Through rolling hills and river valleys to the historic market town of Saffron Walden and one of Britain's finest stately homes
Main Walk: 18½ km (11.5 miles). Four hours 25 minutes walking time. For the whole excursion including trains, sights and meals, allow at least 9½ hours.
Short Walk, finishing in Audley End: 14 km (8.7 miles). Three hours 20 minutes walking time.
Explorers 195 & 209. Great Chesterford, map reference TL504424, is in Essex, 5 km NW of Saffron Walden.
3 out of 10 (2 for the Short Walk).
All Essex walks seem to feature lines of pylons marching across enormous crop fields and this one is no exception. On the plus side, most of the farmland walking is along wide grassy field edges and there are pleasant interludes through small woods and river valleys to add variety.
The centrepiece of the walk is the historic market town of Saffron Walden. Originally called Chipping Walden, the town acquired its present name in the Middle Ages when it became the centre for the saffron crocus industry; the yellow pigment was used in cloth-making, food-colouring and medicine. The north-west corner of the town has retained many attractive medieval buildings with fine examples of pargeting, the East Anglian craft of decorating external plaster walls. You enter the town through the elegant Bridge End Garden and after lunch you could visit the Fry Art Gallery of works by local artists and the impressive church of St Mary the Virgin, the largest parish church in Essex. If you have time for a longer tour of the town you can see a notable Museum of local and natural history, the Norman ruins of Walden Castle and the largest surviving historic Turf Labyrinth in England.
Immediately after leaving the town the walk route goes through the spacious parkland surrounding Audley End. The house was adapted from the buildings of a Benedictine monastery (Walden Abbey) and since the Dissolution there have been many alterations by a succession of owners. Now one of Britain's finest stately homes, the mansion mostly dates from the 18thC, with interior rooms designed by Robert Adam and parkland landscaped by Lancelot “Capability” Brown. The property is managed by English Heritage and is open daily from April to October; admission for non-EH members is £18.50 (2019).
From Audley End the Main Walk route follows part of the Harcamlow Way, a long-distance walk linking Harlow and Cambridge; Newport is the crossover point of this unusual figure-of-eight walk. This large village acquired its (rather confusing) name at a time when “port” meant a town with market privileges.
You can save 1¼ km by taking a short cut through Audley Park, avoiding a busy road but also missing out the best view of the mansion. After passing through the estate village you could cut the walk short by heading for Audley End station, although the remainder of this Short Walk is mostly along roads.
There are several useful bus services if you want to abandon the walk at Saffron Walden. Stephensons 301 (Mon–Sat, hourly to 7pm) goes to Bishop's Stortford via Audley End and Newport stations. In the other direction Stagecoach Citi 7 (Mon–Sat, hourly to 8pm) and CG Myall 132 (Sun & BH, two-hourly to 5pm) go to Cambridge via Great Chesterford.
Great Chesterford, Audley End and Newport (Essex) are on the West Anglia line from Liverpool Street to Cambridge. All trains stop at Audley End, so this station usually has two trains an hour. The other two stations are only served by the hourly slow trains (taking just over an hour from London), although the service is half-hourly at Mon–Fri peak times. Buy a return to Great Chesterford.
If driving, it is easier to park at the finish as there is only limited parking at Great Chesterford station. The small station car park at Newport costs £3.50 off-peak and weekends; the much larger one at Audley End costs £6 off-peak, £4 weekends (2019).
Take the train nearest to 10:00 from Liverpool Street to Great Chesterford.
There are many refreshment places in Saffron Walden, 8 km into the walk. The suggested lunch place is the first pub you come to, the 15thC Eight Bells (01799-522790) at 18 Bridge Street. Adjacent to Bridge End Garden (a nice picnic spot), this welcoming old pub serves excellent food and has a quiet patio area away from the street.
Further along the suggested route through the town you pass the Kings Arms (01799-522768) at 10 Market Hill and several cafés and restaurants in and around the central Market Place. If you simply continue along Bridge Street you would pass the Saffron Hotel (01799-522676) and the Cross Keys Hotel (01799-522207). On the way out of town the Temeraire (01799-516975) is a JD Wetherspoons pub just past the turning into Abbey Lane.
There are two cafés at Audley End if you are visiting the house, but rather less to choose from after that. On the Main Walk you pass the small 17thC White Horse (01799-540002) on Belmont Hill, about ten minutes before Newport station. The alternative is to make a detour to the much larger Coach and Horses (01799-540292) on the main road to the north of the village.
Near the end of the Short Walk you pass the Fighting Cocks (01799-541279) at the junction of London Road and Station Road. If you are in a hurry to get back the newsagent at Audley End station advertises hot and cold drinks, but if you continue past the station to the village of Wendens Ambo you will find an attractive country pub, The Bell (01799-540382).
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Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline SE (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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The directions for this walk are also in a PDF (link above) which you can download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
Click the heading below to show/hide the walk route for the selected option(s).
Click on any option to show only the sections making up that route, or the heading above to show all sections.
- Main Walk (18½ km)
Click on any section heading to switch between detailed directions and an outline, or the heading above to switch all sections.
- Great Chesterford Station to Little Chesterford (2¼ km)
- Little Chesterford to Catons Lane (Saffron Walden) (5 km)
- Catons Lane to Bridge Street (Saffron Walden) (¾ km)
- Through Saffron Walden to Audley Park (1¼ km)
- Optional extension (+1 km)
- Audley Park to Abbey Farm (2¾ or 1½ km)
- Main route (2¾ km)
- Short cut (1½ km)
- Abbey Farm to Debden Water (4 km)
- Debden Water to Newport Station (2½ km)
- Detour to the Coach and Horses (+600m)
- Abbey Farm to Audley End Station (2 km)
- Detour to The Bell (+1¼ km)
Go out to the B1383 and follow it over the River Cam. Turn right into Church Street and go past the church and a pub. Turn right into Rose Lane and continue on a footpath heading south-east across fields to Little Chesterford. Briefly join a lane heading south through the village.
Arriving from London, cross the footbridge to leave the station by the other platform. Keep left through a small parking area and go along the station approach road to the B1383. Cross the main road carefully, turn left and follow it round to the right and over the River Cam (or Granta1). Ignore a lane on the right leading back towards the river but 75m later turn right into Church Street.
You soon come to All Saints church2 on the right (and can detour through its churchyard if you wish). Continue past School Street and follow the road (now South Street) gently round to the left. Keep ahead at a crossroads, passing the Crown & Thistle pub on your right, then in a further 150m turn right into Rose Lane.
In 100m the lane veers left into a new housing development but you keep ahead on a tree-lined footpath, heading SE. At the end go straight across a farm track onto a broad path along the edge of a field, with trees on your right. In 250m, at the end of the field, veer right and left to continue in the same direction with a hedge on your left. Follow this path for a further 500m (with the River Cam off to your right) to reach some houses on the edge of Little Chesterford.
Go along a driveway and bear left onto a lane through the village. In 125m, where this turns left, go into a small parking area for the village hall and church of St Mary the Virgin3 (which is usually locked).
Go through a parking area for the village hall and continue on a footpath past the churchyard and across fields to the B184. Cross the road and take a footpath initially heading east into some low hills, then south. Briefly join a lane heading east away from Westley Farm, then turn right onto a footpath across fields towards Saffron Walden.
Go through a kissing gate near the back of the car park and continue alongside the low wall of the churchyard, then gently uphill towards the right-hand end of a line of trees. When you reach them, keep ahead down a slope to come to a stile near the river. Go over this onto a fenced path at the edge of a wood, which comes out into the open at the top of a short rise. Continue in the same direction alongside a large field to meet the B184.
Turn right briefly onto the road, crossing over at some point. Ignore the entrance to a nursery but then turn left onto a concrete track heading E, signposted as a footpath. The track becomes a broad grassy path which leads into the corner of a large field. Continue in much the same direction for a further 1¼ km, climbing gently with a hedge on your left and farmland on your right.
A line of pylons gradually approaches from the right and eventually you pass under the power lines. Shortly after this, at the top corner of the field, ignore a gap into the field ahead and instead turn right to go along the top of the field, with a hedge on your left. In 500m go through a wide gap in a hedge into the next field to get a view of Saffron Walden, 2 km ahead. Continue gently downhill on the grassy track for a further 700m, heading S and eventually reaching a lane leading to Westley Farm.
Turn left to head E for 250m; you can soon bear right onto a grassy strip running alongside and slightly above the farm lane. After passing a small chalk pit turn right at a footpath sign onto a grassy track between fields. In 500m go through a gap in a hedge and continue along the edge of more fields, with a tall hedge on your left. In a further 500m the path comes out onto Catons Lane.
At Catons Lane turn right and follow a zig-zag route along field edges, later going alongside the boundary wall for Bridge End Garden. Go through part of the gardens to reach Bridge Street and the Eight Bells pub.
Do not join the lane but instead turn sharp right to go along the edge of the field, with a small farmyard behind the trees on your left. Follow the hedge round to the left to come to a playing field, where your onward route is alongside a high brick wall going away from its far side. If you are not interrupting anything you could sneak across it, but the right of way is the field boundary around its right-hand side.
When you reach the far side head SW alongside the brick wall. At the end turn left into a parking area to find a gate in the wall, which you can now see is the boundary wall for Bridge End Garden4.
If this gate is locked, follow the vehicle track round to the right and out into Bridge Street, turning left to reach the lunch pub. You will get another chance to explore these elegant gardens after lunch as the suggested route goes back past the main entrance gate.
If it is open, go through the gate and (for the shortest route) turn right along the edge of the walled garden. Leave through a small gate in the first corner and keep to the right around the edge of the rose garden. Immediately after passing an elaborate gate into the topiary garden, fork right at a path junction onto a path between flower beds. This comes out through an opening into Bridge Street, with the Eight Bells pub (the suggested lunchtime stop) on your left.
Take any route through the historic town centre (eg. via the gardens, parish church and market place) to the junction of High Street and George Street. From there, head west along Abbey Lane to Audley Park.
The suggested route is a short excursion through Saffron Walden's historic town centre, with an optional extension. If you are short of time you can save 500m by turning left out of the pub and going up Bridge Street. This contains some fine medieval buildings, including the town's former Youth Hostel (closed by the YHA in 2011) and The Close at the junction with Castle Street. The route (now High Street) later passes the Saffron Hotel and the Cross Keys Hotel, two more possible lunch places. At the traffic lights with George Street, turn right into Abbey Lane and continue the directions at [•] below.
For the suggested route, turn right out of the pub and almost immediately turn right again onto a path leading to Bridge End Garden (retracing your steps if you were able to come this way). Where the path forks the walk continues round to the right, but if you wish to explore the garden go through the elaborate gate ahead into the topiary garden (returning to this point to resume the walk).
The path away from the garden soon takes you through an opening in a bright red wall, past the Fry Art Gallery5 (free entry) and out to Castle Street. Turn left and then in 30m turn right up a tarmac path between houses into the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin6. Bear right to pass the west door to the church (which is well worth visiting) and continue around its south side to leave at the east end of the churchyard.
Unless you wish to take a longer route through the town, turn right into Museum Street and go straight ahead across Church Street (where there are some fine medieval buildings, including the Old Sun Inn7), passing the Kings Arms in Market Hill on the way to the main square.
On leaving the churchyard turn left briefly into Museum Street and then turn right through a gateway with signs for the museum and a tennis club. You soon pass Saffron Walden Museum8 on your left. Turn right in front of the Norman ruins of Walden Castle9 and go out into Church Street (where you could rejoin the main route by turning right and then left at the crossroads by the Old Sun Inn).
For the full route, turn left into Church Street to come to a corner of the town's common. Go across to its far side to find the Turf Labyrinth10. Return along the south side of the common and leave through its car park. Cross the main road and take a passageway opposite leading to the main square.
Leave Market Place11 in its south-west corner to head W on King Street. You could simply continue to the end of this street, but it is worth exploring the narrow lanes on your left called The Rows12. Either go through to George Street and head W along this main road, or return to King Street and turn left at a T-junction by the Cross Keys Hotel into Bridge Street; either way you will come to traffic lights, with Abbey Lane continuing in the same direction as George Street.
For the main route, head for the north-west corner of the park and go out to the B1383. Turn left onto the main road to go past the front of Audley End House and turn left at the next junction. Turn right onto the Harcamlow Way through Audley End village to Abbey Farm. For a short cut, join the Harcamlow Way immediately as it cuts through the park and goes along a road to the village and farm.
The suggested route through Audley Park gives you the best view of Audley End House, but includes 600m alongside a fairly busy road. There is also some road walking on the short cut in §5b, but along a much quieter road.
Inside the park fork right onto a broad path and then immediately bear left onto a shady tree-lined path heading W. In 250m you come to a short break in the trees and should turn right onto a broad grassy path, then in 50m turn left at a T-junction. There is a pond in the trees on your left and in 100m you pass a path on the left leading up from stepping stones across a stream.
If you miss the right turn above then in 100m you could turn right in front of a locked gate into Audley End Gardens to go down to the stream. A slightly awkward scramble down a bank and over the stepping stones would get you back to the main route.
Go past the stepping stones on the broad grassy path. This leads into a meadow where you continue on a clear grassy path heading WNW for 500m, going through a gap in a hedge along the way. In the far corner do not cross a concrete bridge into a farmyard but bear left onto a narrow path between a brick wall and a stream. This leads to an estate road where you turn left. Follow it round a long curve to the right and out to the B1383.
The farmland around the estate is dotted with 18thC monuments. As you go up the estate road you will be able to see a tall obelisk (Lady Portsmouth's Column) in the hills back to the right; later (to the right of the main road) you can see a circular temple built to celebrate British successes in the Seven Years War.
Turn left and go along the main road for 600m. Soon after passing its vehicle exit you finally get an impressive view of Audley End House behind an ornamental lake15. Turn left at the next road junction. After crossing the River Cam on an ornate bridge you pass Audley End Miniature Railway16 on your right and then the main entrance to the house. In a further 150m turn right at a small green, following the sign for St Mark's College.
Inside the park fork left onto a broad path heading SW for 500m, gently uphill at first and passing occasional tall trees. At the brow of the hill you can just see the top of Audley End House ahead on your right.
At the edge of the park keep ahead down a track through some trees. Continue through iron gates by a lodge building and turn right onto a minor road, with the park wall on your right. In 500m turn left at a small green, following the sign for St Mark's College.
If you want a (side) view of Audley End House you can detour along the road for a further 150m to its main entrance gate.
Head S on the private road through Audley End village, signposted as a public footpath. In 200m fork left in front of the old gateway to St Mark's College17 onto the driveway to Abbey Farm. This drive (still a right of way) later turns half-right and goes alongside an outbuilding. At the next bend there is a post with footpath markers pointing ahead and along the drive to the left.
If you are doing the Short Walk, go to §8.
Stay on the Harcamlow Way as it heads south-east and then south across two roads and farmland all the way to Debden Water.
Stay on the drive as it bends left and goes past farm buildings, then turns half-right to reach a road. Go straight across this onto a tree-lined track opposite (Beechy Ride), signposted as a footpath and with farm fields on both sides. In 350m veer right and left past a footpath marker onto a shady path through a belt of trees, with a stream on your left. In 350m this briefly emerges from the trees and you immediately veer left up a slope to another road, the B1052.
Cross the road carefully onto the continuation of the footpath, down a slope and through a belt of trees. In 300m the trees thin out and you emerge onto a thin crescent-shaped meadow. Follow a grassy path all the way along its right-hand edge. At the far end cross a ditch on a wooden footbridge and bear right onto a bridleway, heading S with a wood on your right.
Follow the field edge up a slope and briefly round to the left, then fork right downhill at a footpath marker. Continue alongside the trees for 450m, crossing a couple of ditches along the way. At the end of the trees continue in the same direction up a gentle slope for 500m, with a hedge on your right.
At the end of the hedge turn half-left onto a fenced path, soon with glimpses of Newport, 1½ km away in the valley down to the right. Follow the path through a wood and then gently downhill on the edge of more farm fields, heading S with a tall hedge on your right. Near the bottom the path used to continue through a tunnel in a belt of trees but it is much easier to veer left and right to stay on the field edge.
Turn right to follow a footpath on the north side of Debden Water to the B1383 in Newport. You could detour along Bridge End to the north of the village to visit the Coach and Horses pub, but for the main route turn left and go through the village to the station, passing the White Horse pub.
At the bottom turn right onto a path through some trees, heading W with the (possibly dried-up) Debden Water on your left. In 100m ignore a footbridge over the stream, following the path slightly to the right and then out into the corner of a field. Keep ahead along its right-hand edge, with a wood on your right. In 200m go up a small slope and bear left onto a grassy track heading W towards Newport's church tower, 1 km ahead.
In 600m the track leads into Water Lane. Continue on this concrete lane as it curves round to the left and comes to a long low brick viaduct carrying the railway line. Unless you want to make a detour to the north of the village to visit the alternative pub, go under the viaduct and bear left onto Bridge End to reach the B1383.
Just before the viaduct turn right onto a short path and keep ahead on a residential road (Bridge End), heading N past some attractive old houses. In 200m keep ahead on the B1383 to find the pub a little way further ahead.
After visiting the pub, retrace your steps along the B1383 and Bridge End, but stay on this road as it bends right under the railway and returns to the main road.
With the old Toll House (with 19thC painted notice of charges) opposite, turn left onto the B1383 (Belmont Hill). In 200m you come to the White Horse pub on your left, the suggested tea place.
The station is 750m away by the most direct route, which is to continue south on the B1383 (now the High Street) for 600m and then turn left into Station Road. If you have time, however, the more interesting route described below is not much longer.
For the suggested route, cross the B1383 carefully by the pub and follow the lane opposite round to the left. Keep right at a small green to come to the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin18, which you can either cut through or stay on the road. Go down Church Street to a T-junction and turn left onto the B1038 (Wicken Road), then turn right when you get back to the High Street.
Cross back over the main road, soon passing the attractive brick and timber Monk's Barn19 on your left. Turn left into Debden Road, taking care as you cross over the railway on a narrow humpback bridge. Immediately afterwards turn right down a lane parallel to the railway line. In 250m go between low wooden fences directly onto Platform 1 for trains to London.
Bear right off the driveway onto a footpath leading to a road. Turn right onto the road to reach the B1383. Turn left and then right onto the B1039. If you want to visit The Bell pub, continue over the railway line into Wendens Ambo (returning the same way), otherwise turn left into Station Road.
Bear right off the drive to cross a patch of grass, with a brick wall on your right. Go through a gap to the right of an outbuilding, then bear right across a concrete yard to pass to the right of another building. Continue on a broad grassy track between a field and trees for 300m to reach a road.
Turn right onto the road; there is a pavement later but take care while you have to use the grass verge. In 600m the road bends right, crosses the River Cam and comes to a T-junction with the B1383 (London Road). Turn left and go along the main road for 150m to the junction with the B1039 (Station Road), with the Fighting Cocks pub (a possible refreshment stop) ahead on the left.
To head for the station or the alternative pub in Wendens Ambo20, cross the B1383 carefully and follow the B1039 for 250m to a mini-roundabout. If you want to go directly to the station, turn left and then bear right across its large car park; trains to London leave from Platform 1, on this side.
Instead of turning left at the mini-roundabout, stay on the B1039 to cross over the railway line. 100m before the road turns sharply left, turn half-left across the corner of a small car park and go through a wooden gate onto a path through the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin21. Continue along a short lane to return to the B1039, turn left and follow it round to the right to reach The Bell.
After visiting the pub, retrace your steps through the churchyard and along the B1039. For a slightly shorter route to the station you can turn right into a Business Park just before the railway bridge; in 200m, after passing the station footbridge, turn sharp left onto a concrete path leading directly onto Platform 2. If you take this route (instead of going back via the mini-roundabout) you will need to cross the footbridge to Platform 1 for trains to London.
- The Granta is the longer of the two main tributaries of the River Cam, joining the Rhee near Grantchester, just south of Cambridge. The Granta's source is in the low hills south-east of Newport, near the end of the walk.
- All Saints, Great Chesterford dates from the 13thC but has had many additions over the years.
- St Mary the Virgin, Little Chesterford dates from the 13thC and retains much of its original form. It was restored in the 19thC.
- Bridge End Garden was originally laid out in the mid-19thC by Francis Wilson, a prominent Quaker whose family were great benefactors of the town. The garden contains a number of contrasting areas ingeniously linked by paths and views.
- The Fry Art Gallery contains works by the Great Bardfield group of artists, who settled in the countryside of north-west Essex in the 1930s. They specialised mainly in figurative (as opposed to abstract) art.
- St Mary the Virgin, Saffron Walden dates from 1250 but was mostly rebuilt in the Perpendicular style in the late 15thC, with the spire being added to the tower in 1832. The church's size reflects the wealth created by the saffron industry. It has a fine organ with a spectacular set of Trompeta Real pipes.
- The Old Sun Inn (no longer an inn) is a range of 14thC homes and shops with many different types of pargeting. The intriguing end gable shows two giant figures.
- Saffron Walden Museum was built in 1835. It contains an important ethnographic collection and galleries of local and natural history.
- Walden Castle was built around 1140 by Geoffrey de Mandeville, the Norman Lord of the Manor. Only the ruins of the keep tower remain.
- The Turf Labyrinth on the Common is 100 feet in diameter with a mile-long pathway through its convoluted pattern. The age and purpose of these historic turf mazes is unknown but they were often associated with village fairs held on town commons.
- The local market was moved from Newport to the town's Market Place by Geoffrey de Mandeville, and there are still twice-weekly markets on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The buildings around the square are mostly Victorian.
- The Rows were the town's medieval shopping centre. Originally market stalls, they eventually became permanent homes and shops combined.
- The United Reformed Church was built in 1811, replacing an earlier building. There are two other Nonconformist places of worship (a Baptist Chapel and a Friend's Meeting House) in the High Street.
- The King EdwardⅥ Almshouses in Abbey Lane were built in 1834, but there have been others in the area since 1400. They are now sheltered housing.
- The ornamental lake in front of Audley End House was created from the River Cam on its course through the landscaped grounds. The large red brick building alongside the driveway on the left is the stable block.
- The Audley End Miniature Railway is a 10¼" gauge railway which runs for 1½ miles through the estate woodland, operating on summer weekends and school holidays.
- The 17thC buildings of St Mark's College were originally almshouses, built on the site of the old Benedictine Abbey's hospital. They are now a Residential Youth and Conference Centre run by the Diocese of Chelmsford.
- St Mary the Virgin, Newport dates from the 14thC, with the tower being restored in the 19thC.
- Monk's Barn is a Wealden house dating from the late 15thC. It has a fine carved oriel window depicting the crowned Virgin and Child, flanked by angels.
- Wendens Ambo was originally two separate villages, Great and Little Wenden; the unusual name means ‘both Wendens’.
- St Mary the Virgin, Wendens Ambo dates from the 11thC, with later additions in the Middle Ages and the 19thC.
» Last updated: October 26, 2019