Discover the charming Essex town of Saffron Walden

Castle Street Saffron Walden

Castle Street - Credit: Saffron Walden Tourist Information

Sybilla Hart heads to the charming market town of Saffron Walden to discover its many treasures 

The Dutch Garden at Bridge End Gardens

The Dutch Garden at Bridge End Gardens - Credit: Saffron Walden Tourist Information

Saffron Walden, one of the prettiest towns in Essex, sits perched on the North West corner of the county close to Cambridge. A market town since 1141, the days that the market takes place are now Tuesdays and Saturdays. Originally known as Walden or Chipping Walden, Saffron was added to its name in 1500 when the saffron crocus trade was in full effect in the area and was granted a royal charter by Henry VIII. The saffron was used as a yellow dye for wool or in cooking, as a medicine and in perfume. Given that around 4,300 crocuses are needed for a mere ounce of the spice, weight for weight it can cost the same amount as gold.

The town hall and King Street in Saffron Walden

The town hall and King Street - Credit: Saffron Walden Tourist Information

The ruins of Walden castle, constructed in the 12th century civil war by Geoffrey de Mandeville, first Earl of Essex, can still be seen on Castle Hill, between Castle Street and Church Street close to St Mary’s church. The largest parish church in Essex that is not a cathedral, the spire at St Mary’s is 193 feet, the tallest in the entire county. The Norman church began construction in the 12th century with many additions and alterations over the next two centuries.   

St Mary's church Saffron Walden

St Mary's church - Credit: Saffron Walden Tourist Information

Where to eat in Saffron Walden

If you are looking for a good central spot for a bite to eat, you can't beat The Eight Bells that has recently reopened on Bridge Street. The beautifully beamed 16th-century pub serves up glorious food in comfortable surroundings that are hard to beat. Furry friends are welcome and dogs are fortunate enough to have their own menu. Book an outdoor table in the Winter Garden Tipi or a festive cosy table inside. Café Cou Cou on George Street is extremely popular. An artisan café that bakes its bread fresh every morning, you can pick up a seasonal hamper, order a custom-made cake or a salad featuring spiced chicken, avocado and mango.   

Saffron Grange, a vineyard located just outside the town, makes delicious sparkling wine.  You can book a vineyard tour between the months of May and October and sample some of the wines. Tickets start at around £8.50 per person for a tasting session and tour of the vineyard.   

Things to do in Saffron Walden

Audley End Miniature Railway

Audley End Miniature Railway - Credit: Saffron Walden Tourist Information

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Children will not want to miss the Audley End Miniature Railway and enchanted elf and fairy walk located at Audley End estate. There is a nature corner, adventure play area, woodland cafe and gift shop to make the visit complete. In the 1960s, Lord Braybrooke, whose family used to own Audley End (a stately home open to the public and now under the stewardship of English Heritage) built the railway in some woods at the bottom of his garden. These are not just any old woodlands, they were designed by none other than Capability Brown. The train even crosses the River Cam and there are plenty of teddy bears to spot en route as well as a World War II pillbox.   

Best accommodation in Saffron Walden

The Maker's House Saffron Walden

The Maker's House - Credit: Unique Homestays

If you want to make a holiday of it, there are some splendid places to stay overnight. The Maker’s House is a state-of-the-art eco-house where you could be easily forgiven for thinking that you were in the Tuscan Hills (not exactly a novelty in North Essex with its abundance of poplar trees). The Maker’s House sleeps up to 14 guests and there is parking for twelve cars. There is a heated outdoor pool from May until October and a hot tub too. Book it through  

If you are looking for something a bit cosier, look no further than The Workshop, a three-bedroom holiday cottage and converted barn located about a mile outside Saffron Walden. If you prefer to be more central, try The Cross Keys Hotel on the High Street, with its beamed rooms dating back to the Elizabethan period, it has some very good reviews.   

Shops in Saffron Walden

For a spot of retail therapy don’t miss Blue on King Street, which stocks lovely cashmere striped scarves, Fair Isle jumpers and pom pom hats. The Fry Art Gallery on Castle Street, synonymous with Saffron Walden, is well worth a visit. The gallery celebrates the works of the artists of the Great Bardfield group and will be reopening in the Spring of 2022. In the meantime, you can buy various books, cushions and tea towels adorned with unique prints from the artists, such as Richard Bawden and Eric Ravilious, through their online shop.  

For the ultimate gift shop, and an eco-friendly one at that, you can’t go wrong with Talents on King Street and all chocolate fans should not miss out on a trip to Hill St. Chocolatier where a selection of culinary treats awaits them. Think passion fruit ganache, orange confit and pistachio nougat.   

Property for sale in Saffron Walden

Looking to make a move to the town? Here are our top property picks.  

56 Gold Street house for sale

56 Gold Street - Credit: Mullocks

Mullucks has two gorgeous characterful cottages for sale. The first one is 56 Gold Street, located in the heart of Saffron Walden. It boasts three bedrooms and is brimming with original features in keeping with its Grade II listing. Guide price £350,000. 

The Little House

The Little House - Credit: Mullocks

The Little House is a stone’s throw from the town. It has two or three bedrooms (depending on how utilised) and a generous garden. There is a lovely inglenook fireplace, separate dining room and a gorgeous timber-framed potential office in the garden. Offers in excess of £500,000.   

Geldards in Saffron Walden

Geldards - Credit: Savills

Geldards is a charming six-bedroom Arts and Crafts-inspired house in nearby Great Chesterford with a generous garden. Spanning 3,500 sq ft, it is awash with period features.  The house has been beautifully renovated and includes a roomy attic, integrated sound system and an Aga. Guide price £1,795,000, marketed by Savills. 

It would appear that Saffron Walden really does have it all: history, fun, games and wonderful art to gaze at and state-of-the-art confectionery to consume.