Monday : A Day Trip to Hatfield

With absolutely no disrespect to Welwyn Garden City, but I felt that I had completed it the day before, with the exception of one pub on Untappd that I was saving for the next day. As a measure of what there was to see in the town, Aldi is currently listed fourth on TripAdvisor’s things to do in the area. So, wanting to live life to the absolute maximum, I thought I’d take a day trip to Hatfield.

Firstly, it was time to go back to the Howard Centre as that’s where they’ve put the town’s railway station.

I have a real problem of always being early everywhere, I don’t like missing trains, coaches or planes and I don’t like rushing for them either. Indeed, I never do, as I’m there so early. However, I managed to be so early for my trip to Hatfield that the previous train was just pulling in, so I had to rush for that instead. It’s a Thameslink train with ironing board seats, but fortunately I’m about one of seemingly three people in the country who like them. If I had my way, which I accept is unlikely, all seats in all forms of public transport would be like this.

Nothing says welcome like huge spikes, either to stop people leaving or getting in.

There are underpasses for pedestrians all over Hatfield, a legacy of failed planning systems and I’m pleased to see in cities such as Birmingham, Telford, Leicester and Norwich that they’re filling these in. They’re at least made this one visually attractive, hopefully as a precursor to filling the whole lot in.

A couple of weeks ago, when Richard and I were coming back from Heathrow we drove (specifically Richard was driving I’d add) under the Galleria as it’s built on top of the A1(M). I commented that at some time that I’d visit the shopping centre to look back down over the road (my life is full of such golden moments), and it’s only by chance that this riveting opportunity came along so quickly.

Here’s the shopping centre with not many people in it, inside the Galleria.

There’s plenty to do for children here though with that big adventure park thing.

There’s the motorway, running underneath the shopping centre. I admit it was a little bit of an anti-climax, although I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting here.

It had also started to rain, so it was important that I got to a pub to ensure I stayed dry.

And I chose this one, as there were no pubs listed in the Good Beer Guide nearby, JD Wetherspoon’s Harpsfield Hall.

A cavernous building which would be soulless if it wasn’t for the efforts of the interior designers.

And here’s my table, inside the cowling of a 747. This is relevant for this pub as it’s built on the former site of Hatfield Aerodrome, which in turn replaced the original country house that was Harpsfield Hall. They’re made a real effort with the decor here and the whole environment felt inviting and comfortable, all rather nicely done I thought. Although quiet, it was never particularly busy.

This felt like a decently run JD Wetherspoon outlet in terms of the food and drink and their breakfast met my requirements. They had run out of hot chocolate, but had managed to procure a big tub of it somewhere, showing a little initiative at least as the distribution problems at Wetherspoons continue.

There’s currently a beer festival on across the JD Wetherspoon outlets, with the prices varying slightly, but this is £2 or so for three 1/3rds, not bad at all. There haven’t been many stand out beers on their list, but it’s always enjoyable to try ales from different brewers.

Then a visit to the library in Hatfield and their very acceptable local history section. I could hear the staff during the afternoon and they seemed to spend most of their time telling customers that they had fines on their accounts. And they then proceeded to waive most of them. One wasn’t handled at all well though, an elderly lady who had carers who had amassed a £22 fine for not returning books on time. She was upset and kept telling the staff that she had never owed money ever, but the staff member persisted in telling her it would need to be paid although the lady clearly didn’t know how to pay. They then realised she had someone in control of her finances, so they were going to contact them, which I thought was probably a step too far. After much wrangling they then waived the fine. I felt rather sorry for the lady, there was no need to prolong her worry, but then again, I don’t know what rules have been placed upon the library staff, maybe they’re meant to argue for a bit.

The local council has just completed a £1.2 million renovation of White Lion Square and it’s not entirely clear to me how they managed to spend that much, but there we go. Part of that money was spent on bringing back the Pearl sculpture which was placed into the fountain that was originally here, all part of the original 1960s construction. In 1986, they decided they didn’t want a fountain as perhaps the locals kept doing things to it, so the sculpture was shipped out as well, going to Hatfield School to ensure that the public couldn’t easily see it. The council had a vote locally in December 2017 to see if the residents wanted it to come back to the square, and here it is, dumped on the grass as the locals weren’t allowed another fountain.

Hatfield Railway Station, originally opened on 7 August 1850.

A British Rail class 717. I have no idea what that means, I just typed the train’s registration number (or whatever it’s called) into Google and found that it’s one of these for anyone interested….

More Thameslink seating and a quiet train, not least as it ended its journey at Welwyn Garden City.

I popped into M&S at the Howard Centre, just because it’s closing in a few weeks and I can tell generations of people to come that I was there just before it shut its doors. I can’t imagine anyone will be the slightest bit interested, but seize the day and all that. With that, it was just a short walk back to the Travelodge to have my final rest from the LDWA Capital Challenge, which was now two days before, but I was still using that as an excuse for having an extra rest.

As for Hatfield, it’s a slightly odd place insomuch that it’s split into the old and new because it was part of the New Towns Act of 1946. They decided not to extend the old town of Hatfield as they wanted to keep them separate to some degree, which means it’s quite a walk between the two sections of the town although they’ve rather joined together now. It feels like a 1960s development throughout and I’d say that it hasn’t aged well, with some buildings in need of modernisation (or just pulling down) and the public domain is tired. Cars were given too much priority here, hence the underpasses I mentioned earlier, which feels like it divides areas in quite a clear-cut way. I’m sure it’s a charming place to live for locals and I have no reason to believe that the community isn’t strong, but aesthetically I wasn’t overly impressed with the arrangements for getting around the town.

The town is home to the University of Hertfordshire, which is probably a very helpful addition to the community, as the students have no doubt driven some of the leisure sector that exists here. But there’s a lack of craft beer or Good Beer Guide pubs (I write that as if it defines a town, which it doesn’t, but it is an indicator of a place), there’s not much that stands out there and reading reviews by students, there isn’t a huge amount to do outside of the giant shopping centre. Until the 1990s, de Havilland were the major employer in the town, but they were closed down following their takeover by British Aerospace. And perhaps, as an outsider there briefly, that was its golden age, before the closure when there was so much well paid work in the town itself, and not requiring people to commute to London. However, these things come in circles, and perhaps another golden age is just on the horizon for Hatfield. And maybe they can then afford a new fountain for their square.