Spend a weekend in St Albans
PUBLISHED: 07:33 02 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:06 20 February 2013
From saintly pilgrimage to a sinful indulgence, Richard Young discovers you can pack a wealth of experiences into a weekend in St Albans
PAY A VISIT TO
The shrine of St Albans
Follow in the footsteps of 1,750 years of Christian pilgrims to the shrine of St Alban. Housed in St Albans Abbey, the shrine is dedicated to Britains first Christian martyr, beheaded by the Romans for his faith.
The Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban, to give it its proper name, is said to be built on the spot Alban was killed protecting a priest, and is the oldest site of continuous Christian worship in Britain.
The current building dates from the early medieval period when Benedictine monks founded what was to become the principal abbey in England and a powerful centre of faith and politics.
Visit in the early morning calm for prayers, or listen to the powerful swell of the recently restored organ during lunchtime recitals.
St Albans has grown up around the remains of one of Roman Britains most important towns, Verulamium, and a visit to its ruins and dedicated museum will give you a feel for the citys deep historical roots.
Much of what remains of the Roman town, excavated in the 1930s, was reburied under what is now Verulamium Park. But you can still see parts of it above ground, such as sections of the massive town wall, the theatre, and a mosaic floor and underground hypocaust heating system that were part of a large house.
To recreate the full experience of life here in the early first millennium, the Verulamium Museum, also in the park, exhibits many artefacts, including votive sculptures, mosaics and elaborately painted wall plaster. You can also take a virtual tour of the town with a handheld device, while every second weekend Roman legionnaires invade the museum to display the fighting tactics of the imperial army.
A short bus ride from the city centre lies a whole new world dedicated to an insect.
The Butterfly World Project in nearby Chiswell Green began in 2008 and visitors can now wander its wildflower meadows, designer gardens, tropical butterfly house and insect study centre.
A rainforest ecosystem will come to life this time next year, when a huge bio-dome currently under construction is opened to the public.
DO SOME SHOPPING
St Albans has held a charter for a market since the 16th century and Saturday is market day. Running the length of St Peters Street, with over 170 stalls, it is one of the biggest, most varied and colourful markets in the county.
On the second Sunday of every month from 8am to 2pm, the St Albans Farmers Market sets up opposite the town hall. Overflowing with cheeses, seasonal fruit and veg and freshly baked cakes as well as handcrafted goods, the market is a haven for fresh food and fresh ideas.
Also providing inspiration on Saturdays is the fabulous Treasure Trove antiques shop in George Street. It is packed with vintage jewellery, handbags and trinkets of all kinds.
LET THEM ENTERTAIN YOU
If you fancy an evening listening to a band or two, St Albans has the best live music pub in the UK.
The Horn, which won the accolade in the Great British Pub Awards last year, has hosted many great acts in its three decades as a music venue including U2, The Small Faces and Motorhead. And more recently Enter Shikari and Friendly Fires, both from St Albans, have gone on to huge success after honing their music here.
Pop along to the Victoria Street venue on Saturday night to see some of the best new talent in the country.
For an intimate evening of jazz, folk, blues and classical music, or comedy, theatre and dance, The Maltings Arts Theatre on the second floor of the Maltings Shopping Centre is a little gem. Or for a bigger experience the 800-seater Alban Arena is one of the countys premier entertainment venues attracting West End shows, top bands and evenings with celebrities.
FOOD AND DRINK
Pubs by the mile
For a lunchtime pint and a bite to eat, you are spoilt for choice in St Albans, where a huge number of pubs reflect the citys history of inn-keeping a days ride from London.
Holding the Guinness Book of Records title for the oldest pub in the country, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks on the edge of Verulamium Park and close to the Cathedral is a higgledy-piggledy unspoilt timber-framed building with a large beer garden that is popular with the locals and visitors alike.
The White Hart Tap on Keyfield won best pub in the St Albans Food and Drink Awards last year. Or if you fancy a cocktail, the stylishly modern Mokoko on Verulam Rd won best bar at the same awards.
Pack a picnic
If the weather is fine and you fancy a picnic, perhaps after exploring Verulamium or the Cathedral, spread out a blanket by the lake in Verulamium Park, or head over to the pretty Inn on the Park caf and restaurant.
Alternatively follow the River Ver through the park towards Michaels Street and you will reach the ever-popular Waffle House housed in a sixteenth century mill on the river. (Although have that chilli cheese followed by banofee waffle lunch on a Saturday as they are shut on Sundays.)
For an evening meal make a beeline for the Lake Restaurant at St Michaels Manor Hotel on Fishpool Street.
A favourite of Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, the restaurant serves award-winning modern British cuisine in an elegant traditional dining room that overlooks the hotels private garden and lake.
Take a stroll around St Albans: Page 82