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We decided to visit Bishops Stortford initially because, well, it's not *too* far away and because we just wanted to find out more about the place. Anyway, this is a review of that town...
Bishops Stortford is a very old town where chain stores nestle uneasily amongst ancient old buildings. The walk from the station takes a little while, and takes you past a big multiplex cinema and bowling alley which is one of the major attractions of the place.
It's a *very* old town. Bishops Stortford took its name from the ford (i.e the bridge) over the river Stort. The town is mentioned in the Doomsday book (although not as its current name). Down the ages there have been various tussles over the ownership of the town, between the King and bishops (who of course answered to the Pope) in the 1200s. The castle was burned down and then rebuilt by order of the King. The town itself is also right on the border with Essex and some of the people living in the town are in fact living in Essex.
Well, what can you say about the shops? Most of the usual generic chain stores appear to be here, and most of these are conveniently located along the winding main street.
We didn't see any "curiosity shops" by which I mean shops which are actually interesting- old record stores, second-hand bookshops and the like. A shame really- it would have added much to the character of the place.
We only visited one pub properly, the Boars Head, but this was well worth the effort. This is a rambling old Tudor (I think) listed building, wih all the usual incorrect angles, oddly-arranged beams, wonky ceilings and dodgy floors that make those places so pleasant. I suspect this place was probably one of the old staging posts stopped at by many a thirsty coachman on the journey between London and Cambridge during the middle ages and later.
It had a separate games room at the time (though sadly the second time we visited, most of the games seemed to have disappeared). The first time, they had two pool tables, a darts board (not that I play darts- I worry about everyone around me if I pick up a dart), table football, pinball, and various other bits and pieces.
And the food- a huge lasagne with vast quantities of chips, and also an equally vast (if not vaster!) bowl of chilli con carne with nachos, guacamole, rice and chips- was fantastic. The guy who served us dropped a few chips, apologised profusely even though we said it was fine, and then hurried back to us a few minutes later with an extra bowl to make up for it. Now that's what I call going the extra mile. The place was friendly and the service was impressive.
It has changed hands since then, and the last time we went, they weren't actually serving food- but for all we know, it may have changed hands again since then so it's still worth checking out.
The bowling centre was quite plush and nicely-presented. Apart from that it was your average bowling alley. Off with the sweaty boots, on with the dreadful red slippers. This was the first time I'd actually been bowling, but it was good fun even if I did occasionally get my fingers stuck in the balls.
We didn't visit the cinema, butit's part of the same complex as the bowling centre, which is convenient- and the whole place is literally just acrss the car park from the train station, which is even more convenient.
Getting to and from Bishops Stortford by train is fairly easy. The town has excellent connections both to London Liverpool Street and to Stanstead Airport, and also to Cambridge- and even Peterborough now, if you should ever feel the need to go there. And Stanstead Airport itself is fairly close, so if you're heading further away then you can do so quite easily from here.
At the end of the day I have to give this town a three-star rating, because I can't let one fantastic pub meal and a fun bit of bowling colour my judgement of the place. Aside from the cinema and the bowling, and some nice historic buildings including a castle, there isn't a huge amount to do, and the shops weren't really eclectic enough for my tastes. That said, it's worth coming here for a day trip and a wander round, and some of the scenery is quite nice.