Hitchin is a medieval market town with a compact centre, a pretty river frontage and streets bursting with history.
What to see
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. But don’t leave too quickly! With its medieval layout, historic buildings and traditional cobbled streets, the town is something of a gem. There’s lots of opportunities for shopping and Hitchin Market is one of the largest outdoor markets in the region, with regular antique, craft and farmers’ markets being held.
If shopping’s not your thing, there is still plenty to see and do. In the centre of the town, on the banks of the River Hiz, St Mary’s Church is a focal point for visitors. Built with money from the wool trade, this is largest church in Hertfordshire, second only to the cathedral at St Albans.
Young visitors might like to look for the ‘Thompson Mouse’ on the altar rail. A hallmark of the famous wood carver, Robert ‘Mousey’ Thompson, it also appears in Westminster Abbey and York Minster.
The British Schools Museum can be found in a series of old school buildings in the centre. Furnished classrooms follow the story of education from 1810 to the late 1960s and provide fascinating insights into school life, from how children learned to write, 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.
One master, three books and 300 boys – an old-school challenge!
Read more about the story of education on the British Schools Museum blog.
Into the countryside
[Car free in the Chilterns] provides a car-free itinerary for walking and cycling in the Northern Chilterns and around Hitchin. This itinerary includes several circular walks easily reached by bus from Hitchin and starting from the picturesque villages of Pirton and Offley. To get started, Hitchin station is regularly served by trains from London.
Pegsdon Hills and Hoo Bit nature reserve, Barton Hills National Nature Reserve and Sharpenhoe are gems of the Northern Chilterns. Swathed in wildflowers in spring and summer, they offer stunning viewpoints over the rolling hills. Mainly chalk grassland sites, with some woodlands of beech and ash-maple, grazing encourages the wildflowers, including the rare pasque flower, which is in bloom between April and early June. Chalkhill blue, marbled white and grizzled skipper butterflies also thrive on the open slopes. At Sharpenhoe, delve into history and discover iron age hillforts and medieval rabbit warrens, known as ‘Clappers’. Find out more about Sharpenhoe Clappers on this blog.
If you fancy taking in a pub as you walk through the wilds, both the long and short routes of the Three Springs Walk begin and end at The Red Lion in the village of Offley. These trails explore tranquil landscapes of ancient hedges, sunken lanes and small woodlands. The Chalk Hills Walk in Lilley gives the choice of a 2- or 5-mile walk, starting and finishing at the Lilley Arms, a 300-year-old former coaching inn.
Where to stay
Choices in and around Hitchin include:
- La Bella Vita Hotel & Restaurant
- The Sun Hotel
- The Farmhouse at Redcoats Restaurant & Hotel
- Offley Place Country House Hotel
To find more places to stay, visit Hitchin Tourist Information Centre or Visit Herts
Heading further afield
Hitchin Lavender – 3 miles away
Hitchin Lavender. Wander through aromatic rows of lavender planted on 12 acres of sweeping farmland. The fields are a great spot for photographers and artists, and children love to pick bunches of lavender to take home. Refreshments are available in the 17th century barn and the gift shop sells a wide choice of plants and
Knebworth House – 8 miles away
Knebworth House. This beautiful Gothic mansion is internationally known as Britain’s largest music venue, although many events are held here throughout the year. The romantic, turreted house is furnished with ancient heirlooms and the Edwardian gardens and extensive park include a fun Dinosaur Trail. Note that public opening is seasonal.
Getting here by train
The fastest journey time to Hitchin from London is 32 minutes, leaving from St Pancras. Other services operate from King’s Cross. The Train Line has all the rail options.
Getting here by road
Hitchin is 38 miles from London along the M1 and A505 or M1, A1(M) and A602.