Car-free adventures aroundHarlow “Sculpture Town”Essex

Sprawling between the scenic Stort Valley and epic Epping Forest, Harlow is much greener than many people realise. Riverside and woodland walks head off into the neighbouring countryside in every direction. But Harlow also has a cultural dimension: founded as a new town to provide post-war housing, its visionary architect Frederick Gibberd and others have left a legacy of public art and pleasant urban paths that are well worth exploring. Regular trains arrive from London, Cambridge and Stansted Airport.

  • County: Essex
  • Great for: animals | architecture | Art Gallery | culture | family | gardens |
  • Refreshments: New cafes in the parks, pubs near the river and a tea barn at the Gibberd Garden
  • Please note: researched/updated March 2018. If anything’s changed or you have tips to share, do get in touch: features@goodjourney.org.uk
  1. 4. Sculpture Trails

    Harlow was part of a pioneering experiment in the 1940s, creating new post-war towns. You can see more about the town’s origins, including shots of St Mary-at-Latton Church in this fascinating old film. Nearly a hundred pieces of public art are scattered across Harlow; joining them together makes a great cycle trail or you can take a short stroll around the town centre to see some of Harlow’s best monuments. This unique collection has led Harlow to rebrand itself Sculpture Town.

    • From the town’s central bus station, walk through the cafes into the Market Square where you can see Ralph Brown’s 1959 bronze Meat Porters.
    • Turn left along Broad Walk past Frederick Gibberd’s obelisk and Lynn Chadwick’s 1961 Trigon.
    • Turn right and left beyond the library to reach the Water Gardens. Turn right past Auguste Rodin’s Eve (1882) with her bronze arms wrapped around her, Elizabeth Frink’s Boar, perched in the middle of the ornamental pond, and Henry Moore’s Upright Motive No 2 (1955).
    • On the level below the pond, a series of reliefs and mosaics are reflected in smaller ponds with plaques at either end celebrating local heroes, including the nobel-prize-winning Godfather of Broadband and inventor of fibre optic cable, Dr Charles Kao.
    • At the far end, another plaque commemorates Frederick Gibberd with the words “If you seek my monument – look around you”.
    • Go into the Civic Centre behind Upright Motive to see another piece by Henry Moore – the iconic Family Group (1954) in monumental stone.
    • Don’t miss the (free) Gibberd Gallery, upstairs behind the sculpture. It has works by George Frederick Watts, Jane Ackroyd and others, as well as Gibberd’s collection of watercolours and drawings by John Piper, John Nash, Elizabeth Blackadder and Edward Bawden: from atmospheric seascapes to a cat among impressionist anemones.
    • Here you can pick up a copy of Harlow’s Sculpture map and use it to locate yet more of the town’s public artworks. Or simply follow the signed pedestrian route, under the roads and through the park, back to Harlow Town station.
  1. 5. Along the River Stort

    For a far more rural sculpture trail, turn right and right again out of Harlow Town Station to reach the River Stort and follow it – in either direction. The waterside route has railway stations all along it so it’s easy to find a walk to suit you: a two-mile stroll to Harlow Mill or a six-mile hike – on through Pishiobury Park near Sawbridgeworth, an undulating, historic landscape with ancient avenues and long-horned cattle.

    • Turning right along the river from Harlow Town station brings you, through two miles or water meadows, to Harlow Mill – once used for corn and flour, now a riverside pub. Once you’ve had some refreshments, you can turn right up the main road to reach Harlow Mill station or continue along the river to Sawbridgeworth. To visit Pishiobury Park, keep the water on your right and follow the path.
    • There’s a mill in the other direction too – Parndon Mill, just over a mile from Harlow Town station, is home to craft workshops and a small art gallery. Even nearer to the station, is The Lock, a huge riverside climbing centre.
    • Along the river between the mills, there are specially commissioned sculptures at each lock and a glass and metal walkway over the weir.
    • Beyond Parndon Mill, the towpath passes wildlife-rich nature reserves like Hunsdon Mead, full of flowers and flocks of water birds, as well as the craft workshops at Parndon Mill and several riverside sculptures.
    • This rewarding stretch of riverbank also forms part of three different local long-distance routes: the Stort Valley Way (a 30-mile circuit through local villages), the Three Forests Way (a 60-mile loop through Epping, Hainault and Hatfield forests), and the 140-mile Harcamlow Way, leading all the way to Cambridge and back in an epic figure of eight.

Look out for the Good Journey Mark – where car-free visitors are welcome and enjoy a discount