Friday, 13 January 2012

Amazing mazes in Saffron Walden

Visited Saffron Walden after Christmas, and what an interesting bit of upmarket Essex it is. Just over the border from Hertfordshire it’s full of Tudor houses (27 Grade II listed buildings), has two mazes, a castle and Oliver Cromwell’s headquarters.

You know it’s posh because it has a tourist office with a list of dates for tea dances. As Her Indoors says: “The houses are painted in shades of ice-cream flavours and the rubbish gets put out in Waitrose bags.”

The crossroads at the Old Sun Inn has timber-framed buildings on all four corners. The Old Sun Inn was Oliver Cromwell’s headquarters in 1647.  Here Cromwell and his Roundheads made concerted efforts to ban dancing at Sugar Hut (or was it the Zero 6 or Canvey Goldmine in those days?)

The town museum reveals the story of how the town took its name from the fields of saffron used to dye wool. It’s also got a mammoth tusk, a couple of skeletons and geological anomolies on sale called the Devil’s Fingernails, because they look like, well, the Devil’s Fingernails. Next to the museum is the atmospheric ruined keep of the old castle, built by Geoffrey de Mandevile the third Earl of Essexin the early 12th Century, but trashed by Henry II in 1153 after someone mugged him off.

The Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin is more like a cathedral and is an early example of a bling church reflecting the wealth of the town. In the grounds is the grave of famous Tory politician R A B Butler, aka “the best Prime Minister we never had”.

 And there’s two mazes, the Victorian Hedge Maze at Bridge End Garden and the Turf Maze by the short stay car park. The Turf Maze could be 800 years old. It’s cut into the ground and one of only eight turf mazes surviving in England and is circular with 17 circuits in a labyrinth design. It’s not dissimilar to a crop circle created by aliens, which is quite fitting as the town also has a clothes shop with cutouts of Matt Smith and a Dalek in the window.

Plenty of CAMRA pubs too, such as the Olde English Gentleman, that allows dogs in one bar, and children in the other. Bit of a problem as we arrived with both children and a dog...

Saffron Walden is a taxi ride from Audley End station so can be combined with a trip to the famous stately gaff there. We managed to squeeze a massive amount into a three-hour car parking ticket. Even the Youth Hostel is 600 years old. Worth a visit.

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