Classy cuisine, brilliant boutiques and all the most diverting days out, courtesy of our favourite north-essex neighbour
Food & Drink
Saffron Walden is a hotbed of picturesque pubs and unique eateries to satisfy any foodie’s appetite. A good place to start is Off The Beaten Truck, a much-loved street food collective, showcasing leading lights of the region’s culinary talent. From 7 April, find up to seven trucks on Saffron Walden Common every Thursday from 5-8pm, serving up tasty treats from different parts of the world.
“We are so grateful to the Saffron Walden community for their support and ongoing enthusiasm for incredible local street food,” says Becca Chong, director of Off The Beaten Truck. “We have enjoyed our winter space at Saffron Walden Town Football Club, and are now excited to see friends and families gathering together outside again.” Grab a picnic blanket and soak up the sun with an aromatic steamed bao or gyoza from Guerrilla Kitchen, Greek gyros wraps with tzatziki and chips from The Cook’s Nest, or authentic goat curry from Kerief Catering. There will also be Waffle and Co’s sweet and savoury treats, guaranteeing something for everyone.
As spring simmers towards summer, another local food supplier to watch out for is the Saffron Ice Cream Company. Founder Dominic first discovered the joy of making ice cream in his kitchen as a boy, alongside his mum. Since then, he’s whipped up a mouth-watering menu of seasonal flavours and year-round classics to be enjoyed at local hotspots such as Audley End House and Gardens, The Cross Keys, Lokma and Dough & Co. Try salted butter caramel or summer strawberries and cream, made with a dash of balsamic vinegar – and keep an eye out for limited-edition flavours, including Henham honey and lavender and espresso, available from May. They also make sumptuous sorbets like British elderflower or gin, tonic and cucumber – perfect for balmy spring afternoons.
While you’re in the spirit of sampling Walden’s finest produce, don’t miss the opportunity to try the sparkling wines of Saffron Grange. “We have four distinctly impressive offerings, which we are extremely proud of – the Classic Cuvée, Seyval Blanc Reserve, Sparkling Rosé and limited-edition Blanc de Noirs,” says sales manager Nick Edwards. “Our most recent release, the Blanc de Noirs, is made from 100% Pinot Meunier grapes and is of the spectacular 2018 vintage. It has toasty characteristics, black cherry aromas, with notes of blood orange and ripe nectarine.” Bookings are open for vineyard tours, where you can sample the Grange’s finest vintages with a cheese or charcuterie board, taking in spectacular views of the countryside.
There’s an abundance of charming, quirky, characterful eateries in Saffron Walden. From The Eight Bells pub, which makes an excellent destination for a slap-up Sunday lunch, to The Piano, where you can enjoy all sorts of cakes, sandwiches and quiches while listening to live piano. Other highlights include Mini Miss Bread, Bicicletta and The Market House – which serves tasty tapas and tipples.
When it comes to shopping, Saffron Walden is a treasure trove, teeming with independent businesses, furniture stores and clothing boutiques.
A visit to Olive and Olive’s new showroom just outside of town is the ultimate retail therapy fix, as you peruse a beautiful collection for the home, hand-selected by founder Karen Sisterson. “I choose pieces very carefully that will enhance any interior, and only include what I would love to see in my own home!” enthuses Karen. “My range is wide and diverse, with lighting, mirrors, candles, chairs, trays, footstools, cushions and frames, among others. The new barn showroom is the perfect accompaniment; it’s a warm, inviting and welcoming space for people to come, browse and relax.” Visit by appointment, at any time between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday.
One place to add to your Saffron Walden bucket list is Talents, a charming gift shop that’s a firm favourite with locals and tourists alike. An ornate black shopfront entices you in, to discover a giddying array of products chosen with beauty and sustainability in mind. As well as classic gift options such as candles, soaps and jewellery, there are also delightful pieces for the home, including stylish ceramics, statement mugs and Frida Kahlo cushions. Not only that, but you can pick up handy gadgets like ring lights, brightly coloured Bluetooth speakers and mini USB hubs with pastel detailing.
For those in the market for striking contemporary art, head to Heath Kane Studio and Gallery, where bold block colours and pop-art Mickey Mouse ears emerge from dark grey walls covered in subversive art.
Heath Kane transforms iconic figures from fiction and politics, adding a mischievous twist to evoke an emotional response, and as one of the few contemporary art galleries in Saffron Walden, it is a must for any culture lovers visiting the town. The works are available to purchase.
If you happen to be in town on a Tuesday or Saturday, then pay a visit to Saffron Walden Market, which has been held since the medieval period. Surrounded by Victorian buildings and watched over by the Georgian Town Hall, the iconic market bustles with pop-up stalls selling freshly baked bread, fruit, veg, coffee, plants, antiques, clothing, jewellery and much more besides.
More youthful family members – and the young at heart – will revel in a trip to The Toy Box, where shelves heave with action figures, dolls’ houses, garden toys, playsets and more. It’s the perfect place to pick out a birthday treat for a little one, or go in search of a pick-me-up on a rainy day.
Things to Do
There’s also plenty to see and do, whether you need ideas for a fun family day out, or a hot new fitness trend.
Audley End Miniature Railway is a charming attraction, set in the lush woodland of Audley End House and Gardens. From 2 to 18 April, the forest will be transformed into an Easter paradise, where families can hop aboard the train and use an ‘I Spy’ sheet to spot bunnies, nests full of brightly coloured eggs and spring chicks, as you weave gently in and out of the trees. The train will take you to the Easter Bunny’s burrow, where children can look forward to receiving a special gift before exploring the Easter Trail with their activity booklet.
To learn about the town’s fascinating history, pay a visit to Saffron Walden Museum, one of the oldest purpose-built museum buildings in the country. “There’s something of interest for everyone,” says Wendy-Jo Atter, front of house officer. “Our collections include local and social history, ancient Egypt, archaeology, ceramics and glass, costume and textiles, geology, furniture and woodwork, natural history and world cultures. Come and find hidden treasures, from stone axes to Samurai armour, Saxon riches and even an ancient Egyptian mummy.” With an entire gallery devoted to local history, and special exhibitions that change throughout the year, there’s always more to discover.
Just down the road from the Saffron Walden Museum is the Fry Art Gallery, built in 1856 by Francis Gibson and later inherited by his daughter Elizabeth Fry, after whom the gallery takes its name. Originally built to house Francis Gibson’s personal art collection, the gallery opened to the public in 1987, showcasing various paintings, prints, illustrations, wallpapers and decorative designs by artists from the Great Bardfield group. They lived and worked in the area from the 1930s onwards.
With culture connoisseurs well and truly catered for, Saffron Walden also has something for fitness fanatics, in the shape of its very own Hotpod Yoga studio on Shire Hill. “Classes are performed in a purpose-built, inflatable hot yoga space, designed to transport you away from everyday life from the minute you step inside,” says Nicola Batten, owner and director of the Saffron Walden centre. “With three different styles of class, everyone is able to enjoy this immersive experience, whether a complete yoga beginner or seasoned practitioner.” The pods are heated to 37°C, dimly lit with purple light, and filled with the calming scent of bergamot, lavender and orange, to relax the mind and awaken the senses. This is a workout experience like no other.
While visiting Audley End Miniature Railway, don’t miss the new woodland cafe within the picnic area, where you can enjoy delicious home-made food, refreshing drinks, and indulge in cooling treats from the Saffron Ice Cream Company. There’s even a BBQ area, with a tasty offering of beefburgers, minted lamb burgers and sausages from local butcher Priors Hall Farm.
If sustainability is a priority for you, Saffron Walden has a whole host of eco-friendly stores to explore – from second-hand boutiques to ethical jewellers.
Fast fashion is a big problem for the planet, but there’s an easy way to reduce the carbon footprint when upgrading your wardrobe. Nicola Brooks, owner of Brooks Clothes Agency, tells us that smart shopping means buying pre-loved: “Not only is it good for the environment, but you can save so much money,” she says. “Most of the items we have in are new – and lots with their original labels that haven’t been worn – so you can get some real bargains. We sell everything from designer labels such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Prada, to top-end high-street names like Reiss, Jigsaw and Whistles – all at a fraction of the original price.”
For vintage jewellery and accessories, Arts Decoratifs is an absolute delight. All the products in the shop are pre-loved, dating from the 1960s back to Georgian times. “I love my shop, Saffron Walden and the planet, and think we all need to be proactive in preventing any further damage to it,” says owner Ann Miller. It’s not just Saffron Walden locals that have cottoned on to the perks of buying second-hand, either. “A favourite part of my job is selling to prop buyers for film, stage and TV. Our goods have graced stages from the Royal Opera House to regional theatres, and even the small screen in The Crown!”
If you’re looking for brand-new or bespoke jewellery, without creating a dent in the earth’s resources, one hidden treasure is The Smithy – a little boutique workshop and shop tucked away on Market Hill. “I work in a traditional artisan style, designing and making unique pieces by hand,” says Helen C Walls, independent jewellery designer and maker. “Emphasis is given to recycling precious metals in-house, or from suppliers that are transparent about sustainable and ethical metals and gemstones. It’s great to see a lot of the jewellery trade adopting this practice.”
One business that’s an old hand at reusing and upcycling is Reed & Son, an antique and second-hand furniture dealer founded in 1880 – and the forbear of much-loved Saffron Walden store Angela Reed. “We believe in repurposing and re-loving well-made, interesting furniture and decorative objects. Each piece has a history and tells a story,” comments Kate Reed. “Our labyrinthine shop is a place to go in itself, with cellars and areas of curiosity that established us as a favourite to locals and visitors for hundreds of years.” Offering a diverse, ever-changing inventory of stock, Reed & Son is a cabinet of curiosities that’s a must-see.
Finally, another sustainable gem is The Modern Crafter, an independent business specialising in punch needle and embroidery, two traditional types of craft. Run by sisters Rachel and Siobhan, this beautiful shop offers a range of kits that use eco-friendly materials, alongside its own exclusive range of 100% British wool that’s both renewable and biodegradable. “We’ve discovered it is a great planet-friendly fibre, and can be used to make lots of practical items for your home such as rugs, cushions, wall hangings – and anything else you might dream up!” says Rachel. The Modern Crafter is well worth a visit, and you might just discover a relaxing new hobby while you’re at it.
Whatever brings you to Saffron Walden – be it the heady aroma of street food, or the lure of cultural curiosities waiting to
be discovered – you are sure to find something to love about this charming medieval town.