Car-free around…Saffron WaldenEssex
Castle ruins and art galleries, a market, a museum lion, brightly painted houses, beautiful gardens and not one but two mazes: Saffron Walden is full of tourist-ready attractions, all easily explored on foot. Get a bus through the neighbouring villages to find the area’s hidden treasures or hike the Saffron Trail deep into the rolling Essex countryside. Here are five suggestions for great days and good journeys. And some tips at the end for B&Bs and transport if you're planning a longer break in the area.
1. Town Trail and Audley End on foot
Medieval Saffron Walden was at the heart of England’s crocus-growing trade; the spice and the bright yellow colouring these purple flowers produced gave the town its name. You can see the handsome half-timbered houses that the industry funded on an easy stroll around town.
- Saffron Walden’s nearest railway station is Audley End, a couple of miles out of town (there are hourly buses and generally taxis waiting).
- Pick up the Town Trail leaflet from the brilliant Tourist Information Centre on Market Place.
- Visit the castle ruins behind the museum; stroll round Bridge End Garden (and the neighbouring Fry Art Gallery – check website for opening times). Wander back up Bridge Street, past ancient pubs and carved, medieval doorways.
- From the Cross Keys, carry on up the High Street and turn right into Abbey Lane. Keep straight through wrought iron gates into Audley End Park. Go on, in this direction, and out through more gates onto a road. Turn right (following the map below) to reach the gates of Audley End, a Jacobean mansion, with lovely gardens. Download this voucher and present a valid train ticket to get 2-for-1 entry.
2. To Thaxted by bus
Gustav Holst composed the Planets in the little town of Thaxted, with its cobbled lanes and colourful houses. He lived just a few doors from the medieval guildhall, downhill from the airy John the Baptist church.
- The green and white bus 6 leaves at half past each hour, Monday to Saturday, from Saffron Walden’s High Street (same side as the chippy) for the 20-minute ride to Thaxted.
- If you’re planning other trips as well (like the 59 to Haverhill, which is also an interesting route), you might want to buy a £10 Essex Saver ticket for the day. Otherwise, a return to Thaxted is cheaper.
- The bus rolls through some lovely countryside and the picturesque village of Debden (two great pub-restaurants) to reach hilly Thaxted with its rows of painted houses, huge church and old brick windmill.
- Don’t miss the local Morris men if they happen to be dancing or the summer music festival if you’re around in June and July.
- There are buses back from outside Thaxted’s Guildhall until 9.24pm (not Sundays).