800 years ago history had a story-telling blip. There was no one around who wanted to write stuff down or, if they did, they clearly put their books in the wrong storage depot. So when you get to a town like Saffron Walden, in Essex, which started life as a small settlement (possibly) in pre-Roman times and then progressed to being a market town (from 1141) to a rather fab place to visit where the houses are painted in shades of ice-cream flavours and the post-xmas rubbish gets put out in Waitrose bags. I bet Tunbridge Wells gives off the same sort of comfort zone...
But Saffron Walden has a secret, and it's not the Devil's Fingernails in the pic. It's a site once seen that leaves you asking far more questions about all of our ancestors. Here's why.
Saffron Walden has 15,000 people. It's not far from Cambridge. It's always been on my list as a must-see destination and yet it's taken years for me to get there probably because its train station was shut in 1964. Nearest stations are Audley End and Newport, plus a bus or taxi ride.
Once you've got there though it's easy to stroll around. The tourist information centre has a free walking guide which leads you around the biggest church in Essex, past Oliver Cromwell's HQ (yet another), over RAB Butler's grave (remember him - born in India, a consumate politician perhaps, "the best PM we never had" and in 1944 gave us a great education system), past a plethora of pretty houses with beams and plaster, mouldings and stories (see photos).
It can take in the Old English Gentleman, a CAMRA pub, that allows dogs in one bar, and children in the other. Sensible: albeit a problem for a family like mine with children and a dog...
It can include a Norman castle with fabulous ruins, and an award-winning museum - purpose built for the job which has a famous ethnography collection including Innuit (eskimo in the display and Nell's 21st century version in the photo) kit and plenty of memories for Oceania fans (such as my family). Oh yes, and the guided walk takes in a skateboard park, and a restored Victorian garden, known as Bridge End. Through it I found out the town had been a melting pot for Quakers, philanthropists and politics. Learnt that it's a stone's throw from lovely Audley End and the miniature railway. But bizarrely nothing much seems to be known about England's oldest turf maze, created 800 years ago and still in amazing shape on the far side of The Common.
Nell, 10, lay down in the centre of the maze. Lola, 13, stalked around the turf paths trying to figure out the pattern muttering "I've got it!". Pete was puzzled why it wasn't fenced off or made more of a feature. Maybe it's obvious: the turf love-knots (if that's what they are) have to compete with saffron (the yellow powder on the stamens of the crocus) that gave Saffron Walden it's name, so maybe it is clear why this particular British curiosity plays second fiddle to a flower.
Over to you
Is there a place you know that undersells something you think is amazing? If so, do let me know - or tell me what you love about Saffron Walden so I can make sure I treat myself to a second trip.