I’ve been struggling with a way to start this blog post, I’ve played with the idea of using a quote or some grand metaphor about living somewhere new and exciting, but that’s just the thing, for the past year I’ve lived in Welwyn Garden City – a commuter town that’s only existed for 100 years more than I’ve been here. It’s no Paris, New York or Rome but that’s the beauty of it, that is why it has been perfect.
When I say that I ended up in this corner of Hertfordshire by complete chance, I honestly mean it. Me and my partner had dreams of grandeur when we moved out of our flat in Bamber Bridge just over a year ago, dreaming of the late nights and bright lights of London Town – but sometimes pipe dreams are just those, pipe dreams. Two months was how long I drifted through the capital, unemployed, bouncing between Airbnb’s, but that was enough for me. Using the 20/20 vision that hindsight brings, London was never right for me.
Not that it isn’t a fantastic city, it really is and I’d highly recommend a visit if you’ve never been. It just never felt like mine, I always felt like a stranger, always feeling the urge to look over my shoulder after finding myself in another area I didn’t know at dusk. That’s just the way in London I’ve found. The streets change personality from one to the next, you could be on a road that houses the rich and famous in one moment, before finding yourself on the next street that’s full of high-rises where the inhabitants can smell the outsider on you. I think it was this juxtaposition that kept me on edge and kept me from truly wanting to stay. London is perfect for a lot of people, just not me, but I’m glad that I tried, and I know that for definite now, instead of spending a lifetime yearning for it.
The move to WGC came about through a connection I’d made in Tanzania, believe it or not, whereby he’d offered me a job role after a few too many pints in Camden Market. I’d applied for over 100 writing jobs, become far too accustomed to the word no, so decided to say yes. I’d never heard of the place outside of it being the birthplace of Alesha Dixon, but I needed the money and I had nothing keeping me in London. So, we booked a hotel for six weeks and started looking for a place.
As it turned out, I did have a prior connection to Welwyn Garden City. The place had given me an eerie familiarity when I’d entered the centre for the first time, and it took having a drink in the Doctor’s Tonic pub to figure it out.
It was Newton Haven, from The bloody World’s End. What a great movie, I’d thought to myself, and now I got to live where it was filmed. Being a massive Edgar Wright fanboy, that fact gave me more satisfaction than the job I was working – but being on a COVID test site I’m sure you can let me get away with that.
Historically, the confusingly named town of Welwyn Garden City was founded in 1920 by a bloke named Sir Ebenezer Howard and quite liked the idea of cities but thought they were a bit too grey, so decided to mix in some trees and fields to spread everything out. He’d tried it in Letchworth first, but I guess he’d decided that he’d failed and fancied another pop. If you’re from LGC don’t @ me, I’m just stating facts you know, second the best and all that.
It was an odd place to end up by chance, it wasn’t somewhere that you’d ever move to the otherside of the country for, but that was what we’d ended up doing. There was an odd melancholy in getting the flat we’d end up spending a year living in, a feeling that we couldn’t go back up North out of pride, but also the feeling that we’d ended up somewhere we’d never wanted to be in the first place, forced into stopping our couch-hopping by the impending second UK lockdown.
It’s been nearly a year since that moment, and I’ve decided that moving to Welwyn Garden City was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’s an odd feeling finding yourself stuck somewhere with no network, no nostalgia or passion to stay in the area and no attachment to the job that keeps you there. However, I think that’s what made the place perfect, there was nothing to take care of other than ourselves. There was no local drama, no pre-emptive impressions from people who had heard of you at school. We were unknown quantity, it was great, freeing if you will.
Gradually you build a network over time, and I’ve been honoured to make some great friends who I hope stick around for the long haul. On top of that, you learn the lay of the land, you pick up on shortcuts, find the best eating spots (I’d recommend That Picnic Brand in the Wheat Quarter, it’s incredible) and the excellent places to go for long walks.
Welwyn Garden City can be seen best in the dilapidated Shredded Wheat factory that stands dormant over the train station, using its time still standing as a monolith long lost to another era. Yet there are plans to revitalise it, to bring it back as something fresh, new, and exciting. The building blocks are here for Welwyn to turn into something great, it has a history it will grow into, a commute into London that lasts only 25 minutes and the feeling that some culture is going to start rearing its head through the rows of corporate shops that run up and down Howardsgate.
I’d be lying if I said that living here has been wild, but it’s been an experience that removed the fog from everything, it made the next step much clearer and much easier to work towards. Pressing the reset button can help you become yourself again, and I was lucky enough to do it for a year during a pandemic which has crippled so many people mentally. For that I count my blessings, I really do.
The coat of arms for Hertfordshire predominantly features the stag, an animal that symbolises instinct, maturity, regeneration, and spiritual enlightenment. I’m not sure if everyone else’s stay in the Hert of England has been the same, but the symbolism seems awfully apt and poetic to me.
Cheers for the memories.