I promised Jeanie of Marmelade Gypsy that I'd mention the maze in Saffron Walden, in Essex. I hadn't visited Saffron Walden for many years. It is less sleepy than it was, but the picture above, showing a side street, still brings back to me the feeling I had as a child, when we lived for a while in an old cottage set in what was once a stables in the centre of a similar small, old town. I remember so well looking through an ancient timbered archway at small, old fashioned shops on the other side of the road. (As a kid, I'd have definitely investigated the toyshop on the left.)
Saffron Walden's many old houses including these at the side of the main road. As you see, the road has been built up over the years - resurfaced, I suppose - giving the impression that the cottages have sunk. Really, they are built on the level of the mud roads of 400 years ago. Surely, if the road is to be resurfaced much more, something will have to be done to stop it getting much higher. As you can see the cottages' front doors are already accessed by steps cut into the pavement!
The handsome library is right in the centre of town. I was glad to see it's still a library, not a cafe bar or restaurant, which so often is the fate of old public buildings. It was a particularly lovely sky that day, with so many different types of clouds.
Many of the doorways are decorated or adorned with figures. I'm wondering what this one is. A rather ugly cherub? A god? Or even a lion, with all that hair.
This old window bows out crookedly. I have an idea this kind of angular bow window has a special name, though I don't know what it is. The glass in it is old and uneven, so if you are inside you'll get a slightly wavy view of the world.
I'm very glad that many of the old houses in Saffron Walden actually look old. This place, painted white, looks almost ghostly, but look at all the interesting details and the shapes of the windows and doors. It makes a most fascinating addition to the street.
Now I'm going to rant, so skip the next paragraph if you don't want to read it! I really hate it when people buy old, old places like this and modernise the insides. I stayed at quite an expensive b&b recently which was an Elizabethan farmhouse, over 400 years old, whose interior had been entirely replaced with every darn cliche in the home improvement magazines. The walls of small old rooms had been torn down and "spaces opened up," like a furniture showroom. Colours were all Farrow and Ball "period" pastels instead of the plain whites, blacks or dark colours you find in real old places. The floors were of smooth new flagstones, straight out of the builder depot. All the plastering of the walls was new and flawless. Staircases were modern. This lovely old house had no doubt needed some work, but the new owners had stolen every fragment of its personality and I really wished they'd just bought a new one instead of destroying something irreplaceable, that would have had so much to tell us about the lives of those who'd lived in it for centuries and passed it down. Of course houses should be modernised and improved over the years, but if you're going to do so much work, why not just build from new?
Oh well, rant over. And you certainly couldn't say that anyone had unsympathetically modernised the interior of the white house above. It was really quite dusty. I peeped through the diamond windows and spotted this trendy little china couple (well, trendy for the late 18th century). The man wears one of those tall thin wobbly wigs that suggest he was a laughable dandy, and she is wearing a jaunty little indoor cap. I wonder what story the ornament is telling.
The town has two mazes. One is in Bridge End, a large Victorian garden towards the north of the town. Once neglected, Bridge End has been carefully restored and is now run by the council as a public park. What a great place to take the family for a picnic! The garden is charming, and full of wildlife - some of the beds were alive with butterflies in a way I have rarely seen before. I wonder if they'd sprayed the flowers with the butterfly equivalent of recreational drugs....
This door, to the humble kitchen garden, is very grand, don't you think? Just beyond it is a maze with tall hedges. It's impossible to photograph - it just looks like a lot of hedges - so you'll have to take my word that it is there.
There's some puzzling statuary. This creature (lizard? demon? dragon? gargoyle from an old church?) guards one of the steps leading into the area with the maze.
But a little further on is a parterre, an arrangement of flowerbeds surrounded by small hedges, which I photographed from a viewing platform built among the trees. It's not exactly a maze, but it looks more like one in photographs than the real maze does! The two sides of the parterre were originally symmetrical but old photos show that over time it has gradually changed, so now the two sides do not match.
And the real, old town maze is on the outskirts of town, on the other side of the common. It doesn't have hedges, but the maze is cut in raised turf in an orderly labyrinthine pattern, and it is not fenced off in any way. The sign by the maze explains all about it.
If you ever go walking in the British countryside with an Ordnance Survey map (so much better than Google) and you come across something written in Gothic lettering entitled "mizmaze" then it will likely be one of these ancient mazes, either maintained or overgrown. They were quite popular hundreds of years ago - Shakespeare refers to one in Titania's quarrel with Oberon in "Midsummer Night's Dream" in which everything goes topsy turvy, including in the village, where all the leisure activities are forgotten
"...The nine men's morris is fill'd up with mud
and the quaint mazes in the wanton green
for lack of tread are indistinguishable...."
I have been told that instead of getting lost, you are supposed to walk the maze paths in order to consider your spiritual life, and organise your thoughts. A good idea.
You can see a fairground truck at the far end. They were about to have a fair on the common, so I doubt there would have been much chance to walk quietly and organise one's thoughts in the next few days!