It is springtime in the year 2000. We stroll down French Row. The warm sunlight shines down, permeating its medieval walls. Stopping at a café, we sip our cappuccinos al fresco at a small table, taking it all in. I feel tranquil but somewhat displaced, immersed in a 14th century setting. I’m fascinated by how narrow the lane is and how the later Tudor buildings have survived, sagging under centuries of wear and tear. The hanging Fleur-de-Lys sign of a coaching inn rocks in the gentle breeze.

Nothing appears to have changed here. The architecture remains largely untouched and the mild scent of a coal fire mixes with the clean air. It feels homely, smaller scale. Still only 30, I felt that it was a place where there would be space for my life to unfold. St Albans, so steeped in history, yet so unfamiliar.

We were keen to explore. Not many small cities were so closely situated to London nor could they boast of their history going back to Roman times, or being home to a magnificent cathedral and to a once thriving medieval market town. We walked along Market Place, a site of commerce since the 1200s and past the 15th century clock tower leading to Waxhouse Gate, and then into the secluded Vintry Garden.

Both Verulamium and Clarence parks were a joy to behold, covering quite an expanse of land, with ancient trees, lakes, ruins and tennis courts. The scale of the house and office buildings was smaller than I’d grown up with. It wasn’t so fast-paced and so people seemed more relaxed. Although there was no eclectic mix of cultures or that dynamism of people passing through that only a metropolitan city can exude, strangely, it was right here, in this unfamiliar market town, that I felt a sense of continuity and community.

Despite its proximity to London, it felt like a different world, with fewer people, more green spaces and it exuded a local sense. Colourful flowerbeds trimmed the pavements. The main high street was peppered with boutiques and some good quality larger chains like Hobbs and The White Company, a friendly post office and a few banks. By the end of that summer, we’d made our move and chosen to live in the heart of town, enjoying all of its conveniences. We encountered history and tradition around every street corner.

In a great metropolis your life can begin to drift. London was changing, its population growing, the air pollution worsening and it was becoming impossible to afford to buy even a small flat. Modern urban life was moving fast, you became part of the anonymity, the crowds, the fragmentation. It can be hard for a big city dweller to get back to core values; easy to just get swept away in the upheaval and a zillion possibilities; here, I was presented with an opportunity to put down fresh roots and begin anew.

  • Marisa Laycock moved from south west London to St Albans in 2000. She enjoys sharing her experiences of living in the city.