Saffron Walden isn’t quite London. In fact, it’s fifty-odd miles from London. It doesn’t boast the fame of Cambridge (15 miles) and it’s streets are ancient and narrow, unlike those of more modern towns such as Stevenage (30 miles). Don’t get me wrong, I find pride in being English when going to these places – even Stevenage – however Walden, my Walden, is the calm before the rush in Cambridge and in London. It’s not quiet, but it is supremely quaint and beautiful.
Okay, I am biased. My family are from Walden and I lived there for a short time. But having lived in Wales for a fair while, I have seen Saffron Walden from a tourist’s perspective, while still knowing all the nooks and crannies. Believe me, there are very very many nooks and crannies in this historic old market town.
In order to narrow my love for my hometown down to a short snippet, here are my best five things to do in Saffron Walden, Essex.
1. Bring some cash because things don’t always come cheap. They do come quality though. Shopping in Walden is a unique experience that can only be matched in North Norfolk (my second-favourite haunt). You’ll find a few big brands, namely Fat Face and Crew, however the local shops make way for exciting new products that you may not find easily, anywhere else. I remember going to the Golden Butterfly after school once or twice and I still visit now. It’s a traditional sweet shop and it’s as authentic as they come. Dimly lit, not overly big, but filled with sweets and chocolates. Beales on the market square is part of a small chain of department stores, but if you’re not after that sort of thing, head up Market Hill. Lankester Books is soon closing, however antiques at T. Reed & Sons (Church Street) is full of relics from the past, undiscovered and extraordinary. Design Essentials is also worth a look in, as is the new Walden Music at the bottom of Castle Street. What am I really trying to get at? Just browse!
2. Dine. That’s right. One word. “Dine”. Coffee at CouCous, a picnic lunch constructed by yourself with fresh food from the market. Try afternoon tea at Molly’s Coffee and Cake Shop (the Cross Keys, off King Street). For dinner, head to the Nemotheron on George Street for a classic indian take away.
3. Race to the middle of the maze. From years of experience, I know the route off by heart. That took 17 years to get used to, so it’s by no means easy. The hedge maze is situated in Bridge End Gardens. For a slightly easier route, head to the common. The Turf Maze, created before Queen Victoria’s reign, is technically a labyrinth. It has one path to the centre, following bricks along a mile-long path.
4. Relax at Bridge End Gardens, where you can find a summerhouse and viewpoint to survey the land around you. Picnic and sunbathe in one of seven gardens including a Rose garden. The gardens are historic, curated originally by the Gibson family and restored in the 1800s.
5. Learn about the town and its famed artists and agriculture at the museum or Fry Art Gallery – both are worth visiting.
As this is my first post, I’ll promise now to come back to Top Tourist and review some more places in greater detail. This short overview is, as I say, short, but expect more specific reviews towards Christmas time, when the town really comes to life!