Updates here have been a bit sporadic of late, and I apologise unreservedely. I’ve spoken previously of my car troubles, but just last week there was some degree of bike/road interface, followed by a further hip/metal plate and screws interface, so I’m a bit out of action for a while. I’ve summarised here, but hopefully this will give me a little while to catch up on some of the towns I’ve visited recently, starting off with Essex’s Saffron Walden.
We came to Saffron Walden quite by accident one sunny Saturday afternoon in April. It turns out to be quite the attractive medieval market town, and in fact it dates back well before that. The Anglo-Saxon town grew during the Norman rule, gaining the largest stone church in the county, a castle, a priory and a market charter (nicked from nearby Newport). Like Saffron Hill in Farringdon, the town’s name comes from the agriculture of the saffron spice in the 16th and 17th centuries in the area; given that saffron is now worth more for its weight than gold, you can image what a reasonable industry that must have been.
Sometimes I feel I should precede paragraphs like the former with a “here comes the history bit,” a la a L’Oreal advert. It’s out the way now, you’ll be pleased to here, although it does give you a reasonable indicator that Saffron Walden is indeed an attractive, historic, and historic-looking country town, and therefore well worth a going over on Charity Shop Tourism.
Last night I saw Kirstie Allsopp extolling the virtues of “skipping,” stopping where one can to nick stuff out of other people’s rubbish. The point was, it’s not always worth going out to find these places, they’re more likely to just crop up. So with charity shops, and so with Saffron Walden: really we just stopped because we were dying for a coffee. A coffee we found in one of my new favourite venues, Cafe Cou Cou in George Street. I heartily recommend the produce here: the scones were vast and delicious, and the variety of cakes, pastries and breads looked the equal of Marmalade, or Fleet River Bakery.
Just opposite Cou Cou we started, in an Oxfam Bookshop. Although I left empty-handed this was a decent shop, well-stocked as these places often are with interesting titbits and hauls. Then, through some tiny, winding squares and streets to King Street, whereupon we find our second Oxfam, nice again although nothing ventured on the day. Nextdoor was British Heart Foundation, of the same ilk as Oxfam and just down the road, Cancer Research.
By this time, you’ll have all but landed on the market, in the ancient hub of the town centre. This is where we could have done with arriving earlier: our limited time arrangements meant the stalls were packing up, and we therefore had no time to mooch up to the church or the ruins of the castle, or pick at the market itself: the only temptation left was a stall offering chicken-themed crockery at knock-down prices. Needless to say, I had to haul my companion, herself something of a better-looking Kirstie Allsopp, away.
That leaves the two hospice shops: one (Home Farm Trust) a low, packed arrangement with various DVDs (I came out with Easy Rider having almost had to toss up between that and Ninja Terminator). The other was a big St Clares Hospice shop, with some very random furniture and all kinds of unusual things. I don’t know how many typewriters I counted that day, but even they didn’t compare to the odd tables covered with some sort of quilted arrangement. Again, probably a field day for the Allsopp acolyte.
Saffron Walden will definitely be getting a revisit from me: it’s a charming town, and though it’s still in Essex has little of the uncultured bluntness of other Essex towns. Instead it’s refined, pleasant, small and quaint, and I heartily recommend it to you.
Find: Saffron Walden @ Google Maps
Consume with: A ginormous cream tea from Cafe Cou Cou, George Street.
Visit: Audley End house stands on the site of the priory and is a dramatic kind of place with the house stnading right by the road.
Overall rating: four antique typewriters