12 things to do in Saffron Walden (largest town in NW Essex, north of Stansted, nr M11 J9)
1) See Walden Castle. All that remains are the flinty ruins of the 12th century keep, and some basement slabs you used to be allowed to scramble over, but these days expect to have to stare across a locked fence. Couple of minutes tops. 2) Visit Saffron Walden Museum. This is much better, a pioneering repository opened in 1835 when the Saffron Walden Natural History Society ran out of space to store its specimens. It's since branched out into geology, ceramics, costume, ethnography and a considerable amount of local history, including finds from the iron age village found on the site of Stansted Airport's catering block, a Tudor bed and a stuffed Victorian lion called Wallace. Far better than its £2.50 admission might suggest. 3) Follow the Saffron Walden Trail. Pick up a leaflet at the museum, or download a copy here. 4) Admire the pargeting. Several central streets are lined by attractively-timbered buildings and terraces with pastel-painted plasterwork.
5) Drop in on the Fry Art Gallery. Devoted to the works of the Great Bardfield group, this twin-room gallery is tucked away up an alleyway off Church Street. Its collection includes Eric Ravilious, Bernard Cheese and Grayson Perry, but this year's exhibition is entirely devoted to Edward Bawden, whose 100+ illustrations are a delight. Until 28th October, free. 6) Enter St Mary's. The largest parish church in Essex, its spire is visible all over. 7) Shop at the Market. Every week since the 1141 (now Tuesdays and Saturdays). 8) Enjoy Bridge End Gardens. Laid out in 1840, this recreational hideaway is Grade II listed. It was envisaged as a collection of seven interlocking 'rooms', each with its own character, including a formal Dutch Garden with sunken parterre, a bountiful Walled Garden and a Wilderness. The farthest corner contains a proper Hedge Maze, in yew, whose complexity means you might just require the observation tower to help yourself out.
9) Trace the Turf Labyrinth. Not content with having one historic maze, Saffron Walden has another - centuries older - scratched into the Common. It's the largest surviving turf labyrinth in Europe, approximately 30m in diameter and with a single path almost one mile long. I was impressed by its deviousness, whisking oh-so-close to the centre, then stealing sinuously away on a somehow-unbroken path. The next Saffron Walden Maze Festival is pencilled in for August 2019. [mazes leaflet] 10) Commute to Cambridge. This is probably why a lot of people live here, although the nearest station is an annoying drive away. 11) Ride the Audley End Miniature Railway. I did that once, and am still recovering from the staring teddy bears positioned at strategically important points around the woodland circuit. 12) Visit Audley End House. See post below.