Sawbridgeworth is a delightful market town, on a much smaller scale to nearby Bishop’s Stortford. Bell Street is a good example of its well preserved Georgian and timber-framed houses, some re-fronted. In 1222 Sawbridgeworth received its first market charter and two annual fairs were granted in 1447, so its grid of streets is long established.
Great St Mary’s Church is built mostly of flint with stone dressings, but it has a striking Tudor tower. Inside, rich, local gentry filled it with memorials including fine brasses and wall monuments, the grandest being the marble one to George, Viscount Hewyt of Gowram from 1689 and the Jacobean one to Sir John Leventhorpe and his wife.
A parkland for wildlife
Pishiobury was inhabited as far back as the neolithic period and later became one of Sawbridgeworth’s great estates. The Normans built a manor house here and deer park which existed well into the Tudor period when Henry VIII bought it from Lord Scrope. When Henry married Ann Boleyn he granted her the manor, but her time here was short lived. During this time records show that the perimeter of the park was almost 2 miles and it was wooded with an abundance of deer and game. The house stayed with the Crown until 1585, when Elizabeth I sold it to Sir Walter Mildmay. The house we see today was rebuilt in the 18th century and the parkland landscaped in the style of ‘Capability’ Brown, one of the most famous landscape designers of the day.
The park now is a conservation area that attracts a range of wildlife. Cattle are grazed here from March to November and no fertilizers are used which in turn encourages wild flowers and grasses to flourish. The differing habitats, which are an important source of shelter and food, are made up of open parkland with a woodland boundary, scattered woodland blocks, pond and natural spring, and areas of hawthorn scrub. These create food and shelter and nesting cover for many birds including robins, blackbirds and black caps. Almost 20 species of butterflies have been recorded at the park thanks to the breeding and feeding areas created by the native grasses and wild flowers.
Turn right from the car park into Bell Street. Go straight across the junction of The Square and Knight Street into Church Street passing the 1652 Church House, clad in painted weatherboarding, to enter Great St Mary’s churchyard. After visiting the church, continue downhill to the south-east corner of the churchyard and into a close of quirky, 1920s brick and flint cottages. Continue on the path, now between garden boundaries, turning right at the public footpath sign towards Sheering Mill Lane. At the lane turn left to leave the town.
Turn right beside Lock Cottage on to the tow path of the River Stort Navigation. Follow the tow path for nearly 2 miles (3.2km), initially on the Hertfordshire bank and then across a footbridge to the Essex bank. You will pass Feakes Lock along this pretty stretch with water-meadows, willows and dragonflies, and also get glimpses of Pishiobury Park.
You reach the road with Harlow Mill Beefeater Grill pub on the opposite corner. Turn right over the Stort Bridge, then turn right again at the footpath sign, along a narrow path between modern flats and the riverbank. The path, which can be overgrown, later veers away from the river.
Turn right at a redundant kissing gate and at a post and wire fence go left over the footbridge to a grass track alongside a wire fence, heading towards houses lining the old drive to Pishiobury Park. Passing between garden fences, you cross Pishiobury Drive – to your right is the west front of the mansion. Across the drive you join the Pishiobury Park Circular Walk. Go through a kissing gate and enter proper parkland. At the crest bear left on to an avenue of oaks and horse chestnuts, the avenue veering right along the ridge.
Leave the parkland through a kissing gate and carry straight on, along a path between gardens. Cross over a road, then descend to a footbridge over a stream. Climb out of the valley on to another road and go along a path diagonally right, beside the cricket club entrance. Emerging at Fair Green, go left past The Old Manse to The Square, and left back into Bell Street.
Canal tow path, field and parkland paths and some streets
Gentle countryside, parkland and wide, shallow valley
No problems, but lead advisable on town stretches. On lead in Pishiobury Park when cattle grazing (March–November)
OS Explorer 194 Hertford & Bishop’s Stortford
Bell Street car park, Sawbridgeworth
At Bell Street (East) car park
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
As Hertfordshire is so close to London, many of its towns have become commuter havens. St Albans, less than 19 miles (30km) from the capital, has retained its distinctive character, along with many historic remains. The Roman city of Verulamium is situated in a nearby park, and excavations have revealed an amphitheatre, a temple, parts of the city walls and some house foundations. There are also some amazing mosaic pavements.
The abbey church at St Albans is thought to have been built on the same site where St Alban met his martyrdom in the 3rd century. The abbey was founded in 793 by King Offa of Mercia, and contains the saint’s shrine, made of Purbeck marble. Lost for years, it was discovered in the 19th century, in pieces, and restored by the designer of the red telephone box, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. The abbey also contains some wonderful medieval wall paintings. Nicholas Breakspear was born in St Albans, the son of an abbey tenant. In 1154 he took the name Adrian IV, and became the first, and so far only, English pope. Another famous son of Hertfordshire was Sir Francis Bacon, Elizabethan scholar and Lord High Chancellor, born in Hemel Hempstead in 1561.