I think it's about time someone actually pointed out what's great about living in WGC. I work in London, and yes, I'm one of those people probably driving up house prices in WGC. I bought a lovely two bedroom two storey end of terrace with a mammoth backyard for £175,000, which is about a tenth of the price it would have cost in London, or anywhere within the M25 for that matter (unless you're willing to live somewhere you could be shot or stabbed).
WGC is green, full of wide avenues and shady beautiful trees. I feel perfectly safe walking around at night by myself. Thousands of gardens dot the town. The people are friendly and chatty and are incomparable to the rudeness of Londoners. My neighbours look out for our house when we're away, and always say hello when they see us.
OK, so there aren't many restaurants (except Terra Nova is excellent, Pizza Express is always good, and there are a couple of cosy pubs around my area), but I work in London, so who needs restaurants? The shops are pretty good - we've got a John Lewis and the Howard Centre is always a lot less crowded than Oxford Street. I'm not a big shopper, but given I'm in London every day for work anyway, the lack of better shopping is never going to be a problem. Oh, and also the Hatfield Galleria is about a ten minute busride away. Cheap and discounted Le Creuset, Bodyshop, TK Max, everything you could want. There's a massive B&Q just down the road from my place, and the 24 hour tescos a short drive away is much bigger than anything I could ever get to in London.
It's about 25 minutes to King's Cross, so it's closer to central London than Clapham is. The commute is gorgeous - mostly lovely country side, and the train starts there so I get a seat every morning. No more noses in people's sweaty armpits on the tube!
Yes, I'd love to see a few more independent stores, the odd cafe (and yes, I also miss my local fromagerie from Clapham), but give it time and gentrification will come.
Maybe I'll open one myself.
You may or may not have heard of Welwyn Garden City (and yes, it is spelt Welwyn, not Welling, though they sound almost the same!) I had heard of the place before I moved to this neck of the woods from Nottingham, but knew little about it. Oh, the joy of ignorance! Oh dear, that was a mean thing to say, but God, Welwyn Garden City is DULL!!! It's not (as the name suggests) even a city, just a medium sized town about 24 miles North of London, here in Southern England. Oh, and please excuse the shouting. It was necessary to get my point across. I shall continue in a more subdued manner! Five years ago I came to live in Hertfordshire, not in Welwyn Garden City itself, but in the neighbouring town. Now, I'll be the first to admit that the town that I live in is no cosmopolitan Mecca, but it does have some character, which is more than can be said for WGC (as I shall refer to Welwyn Garden City from now on!) You see, WGC is actually a new town (the name came from the original village, Welwyn, which is a few miles to the north of WGC). The town was built in the 1920's and was the concept of one Sir Ebenezer Howard, who had also previously planned Letchworth Garden City. Sir Howard's ambition was, in his own words: "By so laying out a Garden City that, as it grows, the free gifts of Nature - fresh air, sunlight, breathing room and playing room - shall be still retained in all needed abundance." To a point he has achieved his goals (though, of course, he's no longer around to appreciate that). WGC is full of trees, broad avenues, communal parks and gardens and is generally very green and roomy, exactly as was planned. This all sounds great, in principal, however, the buildings in WGC are almost entirely characterless. Rows of incredibly similar houses neatly arranged along straight roads. The town centre is completely lacking in any long-established family businesses or curious little shops that'
ve been there for years. About the nearest you'll come to anything other than the typical high street names (and there are plenty of those in WGC, including John Lewis, Next, Argos, WH Smith, Boots, Marks and Spencer, Sainsburys, etc) are a meagre selection of small, independent shops, including a record shop, a shop selling 'alternative' clothing and a gorgeous little place selling all kinds of glassware and ornaments. But off the top of my head I can't think of any others at all! There are several charity shops in the town centre, and the place is well-served for banks, opticians and the like. There is no market, which is a distinct disadvantage in my opinion. However, there is another area in which WGC town centre is sorely lacking... Can you guess what it is? If you live locally you'll be only too aware that until very recently there were only two pubs in WGC town centre. Now, before you muse to yourself that two pubs isn't all that bad, just consider this: WGC is a town of some 41,000 people, many of these are commuters but a large percentage of them do live and work locally. Now, imagine you've just come home after a hard weeks work, desperate for a bit of R & R and you fancy going out on the razzle and letting your hair down a bit. Well, you can't. Not in your home town anyway! Yes, you could 'crawl' from one pub to the other if you were really desperate (and many locals did just that) but come 11pm you'd either be looking further afield for entertainment, making your own or heading home for a cup of horlicks and an early night. Now, while you expect this type of situation if you live in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, in a town of this size it is more or less unheard of! Apparently we have the Quakers to blame for the lack of watering holes, as I've been told by local residents that WGC was originally a Quaker town (so obviously they wouldn't have had too much need for pubs!)
The situation has improved recently, as an Irish theme pub opened up in town last year, and there are now a selection of licensed restaurants to chose from instead of just Pizza Hut or Pizza Express, which was the only choice available not so long ago! There is still definitely room for improvement, though. As mentioned earlier, WGC is only 24 miles from the centre of London, and has a train station in the main shopping centre which has pretty reliable (if you can believe that!) services running approximately every twenty minutes to Kings Cross. Luton Airport is approximately 15 miles away, and Heathrow is within an hours driving distance (depending on the state of the M25!) Taxis are plentiful, though expensive. The local bus service is, however, atrocious. Buses are expensive, infrequent and generally late (if not cancelled completely). The old adage about waiting ages for a bus then having three turn up at once could have been written just for Welwyn Garden City! I've lost count of the amount of times I've waited 30 minutes or more for a bus before several arrive all at once! The buses don't seem to stick to any of the timetables, often arriving minutes late or early, I don't think I can find anything good to say about the bus service in the district at all! The average selling price of a typical semi in Welwyn Garden City at the moment is £224,365. This is a whopping £97,884 higher than the National Average (all figures from www.upmystreet.com). The reality of these extortionate house prices means that local workers (who are generally paid a much lower rate than London commuters) and first-time buyers are finding it increasingly difficult to buy a property in the town. Many are either having to purchase property much further afield, or simply postpone their house buying plans indefinitely. I, unfortunately, am one of those who can't afford to buy a house in Welwyn Garden City, despite my husband earning a reaso
nable wage as a computer software developer! Another important aspect of the town is that it does house the local Hospital, which sounds like a definite plus point, doesn't it? However, the Hospital is situated in a part of the town with very little parking available, and the car parks they do provide are ridiculously expensive. The hospital has had a problem in recent years with patients from the Psychiatric ward being killed as a result of falling down the stairwell. The childrens ward is currently closed completely, and this is due to a lack of staff, as far as I am aware. It also looks likely in the future that the hospital in WGC may amalgamate with the nearby Stevenage hospital. There is even talk of closing it down altogether and building a new, improved hospital in nearby Hatfield. It would probably be a vast improvement. So, what have we got so far? Shopping - nothing to write home about. Nightlife - abysmal. Public transport - even worse. Hospital - not brilliant. Housing - overpriced and mostly characterless... Not looking good, is it. I realise that this is coming across as an utterly damning opinion of the town. So far the only good word I've had to say about the place is that the trains are generally reliable and that there are plenty of open spaces. Sigh... I didn't mean for this opinion to turn out this way, though, honestly. WGC really isn't as bad as I've made it sound, it's just a normal town full of normal people. It's not Hell on earth, it's just that I can't think of one unique, original, special thing about the place. I don't even know of any famous ex-WGC'ers, although I'm sure there must have been some at some point... Ooh, mind you, there is the dry Ski slope, how could I have forgotten that? And if you drive into town from the right direction at the right time of day, you can witness a flock of geese bringing traffic to a stan
dstill as they calmly waddle across the road to their preferred roost on the central traffic island. A little further along the same road there's a hillside that's absolutely full of rabbit burrows, catching site of the furry little inhabitants on the way to work in the morning is definitely a pleasant way to start the day. Oh, and of course there's the Shredded Wheat factory! This is situated bizarrely close to the shopping centre, so that on days when the wind is blowing in the right direction the whole town smells like breakfast cereal! See, it's not all bad... Is it! Is it? Well, I did try... Believe it or not this is actually my fourth attempt at writing this opinion. The first three attempts I discarded as no matter how hard I tried to make them lively and interesting they were all stuffy, dull, characterless and packed with so much wittering drivel that even I got bored trying to read them. Perhaps this says more about Welwyn Garden City than anything else! Or perhaps it just says a lot about me!