With picturesque surroundings, charming country pubs and top shopping facilities, the historic town of Stevenage, Hertforshire, is a great place to visit. But with its fantastic links to major cities and an increase in the amount of affordable housing in the area, why just visit when you can stay for good? >>
Just 30 miles north of the capital yet surrounded by lush, open countryside, Stevenage is fast becoming a homebuyer’s dream. Young families and professionals have been drawn to the area, attracted by the high quality of life and strong sense of community, not to mention great transport links to London.
Like many post-war towns at the turn of the millennium, Stevenage was in need of a pick-me-up. The regeneration, along with a thriving arts and culture scene and bustling university campus, continues to see the town bloom and grow as a prosperous and exciting place to live. And to set it even further ahead as a prospective location for a new home, it may help to know that Stevenage is heart-shaped when viewed from the air.
HOMES & RESIDENTS
The borough’s six original neighbourhoods form the key residential areas in Stevenage, where property ranges from apartments and terraces to larger detached homes. The Old Town, much of which falls into a conservation area, is home to many charming period properties, including some stunning listed houses. Of course, with the town surrounded by rolling countryside, you needn’t travel far for the country cottages and rural retreats in the smaller villages.
Popularity with buyers has been evidenced by a rise in house prices between 2001 and 2011. The average house price in the area currently stands at £185,336, with apartments costing on average £107,741. As demand for housing in the area has increased, the number of new, affordable homes and developments has also gone up across the borough.
Stevenage’s great links to London and other cities have attracted those looking to get more for their money, yet still stay connected by way of a swift commute. The number of young families and professionals has risen in recent years, and the 2011 Census information shows that people like to stay put once they’re here. The population, too, is growing increasingly diverse, with a wide mix of cultures represented in the area. North Hertfordshire College campus (part of the University of Herts) is also located close to the town centre, creating a student presence in town and contributing to a youthful café culture.
Set around the unmistakable clock tower and fountains, Stevenage town centre is home to a variety of shops, cafés and restaurants. The centre has enjoyed a recent facelift and continues to benefit from several regeneration projects. Westgate shopping mall, with its entrance on the town square, is undergoing a £3.5 million makeover to expand on its already impressive range of big brand high-street shops. The Roaring Meg retail park, south of the town centre, also hosts an array of superstores, restaurants and a cinema.
Once you’ve done the big names, head over to St George’s indoor market, which has been running for over 30 years and offers a great alternative to the high-street stores. Peruse some 50 stalls and shops selling everything from fruit and gift ideas to haberdashery, fashion and cycles.
On the second Saturday of the month, make your way to the popular farmers’ market in the historic Old Town. Held on the site of the original town market, which first opened in 1223, it sells a range of fresh veg, meat, cheese and bread from the prime agricultural countryside around Stevenage.
The town centre also hosts a lively summer street festival – Sight and Sounds of Stevenage, which treats shoppers to entertainment from Covent Garden street performers and transforms the shopping experience into a fun family day out.
Stevenage is big on showcasing its local talent, and the annual Stevenage Festival brings many of those from the thriving arts and culture scene together. Held each June, the month-long event exhibits fine art and photography and sees performances from poets, musicians, comedians, dance and theatre groups. The Gordon Craig theatre, in the town centre, also runs an exciting programme of live music and comedy, from small and major acts.
For larger events, head to the world-famous Knebworth House. As well as hosting historic outdoor concerts (Led Zeppelin, Robbie Williams to name but a few), the stately home and gardens are open for exploring. Complete with an adventure playground and dinosaur trail, it makes for a great day out for the kids.
For green space, take your pick from one of the many parks. Fairlands Valley Park and Sailing Centre is a 120-acre paradise for fans of outdoor activities and was recently voted one of the UK’s leading free visitor attractions. Take part in orienteering, kayaking, sailing, climbing or power kiting, or simply use the ‘trim track’ for jogging.
Sport is an important fixture of Stevenage life, and the town’s beloved football club, Stevenage FC, is a source of much pride. If cricket is more your thing, Stevenage Cricket and Hockey Club offers opportunities for the local community to get involved in sport.
Wander along Old Town High Street, and you’ll be spoilt for choice for restaurants, bars and pubs. Start the day with a hearty breakfast at Cinnabar, an independent coffee house and bar that’s open until the early hours. A laid back atmosphere and an inspired cocktail menu may see you finishing your day here too.
Further along the High Street, ASK offers good quality Italian fare. If you’ve still got room after the Pork Belly Porchetta, share a dessert board and a bottle of crisp Italian white in the restaurant’s bright conservatory. The High Street is home to a number of other familiar names including Prezzo and Pizza Express, as well as some well-respected independently owned Indian restaurants.
After your meal, take your pick from a number of traditional pubs and bars. The Standing Order serves up a great selection of fine ales, and the Bank Bar will keep you up till late with cocktails, karaoke and dancing, depending on the day of the week.
With countryside on the town’s doorstep, there are a number of fabulous country pubs just a few miles from the centre. Take a drive five miles south to the beautiful village of Datchworth and drop into The Tilbury. This lovingly restored village pub is owned by two chefs with a passion for regionally sourced ingredients. Enjoy the sumptuous British cuisine in the pub’s picturesque gardens, or cosy up by the open fire on a cold day in the wonderfully rustic surroundings. Alternatively, head north to the village of Ardeley and visit the Jolly Waggoner, a beautiful rural pub serving great food sourced from the local farm.
Just off the A1, Stevenage is excellently located for travel south to London or north towards Cambridge or Milton Keynes. Stevenage train station sits on some major rail routes, including those to London King’s Cross (25 minutes) and Cambridge (45 minutes). There is a vast local bus network, with destinations including St Albans and Hemel Hempsted. Air travel is easy from Stevenage, with Luton airport a 30-minute drive or bus ride away.
If you’re travelling by foot or bike, the borough’s comprehensive network of pedestrian and cycle routes makes it so easy to get around. Stevenage was well ahead of Britain’s current drive to boost its cycling infrastructure and has had 45km of completely segregated cycle tracks since the 1970s – making it an Amsterdam-like dream to get around on two wheels.