Things to do at Christmas in Hemel Hempstead

PUBLISHED: 15:26 15 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:26 20 February 2013

Skiing, skating, shopping and far more – Hemel Hempstead has it all wrapped up for Christmas as Sue Armstrong discovers

Skiing, skating, shopping and far more Hemel Hempstead has it all wrapped up for Christmas as Sue Armstrong discovers.

Heavy snow and icy conditions are forecast for Hemel Hempstead this winter! In fact they are due to last all year round at the amazing indoor Snow Centre and the Planet Ice skating arena. And thats just for starters. Theres something for everyone to enjoy over the festive season in this west Hertfordshire town, including a generous helping of Christmas shopping, with old world charm and the opportunity to find some truly unique gifts.

The Alps have come to Hemel!

Yes, the state-of-the-art indoor Snow Centre opened earlier this year, boasting a 160m high ski slope and an Alpine surface made from real snow. With a nursery training slope too, its ideal for novices, experienced skiers and snowboarders alike. And theres extra fun for youngsters with tobogganing as well as inflatable rubber rings, known as ringos, to slide, glide and spin through the snow.
Beginners who have booked their first ski holiday are having lessons here so they dont waste precious days on the nursery slopes once in resort, explains David Surrey, commercial and operations director at The Snow Centre. Those who can already ski or snowboard are coming to find their snow legs before they go away.
The reputation of our Snowsports School speaks for itself as it has been accredited as a Centre of Excellence by the British Association of Snowsport Instructors. This is the only snow centre this far south in the UK and its attracting people from a very wide area.
Our Freestyle Friday nights are incredibly popular as are the Ladies Mornings on a Wednesday, which include two hours of coaching.
And were particularly excited about the launch of our Santas Cabin in the Snow towards the end of November. Children will be able to play in the Snow Garden whilst waiting to see Santa in his log cabin but they will need to wear warm clothing as the temperature will be around 2 degrees!
The all important aprs ski is available here too at The Edge caf bar, where you can sit back and relax with some great food and drink and a fantastic view over the slope. Its there to be enjoyed whether youve been tempted onto the snow or not.

Hemel on ice

Fun and laughter are certainly on the menu if you decide to visit Hemel Hempsteads ice rink, Planet Ice. It doesnt matter if you can only manage to totter round on the ice holding onto the side, or whether you are a budding Jane Torvill or Christopher Dean, a visit to this all-year-round ice rink will be enjoyed by all the family. If you find you are rather partial to the ice then you can take it a step further and enrol for a skating course these are available for adults as well as children.

Christmas shopping

The pretty High Street in Hemel Hempsteads Old Town looks a real picture at Christmas time as it winds uphill with festive lights twinkling from the character shop windows. Here you will find gifts with a difference amongst the diverse selection of specialist stores ranging from fine art and antiques to soft furnishings.
Amongst the line-up of interesting shops here is Enchanted Castles, run by Fay and Terry Rands. It is as delightful as its name implies, selling dolls houses and unique buildings in kit form or ready made. Terry is in charge of designing and building these miniature dwellings whilst Fay is in charge of serving the customers in their well-stocked shop.
We started our dolls house business 14 years ago in a small gatehouse, which looked like a castle, hence the name of the shop, says Fay. We supply dolls houses for every budget and every age from 3 to 93 and as well as houses, we are also stockists for a range of collectables. Apart from Terrys own houses, we have many supplied kits and everything you could wish for to complete and furnish a dream dolls house.
Just a short distance away is the New Town, adding many more ingredients to the Christmas shopping experience here and ensuring that Hemel caters for all tastes. With the attractive Watergardens running alongside, the modern pedestrian and indoor shopping centres, known as Riverside and the Marlowes, include numerous major high street names, including Debenhams department store and Marks and Spencer. The huge market held on Thursdays and Saturdays also brings a cheerful festive feel selling everything from holly wreaths and plants to fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables. Craft and bric-a-brac stalls are amongst the mix too and theres also the chance of getting a Christmas bargain.

A winter wander

To get away from the hubbub of Christmas activities and enjoy the fresh air, Gadebridge Park is close at hand. It forms a tranquil green wedge of urban countryside and runs right through the centre of town and across to its northern edge. The parkland once formed the grounds of The Bury and Gadebridge House and echoes of both can still be found here.
Gadebridge House was the home of Sir Astley Paston Cooper, an eminent surgeon and founder of West Herts Hospital. He came to Hemel Hempstead in 1811 to enjoy the rural peace and remained until his death in 1841. The carriageway to Gadebridge House originally passed through a ford until Sir Astley arranged for a local iron founder to erect a bridge. The attractive white bridge can still be seen crossing the River Gade and its design is said to resemble the popular Chinese bamboo style of that time. Whilst the bridge remains the house itself was demolished in the 1950s.
Much of the parkland to the north of the River Gade is classified as an area of archaeological importance following the discovery of an extensive Roman villa, including a large bathing pool. These were found during the building of the Leighton Buzzard Road in the early 1960s. The villa is no longer visible and protection prohibits the use of metal detectors, which could disturb vital evidence of the findings.
To whet your appetite, the Gadebridge and Highfield Walk is a 5 km (3 mile) circular route taking in these sites together with Howe Grove nature reserve and the disused Nicky Line, a railway line linking the old straw plait trade of Hemel Hempstead to the hatmakers of Luton.

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