There’s something a little bit familiar about Hitchin. It’s not that I’ve been here before, rather that this is an archetypal English town: cobbled market square, narrow alleys, beautiful wall writing and flourishes, huge central church, riverside walk with swans, you name it, it’s here. As such it’s a really lovely place, and thankfully, it’s not lost any of its ancient charm.
Hitchin’s been around since the dark ages, and has thrived on its market. These days, the central square is empty of traders, who locate themselves on a much larger plot to the side of St. Marys church – little of your frou frou organic breads or wild mushrooms here, Hitchin market is a bustling, proper market: odds and sods from one stand, traders barking vegetables at passersby minding their own business, a discount meat lorry with an affable brummie, offering as much as you can fit in your freezer for twenty pounds.
Just a short walk from the market, past the odd, confused, but ginormous church, all mismatched in its colouring, and over the small navigated path of the River Hiz, you’ll end up in the town square, today home to buskers and coffee carts, and a general meeting point. With a four faced clock overlooking you (courtesy of Gatwards jewellers, est. 1760), you can point yourself in any direction and find a genuine haul of charity shop goodies.
Totter south down Sun Street (carefully now, mind those stones) to Help The Aged, a spacious shop which we visited twice, thankfully finding the object of our desires still there. Wander further and you’ll find a shop specialising in Ordnance Survey maps: I chose not to visit in the estimation that I would never leave…
Go south-west of the square and you’ll find a Scope and one of the two Cancer Research shops sat on the corner. Cancer Research caters (in a small way) to the retro/vintage market with a small shelf dedicated to the same, although whoever makes the choice of what qualifies as retro/vintage may need some sort of big city exposure.
Head past the Corn Exchange to the little arcade on West Alley: here you’ll find a Salvation Army shop that closes at one, so cannot face review. More notable for me however, next to the secondhand bookshop is the wonderful Touch Of Garnish, a tiny but heaving caf which served us up a magnificent hot roast pork and apple sauce sandwich, and a first-rate bread pudding. Wonderful stuff, and wonderfully friendly types manning the station: Larry Garnish (real name!) seemed ever so proud that we enjoyed his pork, and was happy to commend us further for picking out his bread pudding.
Heading up the semi-pedestrianised, we find the second Cancer Research and British Heart Foundation, the former yielding up a brand new Peter Storm top, perfect for my cycle commute, only a fiver to you sir. Further still and we reach the Garden House Hospice, a cavernous place stuffed with furniture of all varieties and tons of homeware. We left with egg cups, and all manner of terracotta thingummies.
You can continue on to the Sue Ryder further up (we didn’t…), or dogleg back down Church Road to find Save The Children (on two levels, men’s clothes and books upstairs, offering up Soren Kierkegaard‘s Purity Of Heart on this occasion) and Oxfam, bringing you back to the square. So, totting up the number I very nearly run out of fingers: ten charity shops, all good, a variety of lovely little cafes, beautiful church and square, excellent market, Hitchin has everything going for it.
Find: Hitchin on Google Maps
Transport: Hitchin stati0n is on the Great Northern Line, and although it’s a bit out of the way, offers a half-hour connection to London.
Consume with: definitely some sort of roast pork, from A Touch Of Garnish
Visit: Hitchin Museum, and Physic Garden
Overall rating: five complete dinner services
EDIT: on return to Hitchin, the Sally Army Care & Share was open – definitely good for a poke, this rambling shop is located nearly opposite the pork sandwich shop (yes we went back…) and is good for really cheap clothes (if you can find something you like), random objets, and a variety of kitsch kitchen machines including smoothie maker, teasmaid and best of all, chicken rotisserie for only £7.