Welwyn, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom

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I had been based in Welwyn since May 2001, right up until my relocation in December 2004 to Royston, a market town on the northern border of Hertfordshire.  Welwyn is accessible by road via the A1(M) directly out of North London. Welwyn North, Welwyn Garden City, Hatfield and Potters Bar (scene of the most recent British Rail train accident) all lie on the same train line into Kings Cross via Finsbury Park in North London. Trains run every half an hour and the express journey takes all of 20 minutes only.

I acquired work as an embedded software engineer in Welwyn Garden City. Whilst the town, originally established in 1919 as a self-contained Quaker community, is sufficiently close to London by virtue of its commuter links, the new town design and feel, with the spacious layout and gardens, seems to set it apart and leave one with a feeling of being removed somewhat from the stress and undoubted pace of the capital city. 

The surrounding villages, though, are not short in terms of their share of history.  Welwyn boasts archaeological discoveries dating back to Roman times.  Most archaeological finds happen by accident, usually as the result of a construction project. So was the case with the Welwyn Roman baths. While the baths were being excavated, it became apparent that that the A1 - then under construction - was going to run right through the site. It became a race against time to complete the excavation before the road was due to be started at the site of the remains. An agreement was reached that meant the Roman baths at Welwyn could become something unique. It is probably the only Roman site that is completely encased underground, and under a motorway too.  The baths were originally built sometime around the early part of the third century AD and remained in use for about 150 years. The baths are basically simple in design and all the rooms, the hot and cold rooms and baths along with the furnace and heating system are clearly displayed. It is possible to walk around the baths and look down from the gantry and follow the path the Romans would have taken through the process of bathing. Also on show are finds from the site and surrounding areas as well as panels explaining the bathing ritual and subjects relating to the site.  The site may be visited from January to November between 14h00 and 17h00 at a cost of 1 for adults.

Just to the south-west of Welwyn Garden City lies St. Albans, for centuries at the heart of some of the most stirring events in English history.  Just outside the centre of this socially vibrant town are the walls of the Verulamium, one of the first British cities the Romans established after their invasion of Britain in AD 43. Believed to be Britain's oldest surviving pub, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks is certainly, with its octagonal shape, one of the most unusual. Just across the road from the Verulamium museum, with its collection of well-preserved Roman artefacts, are the foundations of the open-air theatre, first built in 160 A.D.  St. Albans Cathedral, first begun in 793, is an outstanding example of medieval architecture. The oldest parts, Norman in origin, which still stands, were first built in 1077.

Hatfield House is an example of one of England's finest Jacobean houses,  built mainly between 1607 and 1611 for the powerful statesman, Robert Cecil. Its chief historical interest, though,   lies in the surviving wing of the original Tudor  Hatfield Palace, where Queen Elizabeth 1 spent much of her childhood. She held her first Council of State here when she was crowned in 1558. Hatfield House has one of the few surviving 17th century gardens. Knebworth House, a Tudor mansion with beautiful Jacobean banqueting hall, was overlain with a 19th century Gothic exterior by Lord Lytton, the head of one of the most colourful families in Victorian England.
My UK outdoor activities have focussed largely on cycling, hiking and sailing. For me personally, one of the advantages of living in Hertfordshire and particularly Welwyn, is the sheer exhilaration I experience of being able to cycle along the endlessly accessible country roads in the vicinity.  I normally set out via one of several routes either to the west of Welwyn through Codicotte towards, say, Preston or alternatively, eastwards towards Hertford or even further afield, if I am feeling energetic, taking in the Hadhams near Bishop Stortford.  Nearer to home, as a quickie, so to speak, when the winter chill begins to set in, I might limit myself to a short ride around Welwyn and environ, taking in the Ayots and Shaw's Corner or possibly, as my mood takes me, amble down to Knebworth before swinging back through Datchworth, Burnham Green and Digswell or Tewin, ending off with a quick dash back up towards Mardley Hill.  If I were feeling a touch more adventurous in this instance, I have been known to cycle via Bramfield or Watton at Stone to Hertford, stop over for lunch at Cafe Uno or Cafe Rouge before returning to Welwyn.  This is not to say, of course, that there is the faintest possibility that anyone out there is likely to take any particular notice anyway, as in "hey, did you see that?  PG just flashed by!"  On all routes I am able to adhere to meandering scenic country roads and generally avoid busier roads, without even having to think about it.  For off-road cycling, I have been spotted cycling in the forests at Epping and Ashridge, located down the M25 towards Waltham Abbey and Berkhamsted respectively.  I did not think it possible, in the rainy season at least, to collect such copious amounts of mud!  I am proud to say that I have indeed cycled the Ridgeway and the Lea River all the way from Luton to Canary Wharf via Hertford, albeit on two separate occasions.
I had hoped to be adding further text and photographs of places I have been to over the period of time I have been in the United Kingdom but this has taken longer than expected. Nobody wants to read this s--- anyway!  So someday, you might be lucky enough to see some of my first-class piccies that may include parts of Wales, Devon and Cornwall, southern Spain, the south coast of England, the Lake and Peak Districts, as well as Bavaria and Austria, though, in the latter case, I cannot for the life of me believe than seeing my first tentative steps at cross-country skiing, finding myself embarrassingly wrapped around the first Christmas tree in sight, is headline news.  I have been awestruck by the sheer beauty of Skye, the Scottish Highlands and the remoteness of the Knoydart Peninsula.  Heck, if I can only get to it, I can easily illustrate that the UK is home some of the finest beauty one could hope to see.  Simply follow the links below.

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