We moved to Walthamstow in 2009 and then Watford in 2015, knowing little about either beforehand. Numbers eight and nine in the Buzzfeed list If Bridget Jones’s Diary had been set in 2015 are basically us and it was published around the time our Watford house offer was accepted – freaky!
We knew one person who lived in Walthamstow before we borrowed a small fortune from the bank and little did we know that it would become an absolute magnet for young families in the years to come! Again with Watford, we knew one family (and they were family) and hoped we would love it just as much as Walthamstow.
So, one year after moving, we thought we would do a little tongue-in-cheek blog and pit Watford versus our old stomping ground. Hope you like it!
Cassiobury Park, Watford versus Lloyd Park, Walthamstow
We were lucky to live near Lloyd Park in Walthamstow and in 2012 it was refurbished with money from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund. This transformed the park from an OK destination into a fantastic little oasis, as it had the William Morris Gallery complete with cafe, tennis courts (not that we ever used them!) an improved looking moat-lake, another cafe, a playground, skatepark, outdoor gym equipment and hosted the amazing Garden Parties. It was a great place to visit and was just down the road.
Watford has the enormous Cassiobury Park and, weirdly, just like Walthamstow, it’s also receiving Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund money to refurbish some of the facilities. Already its Cafe Cha and accompanying toddler playground have been revamped (see our blog post ) and the bandstand has been reinstalled (yep, we were there for its opening day) and down the other end, they’re building a new “park hub” complete with cafe, community and exhibition room and changing facilities for the new paddling pools, which are going to be something like Howard Park in Letchworth Garden City. But Cassiobury Park is more than just the two areas mentioned above – it’s a massive space with so many areas to explore and of course has a fab miniature railway.
We’ve found the availability of free indoor spaces where you can wander around on a wet day are of vital importance having a young kid. We’ve been to Watford Museum once and although there were some interesting exhibits, it didn’t feel overly young-kid friendly. It’s got great potential and if it were updated and designed more for kids under five, I think we’d visit it more often*.
Walthamstow’s William Morris Gallery was treated to an overhaul back in 2012 courtesy of Heritage Lottery funding and when it reopened, was much more geared up for young visitors with lower level interactive exhibits. Walthamstow also has the Vestry House Museum, and although it doesn’t have the same style of interactive exhibits as the William Morris Gallery, it did offer another free space for escaping to on a wet day (and also runs regular family friendly activities).
*Whilst writing this blog, Watford Museum has announced they’ve been successful in applying for a first round of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and a redevelopment is on its way so perhaps our verdict will change over time.
Market Street, Watford versus Orford Road, Walthamstow
Orford Road really blossomed whilst we there from having one or two independent shops to having quite a wide-ranging selection, including a wine store, a cheese and beer shop-cum-cafe and a homeware store. Further afield but still in Walthamstow, Wood Street was also fast developing as a hub for independent shops and of course there was the main high street with a multitude of independent traders, including our favourite, friendly opticians J McAndrew.
The main focal point for independent shops in Watford seems to be Market Street. We love La Bottega Italiana the deli/cafe, Sounds Retro (vinyl shop) and there are some other independent shops that we’ve yet to visit, including Tapestry Cakes. Are there other pockets of independent shops that we’re yet to discover? We hope so as at the moment, Walthamstow, with its thriving independent shop scene, is beating Watford perhaps because Watford has such as strong chain shop presence, which leads us on to…
Intu Watford versus Walthamstow’s The Mall
The three shops we used to visit the most in Walthamstow’s The Mall were Boots, Waterstones and Topshop (when they had a concession above Dorothy Perkins). In Watford’s Intu centre, we’re spoilt for choice in comparison; it’s got a M&S, Zara, H&M and a John Lewis and that’s just to name a few. To be able to walk to Intu is great and with us now being a family rather than a couple, our disposable income is fairly small meaning shopping at (generally pricier) independent shops is limited.
4. Nice to potter about
??? versus the Village, Walthamstow
Walthamstow has its designated conservation area in the “village”, where you can stroll around the older parts of Wilcumestowe and then stop for refreshments at one of the many restaurants and cafes of Orford Road or visit the poshest Spar in the country but what does Watford have?
Err dual carriageways? There doesn’t seem to be an equivalent central pocket of preservation in Watford – maybe Nascot Wood? There are some old buildings dotted about (e.g. Watford Museum, Cheslyn Gardens) but it’s often best to travel by car to get from one to the other. It seems to us that Watford, sometime around the 60s or 70s, became a little too enthralled with cars and thought it needed to up its road building game to eliminate traffic jams forever. It’s a shame, as you can see glimpses of the old character in photos from this Facebook group, Watford Memories and History. We would really like the local council to think more about how to make it generally nicer to walk between places in Watford – perhaps they should take a leaf out of Walthamstow’s book and create their own ‘mini-Holland’.
We both work in central London and Walthamstow was a great place to commute from as if you were catching the Victoria line you were always guaranteed a seat, being at the start of the line. There was also the overground line into Liverpool Street as well as the London Overground from Walthamstow Queen’s Road.
Watford is similarly well connected. There’s the overground line and the slower London Overground from Watford Junction that both go into Euston as well as the Metropolitan line from Watford’s underground station that ends up at Aldgate.
Both places are well-connected, so which is the winner? Well for us, it’s Watford, as even though it’s a slightly longer journey travelling in from its underground station, the Met line’s open, walk-through and air-conditioned coaches win out over the Victoria line’s speed. One of us also travels to Oxford for work quite a bit and it’s easier to get to Oxford via car from Watford and still be back in time to pick up our child from daycare.
6. Day trips/drives out
We love a good day trip and both places deliver on this category. There are loads of places to visit nearby in Watford and we’ve only managed to sample a few so far including: Berkhamstead, Tring’s Natural History Museum, St. Albans, Bekonscot Model Village and Oxford. Whereas in Walthamstow, Saffron Walden, Bishop’s Stortford (with the lovely South Street Pantry) and Cambridge were all regular destinations
Aquadrome and Cafe in the Park, Rickmansworth versus Connaught Water and Butler’s Retreat, Epping Forest
OK there are obviously more walks than these two but we thought they were a good choice to illustrate both places. Since we’ve become parents, the days of taking long leisurely walks have disappeared (temporarily we hope)! Now it’s all about the walk and refreshment combo and both Watford and Walthamstow deliver on this. We used to visit Connaught Water in Chingford, do a lap of the pond and then walk up to Butler’s Retreat to get a hot chocolate a lot when we lived in Walthamstow and now, in Watford, we find ourselves regularly popping to the Aquadrome to take a stroll around the lakes before making a beeline for the Cafe in the Park.
Each walk has an extra added bonus: a visitor centre right next to Butler’s Retreat and an adventure playground in the Aquadrome. I think the latter just tips the Aquadrome into winner territory for us but really this one’s a tie.
8. Places to eat out
Our regular haunts in Walthamstow were The Bell pub, Queen’s Arms, Dhaka Tandoori, the very family friendly Indulgence Cafe and Eat 17. It was great to have so many places to eat within walking distance and we were gutted to have left before getting to try the new Thai restaurant – Yum Yum and visit Mirth, Marvel and Maud in the old EMD cinema.
In Watford, within walking distance from us is the Cha Cafe, Tarboush and then there are loads of restaurants in the Intu shopping centre and along the High Street, including lots of chains like Ask, Wagamamas and Bills . We’ve yet to try Sushi No Mai and Bar Bodega but did enjoy a Thai meal at the Nascot Arms and a yummy brunch at Flourish Bakery recently. We feel we’ve only visited the tip of the iceberg and are looking forward to visiting many more in time to come. All we need now is for Antic pubs to make it to Watford. Come on Antic, you’ve made it to Bromley!
9. Baby/toddler activities
Baby Sensory classes with Madeleine were very much a highlight of the maternity leave week whilst we lived in Walthamstow and from September this year, we’ve been going to a similar style of class in Watford called Happy House, hosted by the Cafe Cha and run by Hartbeeps. The class is led by a lady called Jeanette who clearly loves what she’s doing (where does she get her energy from?!) and features a lot of songs, role-play and is an ideal activity before stopping at the playground outside.
We think both places have got a lot going on in terms of baby and toddler activities so it seems only fair to declare…
10. Lack of mattress fly-tipping
We couldn’t do a top ten list comparing the two without mentioning the Mattressess of Walthamstow. At the moment, Walthamstow’s losing on this but with the number of rental properties going up in Watford, perhaps we’ll see more stories like this one ‘Fly-tipper fined for dumping mattress‘.
So that’s it. Walthamstow: 2. Watford: 5 . Ties: 3.