual pantomime. The show stars top-rated television stars and it’s a honour to have them perform in this amazing theatre. Don’t forget if you love art, we do have sculptures dotted around the town made by Harry Bates (no relation to me). The famous sculpture has to be the Joyride statue in the town centre next to the clock tower, this is the symbol of Stevenage. Into Movies, then nearby Knebworth House (famous for its rock concerts over the years) has been used in films such as Tomb Raider, The King’s Speech, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (The Yule Ball Staircase scene), and the facade of Bruce Wayne’s manor in the hit 199 film Batman. However the town has been used in movies such as ‘Here we go round the Mulberry Bush’ and ‘Boston Kickoff’ (which is a classic!).
Did you know Stevenage has been to Space? Yup, a lot of techy stuff gets made in the Industrial Area part of town and then gets flung into space by various space agencies in the world. Not only that, the town has a large drugs company producing treatments and also has many other industries located in this area. A lot of people come to the town to work and the town has been booming since the Industrial Area creation. For international connections the town is twinned with four others across the globe. Close by are Autun in France, Ingelheim am Rhein in Germany, Kadoma in Zimbabwe and the stunning city of Shymkent in Kazakhstan. Me personally I haven’t been to any of these cities but I hope to visit these in the near future.
Please also note that Stevenage is an excellent place to use as a base. There are many great hikes into the rolling hills of the Hertfordshire countryside, as well as exploring the attractions of Cromer Windmill, The Buck’s Head pub where there was once a sign outside illustrates an old legend that King Henry VIII, who is known to have hunted in this area, fell off his horse, which was startled by a deer and landed in a pond. Perhaps the very ponds behind the pub, god knows, I never saw it when I lived in the village. The man who helped him was granted 6d a year for life by the grateful monarch – riches indeed in those days. There is also the historic town of Hitchin, the world’s first Garden City with the UK’s first roundabout, Letchworth and going further afield, Luton is always worth a visit (or to catch a plane which always seems to be a highlight).
As a base there are many wonderful hotels dotted around the town and there are a selection of guesthouses and B&B’s in Old Stevenage. For eating out there are plenty of eateries again on the High Street and all the chains like Pizza Hut are located in Roaring Meg retail park.
Personally, for me, Stevenage and the surrounding area is home and I will never forget my roots. It’s not a bad place, it’s definitely not slums and has a lot of potential. I am sure there are exciting times ahead for the town and the community. It maybe a new town where most people think the history started in 1946 but the town and the villages beforehand have been here a lot longer which means a lot of history. It’s a fantastic place for cycling, sailing, running and my other favourite thing about living here is the transport links (when it’s not the rush hour). Trains to Edinburgh, quick drives to London, located near Stansted and Luton airports with Heathrow not being too far away. A lot of people’s perception is that Stevenage is a place not worth visiting and looks ugly but to be honest, I believe it’s a fantastic destination to visit whilst exploring the London area. Tie it in with a visit to Cambridge or St Albans and you will never regret the decision.