Hot Spot: Saffron Walden

Whether you're a Cambridge high-flier, or a Stansted frequent-flier, this Essex town has a lot to offer, says Robert Liebman

Ever since boom replaced bust in the early Nineties, proximity to Cambridge has been a good strategy for property-price growth. Saffron Walden has exploited this principle by flanking itself with the university town to its north and burgeoning Stansted Airport to its south. Future price movements are accompanied with neither certainty nor guarantees, but this part of Essex seems to be about as good as it gets.

"In the past five years, prices have doubled," says estate agent Tony Drury of Hetheringtons. "At the moment prices seem to be holding up, not going up, but we had thought they were coming off a bit. Recently, however, we put a village house on the market, and within 10 days got the full asking price from three buyers. Cambridge has no downturns and seems to have its own micro-economy. It has too much going for it, with the university and the science parks." Drury believes that Saffron Walden is in Cambridge's sphere of influence.

David Emberson of Mullucks Wells sums up the allure of Saffron Walden: "There are several strong pulls, especially Stansted Airport, Cambridge research centres and the proximity of the City of London which is still only under one hour to Liverpool Street Station from our own local station at Audley End. A high proportion of our buyers are from London or are families who are relocating because of work. This is an excellent family area due to our first-rate lower and upper schools. We are never blessed with hundreds of properties for sale, so prices keep at a reasonably buoyant level. In the last two to three years buy-to-let investments have become extremely popular."

The town owes half of its name to the saffron crocus, which was cultivated for hundreds of years, beginning about 1450, and used as a cloth dye. Farmers eventually replaced it with a more profitable grain, barley. "Although the general perception of Essex is that it is flat, the countryside has extensive and very attractive undulating farmland and countryside," says Emberson.

Saffron Walden received its first charter in 1236, was important enough to rate - and has the remains of - a castle, and boasts one of Britain's few surviving turf mazes. Still standing is the Sun Inn, the headquarters of Oliver Cromwell and noteworthy for its pargeting, the area's distinctive decorative plasterwork.

THE LOW DOWN

Getting there

The town is one mile from Audley End train station and about five miles from Junction 9 of the M11.

Shopping

Tesco, Waitrose and Eaden Lilley department store are in town. Market days are Tuesday and Saturday.

Entertainment

The nearest cinemas are in Haverhill and Cambridge. The Saffron Players and Clavering Players present amateur shows.

Sport and leisure

Lord Butler Fitness and Leisure Centre offers squash, tennis, swimming, badminton, a sauna and a multi-gym. Great Dunmow also has a sports and fitness centre.

Museums and galleries

Saffron Walden has an archaeology and ethnography museum that sells saffron crocus for autumn flowering. The Fry Art Gallery has paintings, prints, books and ceramics by artists from Great Bardfield and Saffron Walden.

Attractions

Bridge End Gardens and Hedge Maze, and the Turf Maze are in the town. Nearby are the 16th-century Audley End House and Gardens (and miniature railway); Mole Hall park in Widdington; Linton Zoo and Gardens; and Mountfitchet Castle and Norman Village.

Prices

The few flats in the area start from £100,000. Mullucks Wells is selling a two-bed first-floor period conversion in Saffron Walden, £135,000, and a one-bed first-floor flat in a former vicarage in Finchingfield, £97,000. A two-bed stone cottage near Saffron Walden Common is £175,000, and a Grade II-listed two-bed cottage with open fireplace near Bridge End Gardens is £186,950.

Family homes

A new three-bed house with double garage in a private development near the town centre, £285,000; a four-bed three-reception two-conservatory house with guest bedroom, annexe and double garage near the Friends School, £550,000, at Mullucks Wells. A similarly imposing property on the same road is £650,000 at Cheffins.

Three staircases

Pudgell, a five-bed home in Great Chishill, eight miles from Saffron Waldon, is Grade II-listed and large, having previously been four separate cottages. It has one front door but three staircases; £599,950 at Hetheringtons. In Clavering, the birthplace of television's "naked" chef Jamie Oliver, Clatterbury House is a half-timbered house with tiled roof and a thatched extension; £645,000 at Mullucks Wells.

Agaland

In Castlecamps, a two-bed end terrace with thatched roof and exposed beams is £179,995. In Ickleton, a three-bed Grade II-listed timber-framed cottage with thatched roof is £295,000; and a four-bed barn conversion is £595,000; all through Cheffins.

New Georgian

Hinxton House is a new three-storey pile with large paddock and outbuildings four miles from Saffron Walden. Internal space runs to more than 6,000 square feet, with a 500sq ft kitchen/dining room and a 600sq ft triple garage; £2.3 million, through Cheffins.

Estate agents

Cheffins, 01799 523656; Hetheringtons, 01799 516480; Mullucks Wells, 01799 520520.

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