HITCHIN is the place from which to explore the north-eastern extremities of the Chiltern Hills as they merge into the flatter landscapes of Bedfordshire.
You’ll want to spend time in Hitchin: with its medieval layout, historic buildings and traditional cobbled streets, the town is something of a gem. Pick up a copy of Speciality Shopping in Hitchin from the Town Centre Initiative Shop at 27 Churchyard to find where to spend your time and money, from the antiquarian bookshop to Hawkins of Hitchin in Bucklersbury, an independent department store established in 1863. Hitchin Market is currently open on Tuesdays and Saturdays selling a large selection of the usual market wares. On Fridays, an antique market takes over the stalls. The whole town gets in the swing of the Hitchin Festival of music, talks, walks, comedy, drama, films and more, which runs for a month from the end of June.
St Mary’s Church – set in a green space in the centre of Hitchin, on the banks of the River Hiz, the church is a central focus for visitors to the town. Built with money from the wool trade, this is largest church in Hertfordshire, second in size only to the cathedral at St Albans. Young visitors like to look for the Thompson Mouse on the altar rail, a hallmark of the famous wood carver Robert ‘Mousey’ Thompson which appears in Westminster Abbey, York Minster and numerous churches throughout the country.
The British Schools Museum is located in the unique set of school buildings that have developed on the site over 200 years. Furnished classrooms follow the story of education from 1810 to the late 1960s, giving all sorts of fascinating insights from how children learned to write in sand trays to how one master taught 300 children in the large Schoolroom. Children can dress up in Victorian costume and adults can try some long forgotten skills, such as writing with a spluttering, dip-in pen and ink.
Hitchin Lavender is my favourite – wander for up to 17 soothing and aromatic miles between rows of lavender planted on 12 acres of the farm. The fields are a great spot for photographers and artists and children love the freedom to run up and down the rows and pick a bunch of lavender to take home. There are sweeping views from the footpaths that surround the fields. Several varieties are grown on the farm, with dozens more in the seated display area. Refreshments are available in the 17th century barn and the gift shop sells a wide choice of lavender plants and products.
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The countryside by Hitchin