195: Saffron Walden

OS Explorer map 195, Braintree & Saffron Walden: Halstead & Great Dunmow – I do not own this map, but have visited it before starting this blog. Visited for this post 22nd June 2018.

So, in my last post, I told you that, yay, I had finished my dissertation, my friends had finished exams, and it was time for fun and celebration – the post was about a sightseeing trip to Bury St Edmunds we made using some of our newfound freedom. Now, in Cambridge term doesn’t end after the last exam – everyone stays for May Week, a week of celebrations and balls and things like that. We went to Bury St Edmunds on Sunday at the beginning of May Week. It was on the Friday at the end of the week that we went to Saffron Walden. May Week went very pleasantly – on the Wednesday, Vesper, Millicent, Erithacus, Cheremy and I went to the May Ball at St Catharine’s College, which was wonderful so I’ll give you some pictures:

(Yes, there was a ball pit, and yes, I got glitter in my beard and flowers in my hair…)

It was two days later, on the Friday, that we made a trip to Saffron Walden. The reason for this is that Cheremy is going to be living there next year – he has a position working for the church there doing various community things, and wanted to show us the place! Cheremy, Erithacus, Vesper and I therefore bundled into my car in Cambridge in the early afternoon and were off. (Millicent had been home the night before, and was being dropped directly in Saffron Walden to meet us by his father.)

Saffron Walden is about a half-hour drive south of Cambridge, and that passed uneventfully. Once we arrived, we realised that we would need lunch, and so I pulled over in the town for a moment while a supermarket was located, and then we went to the out-of-town Tesco to buy our lunch. Millicent joined us there. Food was found – Erithacus and Vesper had a much easier time of it finding a vegan lunch there than they had in the Bury St Edmunds Marks and Spencer – and we walked back out to the car before concluding that we’d rather sit on the bench outside the shop to eat. We therefore ate our lunch in the company of a large Thomas the Tank Engine ride that would make alarming noises at us occasionally as we discussed such cheery topics as funerals. [1]

We then proceeded to the centre of town and were lucky enough to find a free parking spot by the green. Our first stop was the ruins of Walden Castle, which we gawked at for a few minutes while Millicent explained the concept of an “illegal castle” to us, one built due to various bits of historical circumstance without royal consent – I admit I don’t remember the details very well.

We then proceeded into Saffron Walden’s museum, where there was some confusion over how much to charge us, as the lady behind the desk hadn’t had to deal with any students before. A long phone call led to the conclusion that we should pay full price, but this was reduced when Cheremy pointed out that the sign on the desk counted students as concessions.

The museum had a very wide mix of strange items, as museums in random little English towns tend to – there were rooms downstairs about the local area’s history, from recent things back to Anglo-Saxon stuff and prehistoric archaeological things. There was a very odd Victorian clock that said it was given to someone “as a reward for bringing up his family with the least parochial relief” – I may be wrong, but this seems rather a reward for being the least poor? Odd.

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The strange clock

There was also, unfortunately, a rather large collection of taxidermy – a big display of forest creatures eating each other was on one side of a gallery that also contained a lion that didn’t seem to have been stuffed with the most skill, and a balding hedgehog that had to have a sign asking visitors to please not steal any more of its spines. Ickiness was increased by a couple of skeletons under a glass panel in the floor, and an Egyptian mummified child. (Upstairs there was a collection of world anthropological things brought back by some local colonial person from his questionable travels, hence the Egyptian bits.) There was a very cool room full of period clothing though, and most of the local interest things downstairs were very good.

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Watching a video about combine harvesters like good little children.

From the museum we proceeded to the church that Cheremy will be working at, but on the way we stopped at a talking bench – it had a box attached to it with recordings of local people from times past, and one lady’s accent produced discussion – we settled eventually on it being someone Continental, maybe French, who had learnt very proper conservative RP English.

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Saffron Walden church

So yes,  the church was pleasant. Cheremy told us that it gets a regular attendance of a hundred or so, which is very impressive, and pointed out various features of interest, such as the organ trumpets. Millicent gave us tales of the diary of an East Anglian Reformation iconoclast, who recorded in meticulous detail all the wondrous things he smashed up.

After half an hour or so in the church, we returned to the car and drove back to Cambridge. Some of the others stayed together for dinner, but I had to jet off, because I had my second May Ball to attend that evening, at Wolfson College with my friends from my MPhil course. It was a very enjoyable night!


Two days later

Two days later, on Sunday the 24th June, I was travelling about again, and returned to this area. I had a day out planned with my Oxford friend Little S – the plan was that I would meet her and her boyfriend Mashers at a train station somewhere, from where we could have a day of driving around the countryside visiting minor places of interest and generally enjoying themselves. [2] (The two of them live in central London so they don’t get to see fields that often…)

I collected them at Audley End station, which is in this map area and indeed very close to Saffron Walden, but I don’t know anything especially interesting about that train station, so I will move on. Our first destination was also in this map area – we’d decided to go to Hedingham Castle, which is a wonderfully complete Norman castle that I really wanted to see. However, we got there and were disappointed: the castle was closed for a private function.

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A disappointment.

Lunchtime was rapidly marching in our direction, though, so we parked the car and walked into the village of Castle Hedingham, which turned out to be very well provided with pubs and eating places – we could see at least four.

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Castle Hedingham village, featuring a delightfully crooked building.

We went into one of the pubs, sat down, moved tables because the first was too sunny – even if the new one did have the disadvantages of being missing one plank of wood and being near two shirtless men – and eventually ordered some food. I had something somewhat strangely titled a “vegan fungi pie”, but in the end it was really very nice – there was an enormously satisfying gravy, carrots, a few chips, and it was just great, a kind of stodge that I don’t really associate with vegan food at all. [3]

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My “fungi pie”

In a somewhat strange conversation, we discussed an idea of mine for inverted food dishes – i.e., rather than bangers and mash, I would like to try making “mash and bangers”, which would consist of a pile of sausagemeat on top of which are arranged a few bits of potato shaped like sausages. We spent rather a while coming up with other such amusing inversions.

After dinner, we walked back to the car, and drove off westwards out of this map area, so see my next post, friends!


Previous visits

This map contains Stansted Airport, which I’ve been to several times, most recently this March when, just after our exams, I went to Nice in France for a few days with a few people from my MPhil course.

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In Nice with my coursemates

However, going to airports to travel onwards doesn’t count for a map according to my Rules.

I have, though, been to this map one other time, just a very long time ago. This was when, way back when I was ten years old, there was a school trip to Mountfitchet Castle, (indeed very close to Stansted Airport). The castle is a historical reconstructiony sort of place, the sort of place to which a lot of schools go on trips. Now, I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but I know it was in year 7, the first year of secondary school, because that is when we studied castles in History class. I therefore got out my year 7 homework diary to have a look, but I can’t find this trip in there – either I am missing it or I didn’t write it in. I can, however, tell you that we were studying castles in early November, because I wrote down the following initially incomprehensible (and really scruffy – my handwriting used to be terrible) message on Friday 11th November 2005:

Do concentric castles, emailed, year 7 mes board, castles, motte and bailey, at bottom of page click concentric.

The school had a message board website, basically a very basic web forum on which teachers could post links and information for students. (There was also a section called “Chat: Non-Serious”, where students would post stupid stuff and comment on it in those heady pre-Facebook days – I recall Mother Dearest finding it one day, and being amused that a poll called “Hottest Boy in Yr 7” had resulted in me in the winner, because everyone had voted ironically…) So presumably what this means is that my teacher had posted a link to a website and also emailed it to us, which is where the homework was located.

I don’t remember the Mountfitchet Castle trip all that well, but I do recall the toy museum that was next to it for being a little creepy with all of its strange animatronics. When I came to Cambridge, it turned out that my good friend Millicent had also been on a school trip there, and had similarly vivid memories of the same thing, and it was only through talking about it with him sometime that I came to know the name of the castle again, and look up where it was!


[1] I distinctly remember that I reminded myself to take a photograph at the Tesco so that I could put it in this blog post, but I then proceeded to entirely forget to do this…

[2] The plan had originally been to go to this very interestingly decorated mystery house in Essex, but we couldn’t get tickets so changed the plan. We were also going to be joined by Lapsed Lawyer, but unfortunately she couldn’t make it in the end.

[3] I had Vesper, Millicent and Erithacus over for dinner and a sleepover in my room that evening, and it was this food that inspired me to make us some sausage, mash and gravy for dinner, which had the benefit of using up a lot of food that I had left around, since I’d be moving out of my Cambridge room soon. However, this had the disadvantage that Erithacus severely dislikes mashed potato, which led to her taking up my offer of a sausage sandwich instead.

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