Harpenden not at all Common
A very enjoyable few days in a new town for me. Harpenden Common stretches from outside the town right up to the start of the High Street and it’s that way I approached it from the St Albans side. Almost by chance after a dog walk stop in a layby just out of the town, we walked over a golf course and discovered an almost perfect spot for us to stop over for the few days before the Carnival. It was in a small wood alongside the golf course, which I later discovered morphs into a cricket field and then the real Common before nestling naturally into the High Street. There was a natural drive in area, used normally I guess by dog walkers’ cars which now fitted us plus space for one car. All but one of the dog walkers would have to find somewhere else to park for a few days.
We settled in to our new home. Young and old oaks brushed the lorry roof and one tiny branch pushed its nose into my bathroom window when I opened it, as if checking out this new strange visitor’s abode. There was a large low sweeping branch which had grown thick with age which provided the perfect seat just outside my door and the sun dappled through the leaves giving that magical lighting effect that only a wood in summer can provide. There were plenty of passing dogs for my two to protect me from and sniff around after. It was looking good and it was good.
After an afternoon sleep and a cup of tea we walked into what I at first thought was Harpenden. A small crossroads with a dozen or so shops including a launderette, ironmongers, car accessory shop and a co-op. All the essential providers for a gentleman of the road. A couple of well-stocked charity shops as well which I promised myself to forage later on my first launderette trip. The initial good feeling just went on growing.
On our return to the lorry I gathered my whites together for the first washing and left the dogs for a long sleep. It was a very hot day and the shade offered by the oaks was welcomed by them and me. I found a shortcut into town and went to the launderette where the very friendly, underemployed, chatty assistant told me that what I had thought to be Harpenden was actually Southdown but that it was a much nicer place. Harpenden was only a ten minute walk away. She also showed me pictures of her dogs and garden and exchanged family news. She didn’t have enough to do. I had a quick skip round the charity shops then set off into the real Harpenden. She was right about Southdown, but only just, as Harpenden itself was essentially one long High Street with all the usual shops and was luckily wide enough to allow the extremely busy road to pass through it without being too intrusive. It was the road though that made the place seem frenetic compared to Southdown. What are we doing to our High Streets? The town was charming and well-endowed with the indies that make a High Street interesting, a plethora of Charity Shops and a big Sainsbury’s. What made particularly pleasant was the Common which had not been encroached on and bumped dramatically into one end of the High Street.
As I returned to collect my whites I saw two people marking the ground on the Common and found where my Saturday spot was to be. Luckily, as originally they would have placed me with the afternoon sun behind the stage shining straight into the eyes of the audience. Not a good idea. A bit of careful negotiation allowed a 180 degree turn to the other side of the Common. Perfect.
I pulled onto the Common on the Thursday night which meant I would have Friday to do a leisurely set up and be even nearer town. I bought a ticket for Peggy Seeger who was appearing there that night as part of her eightieth birthday UK tour and enjoyed her witty and wry octogenarian sung and spoken observations on humankind.
My shows went brilliantly on the Saturday and apart from being put alongside a noisy and unattractive eighties fairground ride, the whole visit was lovely from start to finish. The people of Harpenden, without exception, made me feel welcome and appreciated. That’s almost all that anyone can hope for in life.
All the best from a road near you,