A maze of medieval streets; the remains of a Norman castle; walks along the river Lea; easy access to London via road and rail, plus good state schools, make Hertford an attractive place to live.
Only 19 miles from the centre of the capital, Hertford is the county town of Hertfordshire but with a population of less than 25,000 it has the feel of a small country town, a world away from London's frenetic pace of life.
Hertford sits in a valley where the rivers Rib, Beane and Mimram meet the river Lea. It was named after the ancient place where deer once crossed the river, and the town's emblem is a stag or hart.
Outside what remains of the castle is a stone commemorating the first synod of the whole Church of England held here in 673. And a proud statue of a stag stands at the centre of Parliament Square, named after the time, in Queen Elizabeth I's reign, when parliament moved to Hertford to avoid the plague.
'Thankfully, Hertford is no clone town but still has stylish independent shops'
Today, the town's three major employers are the county council, the district council and McMullen brewery, one of the country's few remaining independent brewers, with fine Victorian red-brick brewery buildings in the centre of town.
Hertford's town centre has a good choice of places to eat: McMullen has opened a branch of Baroosh, a chain of bars offering gastropub favourites; and the Hertford House Hotel, the town's first boutique hotel, has a popular brasserie.
However, the local shopping centre, Bircherley Green, could do with a facelift. With two big shopping centres at nearby Welwyn, where there is a John Lewis, and Cheshunt, Hertford does not attract many high-street names. So, thankfully, it is no clone town but still has stylish independent shops.
Steve Hiddert of Hertford estate agent Steven Oates says that the town is popular with families because of its good state schools and with commuters because of the easy journey to London by train and quick access to the A10 and the M25.
Folly Island, on the river Lea, and close to the town centre, is an area of attractive two-up, two-down terrace houses that sell for between £250,000 and £300,000 if they are on the river.
'Families head for the area south of town close to two good state schools'
Weston Homes is planning to build 120 one- and two-bedroom flats with river views on the site of an old power station next to the town's flourishing allotments. For more information, call Weston Homes on 01279 873300.
Families head for the area south of the town to be close to two good state schools: Richard Hale, where Harry Potter-actor Rupert Grint, who plays Ronald Weasley, was a student, and Simon Balle. A three-bedroom Victorian house in Queens Road, for example, starts at £550,000.
Bengeo on the north-western edge of Hertford is also popular. Here there are two-bedroom cottages selling for about £220,000 and large Edwardian houses costing more than £1 million.
New homes include Furnival Place. The scheme, by Ashwell Homes (0845 815 0018), includes the conversion into 16 flats of the old county hospital, with prices starting from £215,000. The development includes four-bedroom town houses from £495,000.
Also in Hertford, the listed Bayfordbury Mansion (call Steven Oates on 01992 303 3000) has been converted into five houses set in 12 acres of grounds. There are two remaining, costing from £1.5 million.
Outside Hertford, Ware, with its famous 18th century riverside gazebos, Bayford, Brickenden and Little Berkhampstead, are all popular, as is Much Hadham, home of the Henry Moore Foundation. In Ware, there is a striking scheme of two-bedroom eco-houses. Two are still for sale, priced from £285,000. For information, call Steven Oates (as above).
Local council: East Herts Council (01279 655261).
Education authority: Hertfordshire County Council (01438 737555). Council tax: Band D 2007/08 is £1,394.74.
Schools: All Hertford's primary schools do well at Key Stage 2 (age 11). Duncombe is a popular private primary school (mixed ages two-11). There are three comprehensive schools: Richard Hale (boys), judged good by Ofsted; Simon Balle (mixed) judged good with outstanding features; and The Sele School (mixed).
Presdales, a girls' comprehensive in Ware, and Broxbourne in Broxbourne both get above average results at GCSE. Haileybury on the outskirts of Hertford is a boarding school (mixed) that also takes day pupils.
Leisure centres: Hartham Leisure Centre (01992 584000).
Theatre: Castle Hall (01992 531500).
Museums: Hertford museum (01992 582686); Ware museum (01920 487848); Henry Moore Foundation (01279 843333) at Much Hadham.
Shopping: Beckwith & Son (01992 582079) for antiques; Dilemma sells fashion for men and women (01992 587468). All are in St Andrew Street. Marmalade for young women's fashion and Farrow & Farrow, a delicatessen, are both in the centre of town. Foxholes (01992 552900) is a farm shop on the edge of town.
Eating out: Baroosh (01992 532200); The Eatery (01992 517440) at the Hertford House Hotel; Saracens (01992 587211); Elbert Wurling (01992 509153); The Fox & Hounds (01279 843999), a popular gastropub in the village of Hunsdon.
Commuting: Trains from Hertford East take 53 minutes into Liverpool Street; trains from Hertford North to Moorgate take 45 minutes. An annual season ticket for both routes costs £2,360.
Pictures by Barry Phillips