Tales of Travel: St Albans

St Albans, a twenty-minute fast train north of London, was our home from February 2008 until February 2009. Tall’s job was there, and my commute from outside of London to Piccadilly Circus was still shorter than most of my colleagues’ who lived in London-proper. We lived in a simple but sizeable one-bedroom flat near the train station, and just a 10 minute walk from the town centre. There were a trillion pubs and a gazillion Indian takeaways within a 500 metre radius, and when my sister et al. moved to England in June 2008, I found them a lovely house to rent that was conveniently only 15 minutes walk away. Plus we could leave home, jump on a northbound train and be ready to board an international flight from Luton Airport in under an hour.

St Albans is an historic market city with a population of around 70,000. Given its proximity to the capital, and more “rural” surroundings, it’s considered a commuter’s town, and peak-time trains are always packed to full capacity. On days when there are train strikes, or when extreme heat or extreme cold affects the tracks…getting to and from St Albans could take some time!

St Albans Cathedral

Voted in at the “Mayfair” spot in a revised Monopoly game in 2007, St Albans is an affluent city with a rich history. It was settled in pre-Roman times, and once the Romans arrived, was known as Verulamium. It was renamed St Albans after Saint Alban, the first British Christian martyr, was beheaded there in AD308 (for refusing to give up his beliefs, as ordered by the emperor at the time). His remains are said to be enshrined in St Albans Cathedral, which is a beautiful old church with expansive grounds that are a popular picnic place in the summer.

The old city walls in Verulamium Park

Evidence of St Albans’ Roman history is everywhere, from the old city walls and amphitheatre in Verulamium Park, to the mosaic floors showcased in the St Albans Museum. The park is a wonderful recreational space, with sports grounds, a gorgeous lake (which freezes over every winter and is turned into an ice skating rink), and a myriad of paths to meander along.

The amphitheatre in Verulamium Park

On the edge of the park is “Ye Olde Fighting Cocks“, a fantastic little pub that is said to be (one of) the oldest in Britain, built some time in the 8th-Century – tall people should remember to duck their heads! They serve a very tasty Pimms cocktail, and their meals are amazing – although every time we ate there, I could never go past the delicious ploughman’s lunch (hold the pickled onions, thanks!). It’s a dog-friendly pub, and is always, always packed at a Sunday lunchtime.

The lake in Verulamium Park

The Saturday market is a bit of an institution; no visit to St Albans would be complete without strolling the main street, looking for a bargain or buying fresh produce – the cries of “Pound-a-bowl” are forever ingrained in my memory – and they regularly hold a French market where you can buy the most amazing duck salami and the ooziest, stinkiest soft cheeses imaginable.

St Albans is well worth the trip if you’re ever in London; catching a fast train from St Pancras Station is the easiest way of getting there, and you’ll be glad you made the effort. We can also recommend it as a place to live, even if you’re working in London, and really enjoyed our year living there.