A weekend in.... Saffron Walden

PUBLISHED: 11:09 12 March 2009 | UPDATED: 15:52 20 February 2013

Pretty cottages in the high street

Pretty cottages in the high street

As spring arrives, take the chance to tour the county and discover its scenic secrets. Joanne Jarvis reveals why a weekend in Saffron Walden is such a special treat

SPRING has arrived and there is no longer an excuse not to get out and about in Essex and explore the county. Saffron Walden is situated in an unspoilt area in northwest Essex and is the ideal weekend getaway with its winding medieval streets and beautiful rolling countryside.

To begin your journey of discovery, pick up a copy of the Town Trail at the Tourist Information Centre in Market Place. A market has been held in the centre of Saffron Walden every Tuesday and Saturday since the 13th century and there is also the opportunity to browse the numerous quaint antique shops and boutiques.

After some retail therapy look up and you will see you are surrounded by Victorian buildings in the town centre, but as you wander further afield around the town's outskirts you can find examples of every style of architecture from the 12th to the 21st century.

Journey of discovery
Budding archaeologists will be pleasantly surprised to find the ruins of the 12th century Walden Castle built in around 1125 by Geoffrey de Mandeville. All that can be seen today are fragments of 12th century rubble walls and a ruin of the 40-foot square. However, enter the castle's inner bailey and you will find Saffron Walden Museum, one of the oldest purpose-built museums in the country, dating back to 1835.

Here you will find a range of exhibitions from archaeology and geology to natural history and cultures of the past. Visitors will also gain an insight into the town's local history which dates back to the Roman era when there was a small settlement consisting of around 120 households.

Nowadays, the town has a population of around 15,000 people and side streets are bursting at the seams with old houses. At the corner of Market Hill and Church Street is The Old Sun Inn, of 14th century origin, which forms one of the oldest and best architectural points in the town. There are also 16th century cottages in nearby Church Path and Georgian brick fronts both here and in Castle Street - a quiet thoroughfare of charm that leads to Bridge End Garden, one of the town's best assets.

The Victorian gardens which can be approached by either Bridge End or Castle Street were created in the 18th century and are a tranquil oasis providing an ideal place to escape from the hustle and bustle of the town centre.

Not only will you find a rose garden, a Dutch garden, a kitchen garden, a wilderness area and a lawn with a summer house, but the gardens also contain a hedge maze planted around 1840.

An appetite for history
Having built up an appetite, why not unwind over a snack in one of the town's many listed public houses. The Cross Keys, a 15th century timber-framed former house and shop, can be found on the High Street while The Eight Bells on Bridge Street is one of 27 Grade II-listed buildings in Saffron Walden.

And there is so much more to Saffron Walden. If you have more time explore the large turf maze on Saffron Walden Common, the oldest of Saffron Walden's open spaces. There is also the town's biggest landmark, the parish church of St Mary the Virgin, which is nearly
200 feet in length and the largest church in Essex.

Just outside the town you will discover one of the county's most celebrated tourist attractions, Audley End House and Gardens. Another attribute that makes Saffron Walden an outstanding destination.

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