Explore Saffron Walden

Saffron Walden is a picturesque, medieval town, in north-west Essex. It has a rich heritage of old buildings reflecting its wealth as a rural market town. The name Saffron comes from the valuable Crocus sativus crop, which was cultivated here between the 15th and 18th centuries and was used as a dye, flavouring and medicine.

There are many interesting historic buildings in the town. At the heart lies St Mary’s Church, the largest parish church in Essex. Fine examples of elaborate moulded plasterwork (pargetting), can be seen on the Old Sun Inn and the houses in Castle Street & Bridge Street. Also of note are the Eight Bells, the timber-framed Cross Keys, and the medieval building located at 1 Myddylton Place.

Nearby, Saffron Walden Museum is of particular interest. The collections are housed in one of the oldest purpose built museum buildings in the country, completed in 1835. It has everything from mammoth tusks to mummies, from an early Tudor bed to a natural history museum gallery. In the grounds of the museum are the ruins of the Castle keep which dates back to the 1130s or 40s.

Bridge End Garden is a real jewel and an environment of great charm on the north side of Saffron Walden. Careful restoration has replicated gardening techniques and designs typical of the Victorian era and brought the garden back to its full splendour. The hedge maze is of particular appeal to children. The path into the garden passes the Fry Art Gallery which houses a collection of works by a Great Bardfield group of artists who settled in the Essex countryside in the 1930s.

The attractive Common is the oldest of Saffron Walden’s open spaces and on its eastern side is the largest turf labyrinth still surviving in Europe. Children of all ages enjoy following the ‘path’ through the turf, which winds for about one mile within a circle 100 feet (30.5 meters) in diameter.

A market has been held here since 1141, and market days are now Tuesdays and Saturdays. Shoppers enjoy browsing & buying goods from a number of different market stalls. Beyond the Market Place in Saffron Walden, there are many independent shops and eating places to choose from. Many small business premises are located in the Rows, which were the town’s shopping centre from medieval times onwards.

For more information, attraction opening times, or for a free copy of the Saffron Walden Town Trail, please contact Saffron Walden Tourist Information Centre on 01799 524002 or see  www.visitsaffronwalden.gov.uk


Listening Benches

What better way to spend a sunny afternoon than sitting on a bench taking in a nice view in a pretty Essex village? Sitting on a talking bench taking in a nice view!

The Essex Sound and Video Archive (ESVA) at the Essex Record Office has been installing talking benches across Essex. These park benches with speakers installed are loaded with historic recordings from the Archive. While sitting on the bench in Castle Park, Colchester, you can hear memories of visiting the Castle when it was roofless.

Or try the bench by the war memorial in Great Waltham to hear about the shops that used to line the nearby streets.

These listening benches are part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project run by the ESVA, called You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place. For the project, we are digitising and cataloguing a number of the unique recordings in the Archive to better preserve them. We are then making them freely available online through our Essex Archives Online catalogue .

Once digitised, we are taking the recordings out into every corner of the county – including through these talking benches. Volunteers from different communities have reviewed our recordings about their area, selected the best bits, and edited them together into montages for the bench. The volunteers have also used their local knowledge to decide on the ideal location for each bench.

Most of the recordings come from oral history interviews with long-term residents of the community. These memories describe buildings that have disappeared and businesses that have changed hands. They also reveal a different way of life: life without electricity and indoor plumbing; life where everyone knew each other’s business – and had plenty to say about it!


Map showing the location of the listening benches being installed this summer

How many benches can you find? Check our Essex Sounds website for the location of each bench. Then send us a #benchselfie of you with the bench, and tell us which clip is your favourite (@essexarchive on Twitter, or The Essex Record Office on Facebook)!

The website also lists the venues for our touring benches, and for our touring audio-video kiosks.

Next year, we plan to install another ten benches in additional locations. Please get in touch if you would like to be part of installing a listening bench in the following locations:

  • Burnham-on-Crouch
  • Chelmsford
  • Clacton-on-Sea
  • Coggeshall
  • Epping
  • Galleywood
  • Southend-on-Sea
  • Witham



Celebrating 25 years of the Clacton Airshow

How time has flown…..   Preparations are well & truly underway for the Clacton Airshow (@ClactonAirShow) taking place on Thursday 25th & Friday 26th August.  All the flights have been booked including the world famous Red Arrows and Typhoon and are steadily being announced over the coming weeks.  More event information can be found here.

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Clacton Airshow has grown over the years from a one-day event with a few flights and ground entertainment attracting tens of thousands to a well-established event in the UK’s air show calendar attracting around 220,000 flight fans visiting from far and wide to support the event come rain or shine. The Red Arrows (@rafredarrows) are now considered old friends of the event and have been displaying at the show since the 90s.

In addition to the usual day flights and to celebrate 25 years of the event there will be evening flights taking place on Thursday 25th August from 8pm ending thereafter with a spectacular fireworks display on Clacton Pier (@ClactonPier).  The site will stay open for the whole duration and festival style entertainment will take place on site from 5pm on Thursday until the evening flights.

10620674_10152285767602797_6803908066201968997_nAt ground level, the site will be buzzing with various exhibitions/traders from Water Walkers to an interactive unit by Fuji Film. Titan the Robot (@TITANtheROBOT) makes a most welcome return on both days displaying at 11am, 12pm & 6pm on Thursday and 11am & 12pm Friday wowing the crowds with his cheeky banter.

Event parking is available at West Road Car Park, Clacton priced at £6 per vehicle where priority parking can be booked here.  A park & ride service is also available from Clacton Factory Outlet (@ClactonOutlet) priced at £10 per vehicle or from Holland-on-Sea priced at £5 per vehicle.

Sadly the one thing we are unable to book is the weather!! The Airshow Angels have their fingers and toes crossed for some good flying weather and a great event.

We hope you will join us in celebrating 25 years of this spectacular event.

For now it’s “chocks away”.

Loving Landscape at Wivenhoe House

Dust off your paintbrushes, charge up the iPad, sharpen your charcoal, whatever your chosen art form, on Sunday 12 June you can join in the Constable Challenge at Wivenhoe House, Colchester for free.

The grounds of this Grade II listed hotel are being turned over to artists young and old for everyone to create their own landscape masterpiece.  It’s a chance for artistic stardom as all artworks will be considered for an autumn exhibition at the hotel, opening on Sunday 18 September.

This is all part of a year of celebration at Wivenhoe House, marking 200 years since Britain’s much loved landscape artist, John Constable, painted Wivenhoe Park for the estate’s owner, Major General Francis Rebow.

It’s a story of love as Constable took on the commission to earn 100 guineas to prove he was a worthy catch to the father of his fiancée, Maria Bicknell. Constable completed the painting, which now hangs in pride of place at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, in the middle of September 1816 and married Maria on 2 October.

It was an auspicious early work for Constable who went on to create such well known masterpieces as The Haywain and Flatford Mill, two historic paintings which draw people to Dedham Vale every year to see the original settings.

The University of Essex will also be running one of its fantastic free arts outreach events for children at the hotel on the same day from 2pm until 4pm. Places are limited so must be booked in advance.

Step back in time at Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome

Visit Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome, near Maldon in Essex, and be part of history in the making. The aerodrome, established in 1916 as the base of the Royal Flying Corps 37 (Home Defence) Squadron, two years after the First World War began, is open for the public to enjoy.

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There’s plenty to see at this unique venue, all year round. Learn about the aerodrome and WW1 through an interactive history of the site in the new museum, where children can experience sitting in a simulated Sopwith 1½ Strutter plane.

Walk around the conserved buildings, which are rare survivors of WW1, plus learn about 37 Squadron in the museum. Hangars of late production/replica WW1 planes are sure to wow and visitors can take a tea in the wartime café.

Whether you’re interested in history or aviation, education, or looking for a family fun day out or special interest group, Stow Maries welcomes you.

Open from 10am – 5pm Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays.

Pre-arranged group visits, including coach trips, are also welcome to visit on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Children under 16 visit free with adult tickets costing £8.

For more information visit the website www.stowmaries.org.uk.

Five Essex gardens to visit this Spring


WITH spring in the air, here are five gardens in Essex you can enjoy as flowers are starting to bloom this weekend and find inspiration for your own green space…

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RHS Garden Hyde Hall in Rettendon enjoys panoramic views across the rolling countryside, with vast, open skies overhead. The garden itself is composed of an eclectic variety of horticultural styles that provide year-round interest and colour. Highlights include the traditionally-styled Hilltop Garden with its lush green lawns, ponds, and roses, and the Mediterranean Dry Garden which showcases drought-tolerant plants.

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The Beth Chatto Gardens in Elmstead Market cover six acres and have become world famous. Creative use of the space has seen Beth and her team transform a wasteland into both a visitor attraction and important resource. There are four principal gardens across the site; scree, gravel, woodland and water all with lush planting around a series of natural ponds.

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The Gibberd Garden, Harlow. Horticulturalists will adore the formal terraces, lawns, pools and avenues, romantic woodland glades and multitude of streams which characterise the shady lower areas of the garden. Art lovers will be drawn to the extensive collection of modern sculpture by celebrated artists including August Rodin, Dame Barbara Hepworth and Sir Henry Moore.

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Marks Hall in Coggeshall. A tree collection from all the temperate areas of the world set in more than 200 acres of historic landscape provides interest and enjoyment throughout the year. Follow the paths through the Arboretum, where you can see beautiful vistas and a host of exotic trees. Highlights include the Millennium Walk, designed for structure, colour and scent; the largest planting in Europe of Wollemi Pine and the inspired combination of traditional and contemporary planting in the 18th century walled garden.

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Bridge End Garden, Saffron Walden. Tucked away in the back streets of pretty Saffron Walden, this lovingly restored Grade II gem consists of seven interlinked gardens laid out in the nineteenth century, and features a formal knot garden, kitchen garden and a popular hedge maze. These Grade II listed gardens are open to the public each day free of charge.

For more glorious gardens to visit please see our website.

It's Easter time

Top Easter Activities For Families In Essex

Keep the kids sweet without a bottomless supply of chocolate with these fantastic fun-filled ideas for everyone.

Easter (Friday 25th to Monday 28th March 2016) is made for children, and with bunnies, egg hunts and loads of events taking place throughout Essex, there’s plenty to see and do.

Lambs at Lee Valley Park Farms.
Lambs at Lee Valley Park Farms.

Go wild in the country at Lee Valley Regional Park’s Easter Country Fair (Sunday 27th to Monday 28th March). This two-day event features medieval jousting and swordplay displays, birds of prey flying demonstrations, stalls selling arts and crafts, plus a Goat Show. This is your chance to bottle feed cuddly lambs and kids.

Camping at Lee Valley Regional ParkMake a weekend of it and camp at Lee Valley Caravan Park, Dobbs Weir. From there you can explore the rest of Lee Valley and for the intrepid, try your hand at white water rafting, canoeing and kayaking at the nearby watersports centre that featured in the 2012 London Olympics. For more information click on www.visitleevalley.org.uk

Lovers of Essex’s great outdoors will also love Hanningfield Reservoir. The surrounding woodland plays host to an abundance of fascinating flora and fauna, with none cuter than its population of native British owls.

Imperial Birds of Prey AcademyNigel King of the Imperial Bird of Prey Academy will be sharing his expertise and wealth of knowledge during his captivating Owl Evening (30th March). Nigel has a reputation for sparking people’s enthusiasm and interest in wildlife and this interactive event will give visitors a chance to get up close and personal with these magnificent birds. Booking is essential, so visit www.essexwt.org.uk/reserves/hanningfield-reservoir, or call 01268 711 001.

Over at the world famous Beth Chatto Gardens in Elmstead Market, little ones can take part in a traditional Easter egg hunt (Friday 25th March to Sunday 10th April). There’s a reward for bold explorers who complete the challenge. Children go from just £1.50 each on the day but are free if you book online. Adult tickets are priced at £6.95 per person. More information about this and other events throughout the year can be found at www.bethchatto.co.uk/events, or by calling 01206 822 007.

Beth Chatto Garden
Beth Chatto Garden

Southend’s historic Belfairs Woods is a hive of activity most days, but on Good Friday there’s extra fun and adventures to be had. Starting out from the award-winning woodland centre Forest Friday is an event for little ones aged eight or under. Packed with stories, crafts and activities with an Easter theme, this is a great opportunity to let the kids go wild in the country. Spaces are bound to be snapped up quickly, so do book in advance by calling 01702 477 467.

Colchester Hollytrees Museum
Colchester Hollytrees Museum

Picturing the Victorians (Wednesday 30th March) at the Holly Trees Museum, located in Castle Park, Colchester, has to be one of the most unusual events happening during the holiday. In a rare and truly hands-on experience, visitors can handle some of the earliest cameras and learn how they worked. There’s also a display of photographs by Colchester’s pioneering 19th century photographers. You can also dress up and have your portrait taken by the museum’s resident Victorian Photographer. Sessions run at 10.30am, 11.30am, 12.30pm, 2pm and 3pm. Book via 01206 282 941.www.cimuseums.org.uk

Located in the heart of beautiful Constable Country, Dedham Vale Vineyard’s Easter Egg Hunt (Friday 25th March) will keep the children happily entertained, whilst the grown-ups sniff out something delicious themselves. Of course, no visit is complete without taking a bottle or two of Dedham Vale’s award winning wines home with you. For more details click on www.dedhamvalevineyard.com

It almost goes without saying that springtime and Easter are synonymous with new life, so where better to celebrate the festivities than down on the farm? Join in ‘egg-stra’ activities at Barleylands, including lamb bottle feeding, biscuit decorating, an Easter Egg Hunt hosted by the Easter Bunny, and meet babies galore from cute chicks, piglets, and bunnies to snakes and lizards in the huge Reptile House! You Chelmsford City Racecoursemight be lucky enough to see lambs being born too! More at www.barleylands.co.uk.


For those whom find the prospect of a mere chocolate egg not quite enough to stiffen the sinews and quicken the blood, there’s always the thrill of a race. Coral Romford Greyhound Stadium is holding a meeting on Easter Bank Holiday Monday, while Chelmsford City Racecourse is hosting an evening race meeting on Thursday 31st March.

Browse all our Easter events