Peter Crook and Angela Rixon report from the day trip to St Albans in May
The Days Out team made an excellent choice for our May excursion, as the Hertfordshire city of St Albans proved to offer something for everyone. For dedicated shopaholics there were antique and gift shops galore, beautiful boutiques and sophisticated department stores; for the historians and culture vultures among us there was a treasury of delights to explore.
Formerly known as Verulamium in Roman times and the first major town on Watling Street, running northwards from London, the city now takes its name from Alban, martyred for his Christian beliefs in AD209.
Dominating the skyline stands the magnificent hilltop cathedral, which now houses the shrine of St Alban. Smashed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, this artefact was painstakingly reconstructed in 1993 and attracts pilgrims from far and wide.
Several of us joined a long and comprehensive tour of the cathedral with a professional guide, exploring the vast, impressive interior with its elegant Norman arches, 13th and 14th century murals and the longest nave in Britain.
Lunchtime offered a wide variety of eateries, ranging from the Abbots Kitchen in the Chapter House attached to the cathedral to Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, which claims to be the oldest alehouse in Britain. Originally built as a hexagonal pigeon cote, providing squabs for the monks’ table this fascinating pub exudes atmosphere and is said to have an ancient tunnel connecting to the cathedral.
The pub garden borders the millstream fed by the River Ver, and a pedestrian bridge leads into the immaculate 100-acre Verulamium Park, with its remnants of the old city walls, sweeping meadows and stands of mature trees, all set around a long flowing lake. We enjoyed watching various species of ducks, flocks of Canada geese with goslings and mute swans with cygnets, and were especially enchanted by the coots, some pairs busily collecting nesting materials, others feeding their tiny crimson-headed chicks.
The park is also home to the award-winning Verulamium Museum with recreated Roman rooms, imposing mosaics and assorted artefacts including glassware, bones, metal work and pottery, all illustrating the daily life of this major city in Roman times. Near by a modern building protects an amazing excavation of part of a large Roman villa clearly illustrating the hypocaust, its central heating system, and with beautiful mosaics dated at AD200. Another short walk leads to the great Roman theatre excavated in 1847 and the foundations of a row of shops, a villa and a secret shrine.
Our coach rendezvous at 4pm came all too soon – barely time to enjoy all the attractions of this intriguing city, which is well a return visit.