Royston, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom



I moved to Royston in December 2004, a market town on the northern border of Hertfordshire, just 16 miles south west of Cambridge and some 40 miles from London.  Royston may be accessed by road via the A505 from Baldock, located just off the A1(M).  Alternatively, the A10 between Hertford and Cambridge passes directly through Royston town centre. Despite the additional commute by train on a daily basis between Royston and Welwyn Garden City via Stevenhage, the remoteness of Royston in relation to Welwyn does not concern me.  The countryside is indeed quite magnificent and still suitable for walking and cycling.  It is only in Cambridgeshire, to the north of Royston, that the landscape flattens out.  All cycle routes out of Royston to the south require having to negotiate some reasonably tough hills, heading in the direction of two neighbouring yet quaint little towns Therfield and Barley, located on opposite sides of the A10 towards Hertford. Melbourn Street is the main road into the town centre. The Nature Reserve of Therfield Heath occupies an impressive position overlooking the town from a hill to the south. Royston originally straddled the two counties of Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire, but the border was moved in September 1896. 

Royston is situated slightly west of the Greenwich Meridian, which passes through the point where the bypass meets the original A505 alignment. The town centre is just 1 minute 27 seconds west of the meridian. It is located some 69 km (43 miles) north of central London in a highly rural area of the county, very much apart from the south and west Hertfordshire urban concentrations.

The town lies at the crossing of two ancient thoroughfares, Ermine Street and the Icknield Way; the former was created after the Roman conquest, while the Icknield Way has long been accepted as a prehistoric routeway. A cross, named Roisa's Cross, was erected by the crossroads, and it is from this that the town takes its name. The base of the cross still exists and has been placed by the cross roads. The modern equivalent to Icknield Way is the A505 (which now bypasses the town to the north). The A10 follows the alignment of the Ermine Street south of the town, but diverts before it reaches the crossroads. The A1198, known as the Old North Road follows the alignment of Ermine Street northwards. These roads are sometimes called military roads as they were prepared or improved by Roman military forces to facilitate their access to the hinterland of Britain.

In 1742, a unique bell-shaped cave which is now in the town centre, was re-discovered.  Believed to have some religious significance and used by the Knights Templar, the Cave is open to the public during the summer months.  Royston was once described as a 'Peter Pan' town, due to the fact that major development of the area never started until the 1950's.  However in 1968 the town centre was declared a conservation area which has lead to extensive preservation of Royston's historic character.  Royston grew up as an agricultural centre (with Barley & Malt being the main crops). Royston Cave is a circular, bell-shaped chamber with a circumferential octagonal podium. The origin of this chamber is unknown. This cave is unique in Britain - if not the world - for its numerous medieval carvings on the walls. They are mostly of pagan origin, but some of the figures are thought to be those of St. Catherine, St. Lawrence and St. Christopher.  It is speculated that it may have been used by the Knights Templar before their Proscription by Pope Clement V in the 1312. The sect held a weekly market at Royston between 1199 and 1254 and travelled there from their headquarters at Baldock, some 15 km south. They would have required a cool store for their produce and a chapel for their devotions, and a theory speculates that the cave was divided into two floors by a wooden floor. Two figures close together near the damaged section may be all that remains of a known Templar sign, two knights riding the same horse. Although the origin of the cave is unknown, the story of the rediscovery is very well known. In August 1742 a workmen dug a hole in the Butter Market in order to get decent footings for a new bench for the patrons and traders. He discovered a buried millstone and dug around the curious stone to get the object out of the way. So he found a shaft leading downwards into the chalk.  At the discovery the cavity was more than half-filled with earth. The rumour was, that there must be a treasure buried beneath the soil inside the cave. Several cartloads of soil were removed, until bedrock was reached. The soil was discarded as worthless, it did not contain anything more than a few old bones and fragments of pottery. This is rather unfortunate, as today's archaeology could be able to solve some of the secrets of this place!

  The location of the cave is also very interesting: Melbourn Street, once called Icknield Way or Via Icenia, was first used during the Iron Age, possibly 2000 years ago by an ancient tribe of Celts called the Iceni. The most famous Iceni was Queen Boudicca (died 60 AD). At a later date the Icknield Way was Romanised by Caesar. It runs from near Falmouth towards East Anglia. - the modern day A505 between Royston and Baldock, follows the route of the Icknield way.  

Hertfordshire view towards Cambridge, just outside Royston; Royston town centre along Melbourn Street.

    Although not from Royston, there have been many tales of the infamous highwayman, Dick Turpin - 25th September 1706 to 7th April 1739 - in the Hertfordshire area and it is believed that he frequented a Royston inn known as the “Hoops.”  Unfortunately, nothing remains of this public house as it was demolished in 1961.  The legend has it; that the local Police were seeking Turpin - possibly after another coach robbery incident, around the start of the 19th century, 16 different coaches were regularly passing through or near Royston.

Queen Street, Royston town centre;  Royston's St John the Baptist Church on Melbourn Street.


View up Royse Grove, near Royston Hospital.

  According to legend Dick Turpin had two similar horses and after riding into town on one, he is believed to have hidden the perspiring horse down a well in the yard of the “Hoops.”  He then fled to his room and jumped into bed.  When his pursuers rode into Royston and demanded Turpin surrender, he calmly denied having been out and convinced them by showing his "fresh" horse in the stables, proving that it had not been ridden that night. I often walk the heathland around Royston, up acroos the ridge on the edge of the town,  towards a neighbouring village, Therfield, or cycle off-road on bridleways in the area.  

Royston residential architecture on the A10 leading south out of the town; Typical Hertfordshire hedgerows on the bridleway leading from Royston to Therfield.

I have now become accustomed to the daily commute by train from Royston to Welwyn Garden City and use the opportunity to read a book, which I find therapeutic and relaxing.  These have ranged from Bill Bryson's "Notes from a small Island" to Gary Paulson's outstanding "Winterdance", Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air" and Thom Hartman's excellent  "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight". Of late I have acquired a taste for autobiographies, including those of Mike Oldfield, Petra Kelly (the late member of Germany's Green Party in the 1990s), Lance Armstrong, Richard Branson , Jake White (Springbok rugby coach),Sting and Helen Mirren.    

Farmland adjoining Therfield Heath, near Royston.


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GPS track showing circular walking route from Royston via Thrift Farm to Therfield, returning along bridleway to Royston Heath golf club.


Hertfordshire hedgerow near Royston


Near Therfield Heath, Royston

I had the pleasure of hosting my eldest brother and his wife for a week prior to their undertaking a month-long luxury boat cruise of the Mediterranean. They had been travelling into London on sight-seeing tours, having purchased weekly train tickets. On one Saturday I joined them, having booked tickets for a West End play at the Garrick Theatre, featuring Sheila Hancock in "The Anniversary".  We arrived at Royston station in a rush and a high-speed train to London was due any minute. I stood at the rear of the queue at the ticket office, to buy a ticket plus London underground day-pass (referred to as a Travelcard) from Welwyn Garden City onwards, as my own monthly already covered the journey to Welwyn Garden City.  We also needed a parking lot ticket for my vehicle, which could be purchased directly from the ticket office, especially if the ticket issuing machines are out of order, as was the case on that day.  Logistically, the parking lot is located on the opposite side of the railway line to the ticket office itself, accessible via the stairway and bridge.  Now the concern was that we would miss our train, as we still had to place the parking ticket on the car windscreen before returning to the platform. 

My brother, not being shy by nature, applied lateral thinking in order to save time. He approached a local towards the head of the queue, with a request for him to purchase our vehicle ticket at the ticket office itself, whilst simultaneously buying his own rail ticket.  Not being as confident as my brother, however, I gesticulated frantically to him exclaiming: "Hey, Ed, you can't do that sort of thing here, they're more reserved than we are".  The irony was that the Roystoner had not realised that parking tickets could be purchased at the ticket office directly, so imagine his dilemma. The poor fellow, rather surprised by the audacity of this request, assumed, therefore, that he would have to leave his position in the queue and proceed across the bridge, in order to accede to my brother's request.  So he politely turned to my brother and exclaimed: "But I'll miss my train"! 

Once the simple, logical request was understood, we had a good laugh.  Needless to say, we were able to board our train on time.


Aerial view of the lime quarry near Royston, off the A505.


The Fox and The Duck on Therfield Village Green, near Royston.


Walking Royston Ridge, a popular outdoor location for recreational purposes.


Walking Royston Ridge with my dear friends from Vienna - Hannah, Bibi and Markus.


More Royston Cycle Routes:


More cycle routes from Royston - click on image to open in Google Maps.


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