It’s a year since we moved to Watford from London. But did we? We’re still having conversations with friends and colleagues over what really constitutes ‘London’. We both work in the capital and consider Watford – as it’s on the tube and a quick overland hop into Euston – still part of Greater London. Our commutes have only increased by 10 minutes or so from when we lived in Walthamstow, and we’re lucky enough to have flexible employers that have helped us maintain the work-life balance we enjoyed before the move.
“How far outside the M25 is it?”: another question we’re asked about Watford where the answer comes as a surprise. We’re also well-versed in putting people right about the whereabouts of Watford Gap.
So the commute, work-life balance and more-house-for-your-money have all worked out well for us so far. A fantastic bonus has been discovering the huge range of diverse activities, beauty spots, eateries and historic parks and buildings we’ve learned about or stumbled across in the past 12 months. There’s far more on our doorstep than we ever imagined before we moved, and we’ve loved exploring the town and countryside at the weekend. We’re still surprised how quickly you’re out into narrow lanes and tall hedgerows of rural Herts, and the rolling hills of the Chilterns have come as a welcome contrast to the flat fields of Essex (with added Red Kites!).
Our little one seems to enjoy it here and there are loads of childcare options, activities and groups. The air seems cleaner, and we’ve spent many hours exploring Cassiobury Park and having fun in its two fantastic playgrounds.
We’re sure there’s lots more for us to discover, but for now here’s our top 10 things about Watford (in no particular order!):
The historic seat of the Earls of Essex is undergoing a transformation on the back of a Heritage Lottery Award. We love Café Cha and its fab toddler playground, as well as the wide open spaces, nature reserve and wildernesses. We also can’t wait for the huge new visitor hub and paddling pools opening next year.
Fantastic, inexpensive Lebanese food and one of the best restaurants in Watford. Tarboush has been very welcoming to us with a small child and are equally accommodating of larger groups.
It was great to hear that Watford had its own microbrewery. They’ve had a couple of pop-up bars so far (the brewery is down Whippendell Road) and we went along to the first one to sample their draft and bottled beers. We loved the Club Hammer stout – as did South Herts CAMRA as they’ve just named it the county’s Beer of the Year!
A beautiful, picturesque garden and woodland up in Nascot Wood. It takes a bit of searching for but this tranquil haven is perfect for an afternoon walk or those moments when you just want to get away from it all. Highly recommended (though don’t tell everyone! 😉
OK, so it’s not a place as such, but we’ve found ourselves zipping up and down the A41 many times for woodland walks, museum trips and lunches out. Admittedly we’re not travelling at rush hour, but it’s certainly far less busy than any of the jammed arterial routes out of London that used to dominate our weekends.
Top stops within half an hour: Berkhamstead (market town, canal walks and castle, the Ashridge Estate), Tring (Natural History Museum), Hemel (66 Book Club and snow centre), Wendover Woods and the RAF Museum in Hendon.
Thai food at the Nascot Arms
Right up there with Tarboush as one of the best in Watford. Incredibly popular (we were told to book a table in the large dining room at the rear at least a week in advance) but never disappoints: all the Thai staples and more, cooked authentically and at reasonable prices. Great service, too.
Range of shops
Within walking distance to us is the Intu shopping centre. It has a large range of shops (eg John Lewis, M&S, Apple) and draws big crowds at the weekend and looks set to become even more of a destination when the extension opens next year with more shops, restaurants and an IMAX cinema.
Many times travelling into Watford underground station, we’d spied goats and alpacas through the trees and wondered what the large site by the canal was. Cassiobury Farm opens for a limited number of days per year (though the fishing lakes have a different arrangement) and we visited on one back in August. See here for some great pics.
Where to start when there’s so much choice? LP Café, Reason, Ocean Bells, West Herts College, Café Cha: we love them all!
We still haven’t visited the Colosseum or Watford Palace theatres, so they’re at the top of the list for next year. Any others we’re missing out on? Feel free to tell us!