Car-free around…Saffron WaldenEssex

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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.

  • County: Essex
  • Great for: good cafés and pubs | markets | museums | scenic bus and train | walking |
  • Refreshments: Pubs and cafés in Saffron Walden and surrounding villages
  • Please note: researched/updated November 2023. If anything’s changed or you have more tips to share, do get in touch:
  1. 3. Walk the Saffron Trail

    This beautiful long-distance route ends in Saffron Walden after 71 miles of fabulous Essex countryside, starting at the seaside in Southend. There are rivers and woods, charming villages, with historic houses and quiet country churches. If you thought Essex was all perma-tanned blondes in white stilettos, a stroll along the Saffron Trail will put you right.

    • The route is all accessible via public transport.
    • To sample the final section of the walk, simply get the bus (see 4) to Newport and walk the six miles back. The waymarks show purple saffron crocuses. The whole route could make a fabulous walking holiday, past changing landscapes and country pubs.
    • The longer Harcamlow Way, marked with colourful figure-of-eight symbols, also passes through Saffron Walden. You can buy guidebooks for this route in the Tourist Information Centre.
  1. 4. Through woods and villages to Hertfordshire

    Georgian mansions and thatched cottages, bluebell woods and windmills: there’s more Essex loveliness on view from the seat of a bus towards Bishop’s Stortford.

    • Leaving hourly, Monday-Saturday from Saffron Walden’s High Street, bus 301 rolls down Newport’s handsome main street, lined with half-timbered houses (look out for the carved window of Monk’s Barn on the left, next to the Old Forge bus stop).
    • If you’re making the trip on a Saturday, hop off at Widdington, where the bus detours off the main road, to visit Prior’s Hall Barn (free) and have a drink at the Fleurs de Lys.
    • If it’s April or May, get off in Quendon for bluebell woods and the Cricketers’ Arms pub in Rickling Green.
    • Look out for a glimpse of the windmill on the left in Stansted Mountfichet, which has a castle and museums. arriving in Bishop’s Stortford soon after.
  1. 5. Sunday trip to Cambridge

    Cycle round the colleges or go punting on the Cam. Stroll in the botanical gardens or visit the Fitzwilliam museum. On Sundays, the only bus to leave Saffron Walden is the one to Cambridge – just as well it’s a great destination any day of the week.

    • It might seem faster to get a bus to Audley End station and catch the train, but the leisurely bus 132 connects the centre of Saffron Walden with the centre of Cambridge rather than the slightly-out-of-the-way station.
    • The Fitzwilliam Museum is open on Sunday afternoons; it’s free and full of great stuff, from Ancient Egyptian sarcophagi to samurai armour. There are trails and kits for kids, a shop and a café. Stroll along Downing Street and left from the bus stop to find it, passing Fitzbillies café – famous for its Chelsea buns.
    • Punts for hire and riverside pubs are just round the corner and you can stroll along the “Backs” for iconic views of the colleges.
  1. Buses, bikes and places to stay

    Here’s a bit more practical info if you’re planning a staycation in the lovely town of Saffron Walden.

    • Holiday-makers planning several bus rides around Essex might like to get an Essex Saver ticket, giving unlimited trips across the county.
    • If you’re heading to Cambridge by train, you could get a bargain PlusBus ticket for unlimited bus rides around the city and beyond.
    • There is nowhere in Saffron Walden to hire bikes, but you can hire them from several places in Cambridge, twenty minutes down the railway line. The handiest store is the branch of Rutland Cycles just next Cambridge station.
    • Places to stay in and around Saffron Walden, include the half-timbered Cross Keys on the corner of High Street and Kings Street, just a minute away from the High Street bus stop.
    • Alternatively, Buriton House in the nearby village of Newport is right next to Newport railway station, three minutes from Audley End station by train. It’s also close to the Station Road bus stop and fifteen minutes from the centre of Saffron Walden on bus 301. Newport has some great walking country and bluebells woods nearby including the delightful six-mile walk that links it to Saffron Walden along a wooded, stream-side path called Beechy Ride.