Taking advantage of the half term holiday and my daughter being away on another holiday, SWMBO and I decided to take a one night stay away. We headed into North West Essex and the old market town of Saffron Walden. We actually stayed in a 15th century hotel some ten miles way (more of which later) but the scenery in the area was lovely and so the drive was a real pleasure - a real 'Matt Munro: "On days like these" moment (remember the opening scene from the Italian Job with Michael Caine - but without the unfortunate end!).
Saffron Walden is quite simply, stunning. It has old buildings, a ruined castle, a museum, lots of twisting and turning roads and a whole assortment of shops and restaurants of interest. We explored the town over the two days and will be going back at some point - especially as Audley End house and gardens are also very close by. We were not able to visit Audley End due to time constraints but will certainly do in the future.
Sadly, and in common with many other towns, the number of bookshops has declined and so there are now only two to speak of - an antique shop with a nice line in secondhand titles (nothing to tempt me though) and an Oxfam bookshop. I did strike lucky there though and picked up a copy of 'Cochrane' by Robert Harvey. Following on from reading 'Sharpe's Devil' this is a timely acquisition and very inspiring - although not in a good way as I feel another distraction coming on!
The nearest town of any size to where we stayed was the old town of Thaxted which is famous for a number of reasons. Dick Turpin had a cottage there, Gustav Holst composed the Planets suite in the area and even Sid James made a film set on location in the Swan Hotel ('Time, Gentlemen please!') - where we had a superb dinner yesterday evening.
The hotel we stayed at, whilst being a lovely building (Elizabethan) albeit in need of a little TLC; suffered from being directly under the flight path from nearby Stansted airport and so we did not get a great night's sleep! The gardens were lovely though and that made up for it.
I must confess that when I go anywhere in England and see any examples of our history in the flesh (or bricks, or wood, or stone or wattle and daub) I come over all patriotic and immediately think about the gaming possibilities! Luckily the urge usually passes although my thoughts tend to linger on the ECW for a few days after - no matter where I have visited.