Sat just off the A10 near Hertford, Ware is an unassuming little English town, but it’s one with plenty of history. Not much of it is in the Hastings/Bannockburn/Agincourt mould mind: it’s situation on various thoroughfares and infrastructures has ensured it’s seen life in all its forms for a good 6000 years, making it “one of the oldest continuously occupied sites in Western Europe” (so says Robert Kiln).
The London end of today’s A10 is one of the massive arterial projects of the 1930′s, and its bypass around the town of Ware is part of a number of deviations of that route from the Roman Ermine Street, which ran from London through Tottenham and Edmonton and on towards Ware. Ware was also on the Old North Road, a big ol’ coaching route, and was the location of the country’s first turnpike. On top of this, the river Lea meant that water trade was a big deal before the days of rail, and the town became the source of the New River, supplying London with something to drink. So, a fairly important place.
The town retains something of the old, quaint character: malting-houses dot the central skyline, the main road weaves past meadows and rivers, over bridges and past pillared townhouses. It’s a well-to-do location now, with a swift run into London on the train, and well-dressed older ladies serenely shopping on a weekday afternoon. We came primarily for a cup of coffee (it was one of those days) and found an hour plenty for that (alright, and some apple crumble) and the three charity shops here. You could spend longer though: the high street is pleasant and has plenty of cute-looking shopfronts. I’d suggest combining it with some other destinations: Hertford is very close indeed, and there’s close-by amenities at Hoddesdon, Bishop’s Stortford or even Welwyn Garden City, if that’s your thing.
The highlight of the visit (as at Waltham Cross, also not far) is the Isabel Hospice shop: a split-level affair, with the clothes downstairs being less interesting than an array of vintage fripperies upstairs. Some ridiculous hats here, which is always good, along with several bookshelves, a bucket of tapes, and a huge pile of Christmas decorations. Better to come here than pay several times the price at what must be the world’s biggest garden centre, Van Hage, just down the road. There’s also a newly re-branded Age UK and Barnardo’s and although there wasn’t much to buy here except for some excellent dressing-up materials, they weren’t poor by any means. Google Maps promises one or two others – I didn’t see any evidence of them, but perhaps I’m mistaken.
I liked Ware. I could easily spend time wandering along the Lea or perusing the high street by means of coffee, and the charity shops are a good combination of reasonable price and good stock. I’ll certainly be back.
Find: Ware @ Google Maps
Consume with: we had a very good coffee (and the apple crumble) in Truly Scrumptious
Visit: There’s a (small) part of me that fancies the New River Path all the way home. We’ll see…
Overall rating: three Terry Pratchetts