Spend a weekend in Stevenage
PUBLISHED: 16:56 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:13 20 February 2013
With windsurfing and power-boating right in the centre, it's not surprising that Lewis Hamilton found his love of speed in his home town of Stevenage
EVERYONE in Stevenage is enormously proud that Formula One motor racing star Lewis Hamilton grew up in the town. His achievements have certainly helped put Stevenage on the map.
The town's earlier claim to fame goes back to 1946 when it was chosen as the area for Britain's very first New Town. It was built primarily to house post-war Londoners who had either lost their homes or needed a safe clean environment to live in. Despite objections from the small existing community, now known as Stevenage Old Town, a master plan was drawn up. The first new residents started moving in six years later and before long, Stevenage became the first town in the country to have a pedestrianised shopping centre, drawing visitors from far and wide. Over half a century on, the population of this very green town with its avenues of trees, many roundabouts and network of cycle tracks, has practically everything at its fingertips. It's well worth spending a weekend getting to know it better.
A night on the town
The Stevenage Leisure Park has everything under one roof with plenty of restaurants, offering anything from Indian, Italian and Chinese to American fast food. There is a ten-pin bowling centre, a 16-screen cinema and four nightclubs.
Alternatively, book up to see a show at the Gordon Craig Theatre, which boasts some of the best talent outside London's West End. The line up for September includes a performance by The Drifters, a tribute evening to Dame Shirley Bassey and a celebration concert to Fleetwood Mac.
A little retail therapy
The Westgate Shopping Centre has an impressive line-up of high street names with something for everyone, from fashion to phones and stationery to jewellery. Look out for the many works of art and ornamental gardens while you stroll around the traffic free centre - some of them in surprising places. The Town Square, a designated conservation area, has many examples of post-war architecture and its focal point is an unusual listed clock tower, with a pond and water feature. There are plenty of places to stop for something to eat and drink and the Town Gardens are a short stroll away.
Testing the water
If the weather is fine, head to Fairlands Valley Park in the heart of town. Set in 120 acres of tranquil parkland it has been voted one of the UK's top free visitor attractions, alongside the likes of Tate Britain, Tate Modern and the Science and Natural History museums. Here you can take part in all number of water sports, including windsurfing, dinghy sailing, power-boating, canoeing and kayaking. Or if you'd rather just watch, it's the ideal spot for a picnic or a stroll. An extensive children's play area is on site too together with a caf to make a perfect afternoon.
Delving into the past
You may think that Stevenage is a recent creation and indeed the New Town is, but its history goes back much further than that. The award-winning Stevenage museum is an exciting place to find out more about the town's past and present and it has a programme of special exhibitions and events.
Stevenage was a Roman settlement and evidence of this can be seen from an intriguing line of burial mounds near the town centre. Known as the Six Hills, these are believed to be the finest surviving group of Roman burial mounds in the country, dating from the 1st century AD. Further proof of these earlier settlers was found in the 1980s when builders came across a hoard of 2,000 Roman coins.
There are plenty of restaurants and charming pubs to choose from in Stevenage Old Town but if you fancy a short drive to the village of Ardeley, a warm welcome awaits at the Rabbit's Foot. It offers fine dining with personalised table service, a good selection of wines and real ale, a children's menu and bar snacks.
A stroll round the old town
Stevenage Old Town has retained a village feel and has many listed historic buildings of various periods and styles. Look out for the Bowling Green with its war memorial, the old coaching inns and the selection of charming shops.
Tee off time
For golf lovers there is a world class, 18 hole golf course on the edge of town. The golf centre includes a floodlit driving range and a nine hole pitch and putt family course for the novice or seasoned player. If you decide to play on the spur of the moment, golf clubs and accessories are available to hire.
Visiting the neighbours
Knebworth House, set in acres of graceful parkland grazed by herds of deer, is just next door to Stevenage, off Junction 7 of the A1(M). Since 1490, this stunning building with its towers, turrets and gargoyles has been home to 19 generations of the Lytton family. Its history spans from early Tudor times and has been carefully preserved.
Visitors can enjoy a guided tour of the house and stroll through the gardens. Children and adults alike will be intrigued by the Wilderness Garden as it has become home to some 70 or more life-sized dinosaurs!
This year, Knebworth House, its gardens and park are open to visitors on weekends and during school holidays for the summer season until September 27. But they will remain open all year round for private and special events. These include the Knebworth Country Show which takes place on October 3 and 4 and the Christmas Crafts & Country Gifts show on December 5 and 6.
The bus and train services in Stevenage are frequent with train journeys to London taking around 30 minutes. The network of cycle paths makes it easy to get about. There is plentiful parking in the centre of town and the Westgate multi-storey car park is open 24 hours a day.
Somewhere to stay
There are many places to stay here including a Holiday Inn, Novotel, a Best Western Hotel and Ramada.
FIND OUT MORE
St Georges Way
Gordon Craig Theatre
Stevenage Arts & Leisure Centre
08700 131 030
Stevenage Golf & Conference Centre