Saffron Walden Turf Maze
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Cassandy
N 52° 01.438 E 000° 14.842
31U E 311148 N 5767281
Quick Description: An ancient turf maze on the Saffron Walden Common
Location: Eastern England, United Kingdom
Date Posted: 10/15/2010 6:46:20 AM
Waymark Code: WM9Y6M
Published By: Groundspeak Charter Member Jeremy
Views: 10

Long Description:
Limited free parking is available either along the top of the common on Ashdon Road (Approx N52 01.501, E000 14.770), or along the side of the common on Common Hill (N52 01.470, E000 14.570) failing that, there is a Car Park at the bottom of the common (Entrance approx N52 01.435, E000 14.583) which is 60p for 1 hour during the day, and free after 6pm, and on Sundays and Bank holidays.

There are only 8 surviving ancient turf mazes in England, and The Maze on the Saffron Walden Common, with a total diameter of 132 feet, and length of 1 mile is the largest in the country. Despite being collectively known as Mazes, they are actually 'labyrinths' as commonly mazes have many dead ends, however labyrinths are unicursal with just one path of twists and turns to the centre. The Saffron Walden Maze has a 'Chartres' design, which unlike the 'Cretan' mazes that involve walking around the whole circle and doubling back each time means you only need to walk entirely round one quarter of the maze before continuing to the next as you slowly get closer to the center.

It is very hard to reliably date a turf maze as they have to be regularly re-cut to keep the design clear. This is likely to disturb any archaeological evidence. Although the date of the original cutting of the Saffron Walden turf Maze is unknown, the first record of a re-cutting was in 1699 where the cutter was "Paid for cutting ye maze at ye end of ye common 15s 0d" (15 shillings = 75 pence today!). There are records of additional recuttings. The bricks around the path were also re-laid in 1970 and the Maze is in excellent condition, easily accessible, and great fun to walk.

Turf mazes were even referred to by William Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night's Dream (Act 2, Scene 2) when Titania says:
"The nine men's morris is fill'd up with mud;
and the quaint mazes in the wanton green,
for lack of tread are undistinguishable."

There are many myths and stories surrounding the reasoning behind the existance of turf mazes. Many of the English examples follow the same Chartres pattern used for pavement mazes in European cathedrals. It's often said that these mazes would be followed by penitents on their hands and knees to repent of their sins, however there isn't any documentary evidence of this.

Some mazes on village greens and commons (like this example in Saffron Walden) were used for entertainment by children and youths on holidays and special occasions. The maze at Alkborough was used for May Eve games in the early 19th century, and at Boughton Green a three day fair between June 24-26 included "treading the maze" as part of a three-day fair to mark the vigil of St John the Baptist.

Further afield, along the Baltic coast of Sweden stone labyrinths were built by fisherman to entrap evil spirits believed to bring bad luck during routh weather. The fishermen would entice the evil spirits into following them and then send them out into the sea.

There is also a belief that the turf mazes were related to fertility rites. It is thought that a virgin would stand in the center with the procession dancing towards her, or perhaps young men would chase maidens through the maze as part of a mating ritual.

Whatever the reasons for turf mazes, religious, entertainment, fertility, or to ward off evil spirits, one thing that is for certain is that they are truely interesting and unique features. The well-maintained Saffron Walden maze is a prime example of an ancient turf maze and I hope you will enjoy visiting it and perhaps walking around it.
Maze Type: Labyrinth

Directions: Head to Saffron Walden common. The maze is on the far edge from the car park.

Admission (Adult): 0.00 (listed in local currency)

Admission (Child): 0.00 (listed in local currency)

Saffron Walden Common

Dates Available: From: 1/1/2010 To: 12/31/2010

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