If I didn’t live in St Albans, I think I’d want to live in Berkhamsted. It’s true. Another quaint market town steeped in history, I’m a little in love with the old misshapen buildings, the cobbles and the colourful facades. Spending afternoons here are one of life’s little joys, a change of scenery but not too far from home. Why visit? Well for the coffee, the canal and the castle, of course.
Arriving as I do from the direction of Hemel Hempstead, you’re met on the right hand side by a quirky parade of shops, before reaching the main body of the high street. White Mint is your go-to stop for gifts and interior decoration, a couple of shops down and you have Darvell’s family run bakers – established in 1838 it always seems to have a queue out the door – and next to that you’ll find a branch of Mad Squirrel – an eclectic beer shop with quirky vibes and an inviting beer garden. You can enjoy live music on selected evenings, peruse the shelves for designer packaging and sample some of the craft beers on tap.
Across the road – one of my all time favourite places – The Gatsby (bar and restaurant) and The Rex (retro cinema). If you’re feeling the need for a 1920’s Art Deco injection into your life, this is the place to go. The cocktails are second to none and the atmosphere unique.
Hitting the main body of the high street you’ll find all manner of shops, independents and chains, enough eateries to keep you full for weeks, beauty salons you could easily mistake for cocktail bars and a few key antique shops along with great places to buy second hand books. Sitting in the window of a pub and watching the world go by is like watching a colony of worker ants. Berkhamsted’s quaintness doesn’t reflect its pace of life. This bustling market town is a metropolis of Mums, trendy millennials and serious foodies.
With transport easy from London along with ample short and long stay parking, tourists flock for a lush lunch and a leafy walk along the Grand Union Canal. A short looped walk will take you from the top end of the high street along to the castle (looked after by English Heritage, check the opening hours), and along the canal. When you reach a bridge, exit the footpath, walk through the car park and go into Woods. A garden centre tucked away at the bottom of the high street, it’s a haven of green, your senses overloaded by the scent of flowers the minute you walk through the door. Their selection is a decent size to cater for all types of garden as well as stocking gifts and homewares. Exit through their front door and you’ll find yourself back on the main high street and ready for another coffee.
Many of the shops are dog friendly here, offering water and free treats for your furry friends. It’s almost, almost, like being in Cornwall. Minus the weather, added charm and cream teas of course.