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Hitchin

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Hitchin is a town with 33,350 inhabitants 35 miles north of London in the county of Hertfordshire. Hitchin is an old market town first mentioned 1,000 years ago.

Understand

Hitchin is a historic market town in the north of Hertfordshire. It is twinned with the German town Bingen and the French town Nuits-Saint-Georges. Hitchin has its own character and several historic buildings can be found around the town centre, historic market place, Bancroft, Bucklersbury and Sun Street. Although this part of Hertfordshire is fairly heavily populated there is still plenty of scenery with rolling hills, lots of small villages and single track lanes to be found.

Girton College (Cambridge) was briefly first sited in Hitchin before the University authorities decided female students could perhaps be permitted to reside within 30 miles of the older colleges. The building still stands, near the summit of Benslow Lane, but is of little distinction.

Get in

By car

  • A1 Stevenage -> 3 miles to Hitchin on A602
  • M1 Luton -> 10 miles to Hitchin on A505

Parking in the town centre is under pressure at peak times - the unloved Lairage multi- storey car park is still close to the centre and cheaper.

By train

Frequent, generally fast, trains run to and from LondonStevenageCambridge and Peterborough. Occasionally, trains run further on to Brighton and Horsham via Gatwick Airport. The station is 5 minutes by bus or 15 mins walk from town centre. Services are sometimes disrupted in late evening/at weekends, often with bus substitution - check carefully before you travel and check if planning to travel with a bike - this is strictly forbidden on rush hour trains to London in the morning and from London in the evening - the driver or station staff will prevent you boarding if you attempt to do son.

By plane

The nearest main airport is Luton Airport about 15 minutes drive from Hitchin. Heathrow Airport is a 1 hour drive otherwise about 1.5 hours by train via London and the Heathrow Express. Coach 777 (Birmingham Airport- Luton Airport - Stansted Airport) stops at Hitchin, as does coach 787 (Heathrow Airport - Luton Airport - Cambridge). Bus 386 runs to/from Bishop's Stortford (change there for local buses or a train to Stansted Airport) and buses 100 and 101 to/from Luton (the former also via the Airport in Luton). There are trains approximately every thirty minutes to Gatwick Airport (taking around 90 minutes) from/to Hitchin, but these are often cancelled or delayed - check before you travel.

Get around

On foot, or nearby villages within easy reach by bike. Pleasant rides (with pubs at the far end) to Willian, ShillingtonCharlton, Gosmore, Great/Little Wymondley, Ickleford, Pirton etc. Beyond Charlton the Red Lion at Preston (communally owned by the villagers) is worth visiting for its ambience, ales and pub dining, but does not keep extended hours.

See

  • Market Place. The key node of the town centre. No longer used for 'proper' markets, which were moved to a nearby site at the end of the dismal Churchgate passage many years ago. Mostly pedestrianised now, setting off the fine variety of Victorian and older buildings around most of the square. Farmers' and other specialised markets held from time to time. Delightful wooden cabmen's shelter resited here from the railway station, after decades in a private garden.
  • Sun Street. Slightly marred by the '60s Churchgate development but otherwise an architectural gem.
  • Bancroft. Historically the main approach to the centre from the North. Unusually broad due to its original usage as a cattle market as well as thoroughfare. Still well-lined with old buildings as well as some, mostly lamentable, modern ones.
  • Bucklersbury. Historic street, interesting back yards of former coaching inns
  • St Mary's Church. Sometimes nicknamed "Hitchin Cathedral", it is the largest parish church in the county and has two side chapels.  Worth seeing in its own right as well as for the small shops along the paths surrounding the churchyard
  • Biggin Almshouses (Next to open market). Mediaeval buildings with courtyard, still in use
  • 1 British Schools Museum, 41/42 Queen Street, ☏ +44 1462 429244. In a rare and historic complex of buildings dating back to 1837, the museum tells the story of elementary education from 1810. Also includes the restored Victorian Headmaster's House.
  • Fine Victorian stepped terrace of houses, Queen St.
  • 18th century and earlier houses, Bridge St/Tilehouse St. Also mysterious fragments of much older building incorporated in the Coopers Arms pub.
  • Local museum (Next to library.). Complete historic pharmacy preserved (closed Sun). The adjoining Physic Garden contains many plants once used medicinally - some poisonous.

Also in the area is Knebworth (historic house and grounds).

Do

  • Walk to top of Windmill Hill (end of Hermitage Road) for view over town. Then roll down again, a la Samuel Johnson, or sledge (carefully!) if snowy.
  • Walk out to Charlton (½ hour), down a cooling pint outside The Windmill, and find a different way back across the fields or via Gosmore.
  • Very scenic wooded walk beside the river to Oughton Head (turn West from Bedford Road beyond West Mill estate). Various routes back, B655 not recommended due to narrowness and lack of footways.
  • Go on a pub crawl, Hitchin has many pubs. Three have 5 or more real ales (see pub section below).
  • Rhythms of the World festival Used to take over the entire town centre for a weekend each year but from 2008 re-sited to the grounds of the Priory nearby, with a modest admission charge. The 2011 date for the festival is the weekend of the 9th/10 July. [1]
  • Vaisakhi Parade Spectacular procession through town by the local Sikh community (annually, Saturday 16 April in 2011) [2]
  • Market Theatre Unbelievably small theatre off Sun St. Varied (professional) repertoire, see local posters or [3]
  • Queen Mother Theatre More conventional, modern building in car park off Walsworth Rd near town centre. Home to local amateur group as well as professional productions. [4]
  • Broadway Cinema OK, it's in Letchworth, but it's the nearest available and excellent value at £4.50 weekdays (except Friday evening); £2 extra for 3D films. Four screens in tastefully converted Art Deco building. [5]
  • Outdoor swimming pool (open summer months only) Rare survivor of the 'Lido' style, Butts Close (Bedford Road)
  • Travelling fairs On Butts Close for a few days at a time, 2 or 3 times a year.
  • Squash. Courts in North Herts College on Cambridge Rd (£4.40 for 45 mins, booking required) and in Ickleford (members only).

Buy

  • Allinghams Traditional butcher with excellent sausages, game, etc. (Market Square)
  • Brookers. Local hardware and kitchenware shop (postoffice inside) (Bucklersbury, note: trade counters on Cadwell lane in industrial estate)
  • Colanders A wide range of kitchen and dining-ware (Churchgate)
  • Eric T. Moore Books Now sadly no longer open to the public - mail order only - for new books, the best local option is David's Bookshop in Letchworth [6]
  • Garden House Hospice Charity Shop A local charity - clothes, bric-à-brac, some furniture (Bancroft)
  • Halsey's. (Deli) Delicatessen with a good range of premium foods and goodies, great cheese, also local produce (Market Square)
  • Hawkins of Hitchin Clothes for everybody and toys for kids (Bucklersbury)
  • Hedley Wright Wine Merchants Regular wine tastings, over 1000 wines, (The Wyevale Centre, Cambridge Road - between Hitchin and Letchworth)
  • John Myatt. Specialist music/musical instrument sales and repairs, closed Mondays (Nightingale Road)
  • Machine Head Music. Large range of guitars etc (Bucklersbury)
  • Merryfields Very well-stocked newsagent, lots of obscure mags, also travel guides. (Sun Street)
  • B&M Bargains Very large discount superstore, chain (Nightingale Road)
  • Open Market. General stalls Tue, Fri, & Sat; plus "antique" stalls on Fri, garage/boot sale on Sun, and a farmers' and craft market on the last Saturday of each month (between Churchgate and Queen Street)
  • Oxfam Charity Shop Clothes, bric-à-brac, fair-trade goods (near St. Mary's church)
  • Picture Framer The obvious thing (Sun street)
  • Quotidian Bakery Good quality craft baker (cnr Sun/Tilehouse Streets)
  • Sainsbury's Groceries, 11-5 on Sundays (off Bancroft or Whinbush Road)
  • The Arcade Slightly quaint, small-scale covered way with a dozen or so shops and cafés (off Market Square)
  • Waitrose Groceries, 10-4 on Sundays (top of Brand Street, parking off Old Park Road)[7]
  • Wilkinson Large, extremely cheap chain hardware-n-homewares store (Bancroft, Hermitage junction)

Eat

There is a good selection of places to eat in Hitchin including pubs, cafes and the usual range of cuisines such as Italian, Indian, Chinese and Thai.

  • Curry Express, Bancroft. best curry take away in the county, amazing food, low prices and great staff
  • Dhaka, Sun Street. Reliably good value Bangladeshi cuisine. £10+ per person.
  • Dragon Inn (formerly the Greyhound pub), St. Ippolyts. Chinese, tasty offering and easy quick drive from town centre.
  • Just 32, Sun Street. Expensive English restaurant Sun Street £20-30 person.
  • Khushma Cottage, Walsworth Road. Tiny Bangladeshi restaurant, some unusual dishes, less overwhelming servings than the Dhaka £10+ per person.
  • Murphy's, Hermitage Road. Best local chippy according to some locals, though some favour The Town Fryer
  • No12, Bridge Street. Very nice English restaurant with friendly staff, a selection of very nice wines, and novel English cuisine £30+ person for a 3 course menu.
  • Regent Cottage, 11C High Street. Good quality Chinese restaurant on the first floor, the only 'eat-in' Chinese in town
  • Sirichai, Bancroft. Nice Thai restaurant £20+ person for a 3 course menu, Thai wine is OK, mixed starter particularly good
  • Sukawatee, Hermitage Road. Serves Thai/Malaysian/Japanese food, outstanding quality, well presented food £15+ per person.
  • The Radcliffe Arms, 31 Walsworth Road, ☏ +44 1462 456111. Former pub re-opened in 2009, rather good quality and value food, nice cafe-restaurant atmosphere during the day, no longer a pub but has a good beer selection including 2 real ales (usually from Buntingford Brewery).
  • Town Fryer, Hermitage Road and also, lunchtime only, Churchgate. Best local chippy according to some locals, though some favour Murphys
  • "Takeaway City" Nightingale Road/Verulam Road junction - Parade of takeaway joints - kebabs/chips, pizzas, Chinese, Indian all represented. Area sometimes rather rowdy late at night.
  • Cantina Carnitas [8] Bucklerbury. Small restaurant on Bucklesbury offering superb Mexican street food.
  • Blue Mango, Bucklesbury. Small restaurant on Bucklesbury serving superb food from two menus - Indian and Thai.

Drink

Hitchin is an excellent town for a real-ale crawl; the Sunrunner, Half Moon, and Nightingale will supply you with 15 to 20 ales between them, and several other pubs have a hand pump or two.

  • Club 85, 74 Whinbush Road. Lively local music venue.
  • Ivory, 10 Brand Street. Bar with music in former town hall building.
  • Millstream, 97 Cambridge Road. A few hundred yards turning right out of the station. Large McMullen pub serving good quality but expensive food £15+ per person. Pints are expensive, coffees are lovingly prepared.
  • Molly Malone's (formerly Gloucester Arms), 117 Nightingale Road. Notably friendly, inoffensively Irish-themed pub, Greene King IPA + one other GK ale, rather a lot of TV screens. A great variety and volume of live music.
  • Pitcher and Piano, 31 Market Place. Town square. In the old Corn Exchange building.
  • The Albert - Dacre Road/Walsworth Road corner. Reopened mid 2011 but interior has been "sanitised" and has lost much of its former charm. A close second to the Nightingale for proximity to the railway station.
  • The Cock, 8 High Street. Small, friendly, Greene King pub, with generous lunchtime food of a high standard.
  • The Coopers Arms, 81 Tilehouse Street. Near library. McMullen pub, interesting old building, nice outdoor yard at rear. Food available lunchtime/evenings.
  • The Half Moon, 57 Queen Street. This pub is a regular CAMRA pub-of-the-year with 8 real ales (Young's Special, Adnams Bitter, 5 SIBA, 1 free-of-tie) and several real-ciders/perrys. Eccentric cat, excitable springer spaniel, well-behaved pets welcome. Lunch & dinner served, including good value burgers and tapas. Themed food nights on Thursdays. Open daily from midday until late.
  • The Sunrunner. 24 Bancroft. Rambling and friendly free house with up to 8 real ales, and also Leffe blond. Good lunches, door-burstingly busy some evenings.
  • The Victoria, 1 Ickleford Road (Bancroft/A505 junction). Greene King house not far from the town centre. Secluded beer garden and outside barn often used for events. Four real ales. Lunch available daily, evening supper on Mondays. Very cliquey; unless you look like a regular you will be made to feel awkward. Landlady can be incredibly rude at times. Free ATM opposite.
  • The Angel Vaults, Sun Street. Mon - Thu: 8am to 11.30pm Fri - Sat: 8am to 12am Sun: 8am to 11.30pm. Only Wetherspoons in Hitchin.
  • Several other pubs, mostly unremarkable, some very youth-oriented especially in the town centre.

Sleep

There is a very limited range of hotels for stays in and around Hitchin; none of the town pubs offer accommodation. Most of the usual budget chain hotels are available in Stevenage, but few are conveniently sited for public transport.

  • Sun Hotel, Sun Street. Moderately expensive rooms in very old (16th century) building in the heart of town.
  • Lord Lister Hotel, Queen Street (next to Half Moon pub). No restaurant but many nearby.
  • Firs Hotel, Bedford Road. Easy walking distance to town centre if restaurant does not impress.
  • Dragon Inn, London Road (B656). Two double rooms available in this former pub just outside town; see Eat section above for link.
  • Travelodge, Little Wymondley (2 miles South of Hitchin, off A602). Modern buildings in woods on North edge of village. Bus 100/1/2 passes nearby.
  • Hitchin Priory, Tilehouse St, ☏ +44 1462 420500. Quality hotel with good breakfast. Very varied styles of rooms.

Stay safe

Hitchin in general has a very low crime rate although some of the rougher parts (Westmill and Purwell estates) are probably best avoided after dark. Police Station is located on College Lane off Grove Road.

Go next

  • Cambridge, 30 miles from Hitchin is one of England's most famous academic cities. Approx 2 trains/hour.
  • London is 32 miles south of Hitchin and can be reached via the motorway A1 or by train. Approx 4 trains/hour, 30-40 mins journey. Beware of ticket restrictions on trains leaving London 4:30 - 7:00pm weekdays.
  • Luton is ten miles west of Hitchin and is an airtravel hub. Buses to town centre from Brand Street: Arriva route 100 runs via airport, 101/102 don't.
  • Stevenage is 3 miles south of Hitchin, 5 mins by train.
  • Bedford about 15 miles north. Direct bus 71/72 from Bancroft, 55 mins. Goes through Shefford, with glorious brewery tap in main street, and passes the gigantic "R101" airship hangars at Cardington.
  • Letchworth is 3 miles north-east of Hitchin on the Cambridge railway line. Of minor interest (apart from the Broadway Cinema and David's bookshop [9]) unless you are a student of the Garden City movement: it was the first such in England.

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