Top things to do in Saffron Walden, Essex
To celebrate St George's Day this year, we decided to seek out some quintessentially English locations. 15 miles from Cambridge, just over the Essex border, lies Saffron Walden. Chock full of beautiful Medieval and Tudor timbered homes, a historic church and stunning Victorian gardens, Saffron Walden makes for a lovely day out!
In the Tudor age, Saffron Walden became very wealthy through growing saffron crocuses in order to create yellow dye for the wool trade. This is where the town's name comes from, and the crocus symbol can be found all over Saffron Walden, from the church to pub signs.
Here are our top things to see and do in Saffron Walden
Saffron Walden market place - a good place to start your visit to Saffron Walden, there has been a market here since the 13th century (it still happens on Tuesdays and Saturdays). The buildings surrounding the square are Victorian, including the striking black and white Town Hall (1879) and the Italian looking white Corn Exchange which now houses the library (1848). Even the impressive stone drinking fountain in the centre dates from 1863 and commemorates the marriage of the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) to Princess Alexandra of Denmark.
Castle Street - this road has a long row of fabulously coloured period houses: Red, yellow, purple, blue, many of these timbred cottages date from the 1500s and are Grade II listed.
Bridge Street - probably the prettiest street in Saffron Walden! A wonderful collection of different coloured historic houses dating back to the Medieval age - at the top of the road on Myddylton Place is a magnificent timbered hall house dating from around 1490 - that's only 5 years after the Battle of Bosworth! Half way down Bridge Street is the Eight bells pub. The frontage is 16th century and the side is even older, 15th century, and the interior is STUNNING.
St Mary's Church - St Mary's towering spire can be seen from all over town - this is the largest parish church in Essex! The 13th century church was majorly reconstructed between 1450 and 1525, showing how wealthy Saffron Walden was becoming through the crocus trade in the late Middle Ages. Some of the work was supervised by John Wastell, the Master Mason who also worked on King’s College Chapel in Cambridge.
Inside, the lofty nave is 54 feet high, and the ceiling bosses depict Henry VIII's Tudor rose, the pomegranate of his wife, Katherine of Aragon, and the knot of the Earl of Essex. An unusual feature you'll spot is the Trompeta Real (Royal Trumpet) - its organ pipes point directly outwards towards the congregation! Behind in the south chapel is the black Belgian slate tomb of Lord Chancellor Audley who was granted Walden Abbey by Henry VIII after its dissolution in 1537, which he rebuilt into a palatial home. For more info about Audley End, see below.
Just before you leave, look out for the medallion in the window to the left of the exit - it's the only piece of pre-reformation glass remaining in the church and is believed to be a likeness of Queen Margaret D'Anjou, wife of King Henry VI.
Above the door is the royal coat of arms, dating from 1660, when the monarchy was restored after the English Civil War.
Saffron ice cream - while in Saffron Walden, you have to try Saffron Ice Cream Company's ice cream! Locally made on a family farm in Saffron Walden, this award winning company prides itself on locally sourced ingredients and makes fabulous flavours like honey and lavender, coffee and walnut, Tiptree lemon curd and meringue and salted butter caramel. Little tubs are on sale in the tourist information centre in the market square.
The Old Sun Inn - This really impressive stretch of 14th century properties is on the corner of Market Hill and Church Street and now is home to an antiques shop. It's a really beautiful building, Grade I listed with timber frames, decorative white plaster (known as pargetting) and attractive overhanging upper floors. Apparently Oliver Cromwell and General Fairfax quartered here in 1647 during the English Civil War!
Bridge End Gardens - take some time to stroll through these lovely Victorian gardens, made up of several interlinking sections including a Dutch garden with swirling manicured hedges and a fountain, overlooked from a viewing platform, a rose garden and a walled kitchen style garden planted with Victorian varieties of fruit trees, herbaceous borders and two greenhouses growing citrus fruits. Be sure to have a go at the hedge maze!
Saffron Walden Castle - Built in around 1140 by Geoffrey de Mandeville, 1st Earl of Essex, all that remains now is the lumpy ruins of the keep, damaged when Henry II had the castle slighted in 1157 and afterwards when stones were taken for local building, only about 17 years after it was built! Close by is the...
Saffron Walden museum - one of England's oldest purpose built museums, it explores the archaeology and natural history of Essex and treasures from further afield - their exhibitions also include fossils, Samurai armour and an Egyptian mummy!
Open Wednesday - Saturday 10am - 5pm, Sundays 2pm -5pm
Audley End - just outside Saffron Waldon is Audley End, a glamorous Jacobean mansion built on the grounds of what was once Walden Abbey by Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk and Lord Treasurer to James I, (he was also the grandson of Henry VIII's Lord Chancellor, the Audley buried in St Mary's Church). The house was so magnificent that King Charles II bought it, before it was sold back into the Howard family in 1701.
Now owned by English Heritage, Audley End is a wonderful place to explore for a day, You can walk through the Great Hall and State Apartments, redecorated in the 1820s, the kitchen and laundry rooms, or head outside to visit the horses that live in the stables and walk the expansive grounds created by Capability Brown.
In summer months, costumed actors take the parts of Victorian servants throughout the house and gardens, demonstrating what life would have been like when Audley End was the 19th century country estate of Lord Baybrooke .
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