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Waltham Abbey in Essex is of course renowned for (and named after) its former abbey, very much at the heart of this cute and charming market town but it also offers so much more and is a welcome respite from London and nearby Enfield.
Waltham Abbey’s historic high street is chock full of old buildings, from the 500 year old museum building to the wonderful Welsh Harp timbered pub that dates back to the 15th century – surely one of the most beautiful pub exteriors and settings in the south of England.
A short train ride from central London, join us for a wander around Waltham Abbey – here is our guide to the top things to do in Waltham Abbey.
Things to do in Waltham Abbey
Waltham Abbey / Abbey Church
We of course start with the former abbey, now the Abbey Church of Waltham Holy Cross – a Scheduled Ancient Monument and reputed burial place of King Harold / Harold II, who was said to be buried somewhere here in 1066. This was the last abbey in England to be dissolved and archaeological artefacts found on the site date back to medieval and Roman times (many of these items are now on display in the nearby Epping Forest District Museum).
The medieval Waltham Abbey church dates back to the 12th century (although it has been a place of worship since the 7th century) and is still used today – the remains of the former abbey are still clearly visible in the grounds including the grade II listed Midnight Chapel. A statue and memorial showing one of several possible locations for King Harold’s burial site can also be found in the churchyard.
Waltham Abbey Gardens
Waltham Abbey’s setting is serene and the gardens and associated ruins are free to roam around, with plenty of detailed interpretation panels.There is lots to do and see and do in the Waltham Abbey Gardens, from the duckpond and numerous wooden bridges, to getting up close to the crypts or sitting on one of the benches to look out over the meadow.
The Waltham Abbey Rose Gardens are also a delight, particularly in the summer and is a very tranquil place to unwind or catch your thoughts.
Waltham Abbey Market / Waltham Abbey Market Square
The market square in Waltham Abbey is home to several cafes, shops and pubs along with the bi-weekly market. Held every Tuesday and Wednesday, Waltham Abbey market consists of several large stalls selling all manner of sundries from potted plants and linen through to pick & mix sweets and hair accessories. Whilst not epic in size and rather eclectic, the setting is magnificent, with the historic Welsh Harp pub a suitably majestic backdrop (more on this later).
Waltham Abbey High Street
The first time we ever visited Waltham Abbey High Street, we found it covered in bunting and flags after an event so we are a little biased, but this is one of the nicest high streets we’ve encountered. A nice mix of independent stores, chain stores and cafe bars, Waltham Abbey High Street is a lovely place to wander around and not have to worry about traffic (it is fully pedestrianised). Many of the bars and cafes on the high street have alfresco seating overlooking the high street too so it is a great place to relax after exploring the Waltham Abbey Church and Gardens.
Waltham Abbey Meridian Line
As Waltham Abbey itself is located smack back on the Greenwich Meridian Line, the town centre hosts a nice mosaic mural in the heart of the high street, denoting exactly where the Meridian Line passes through. If haven’t heard of the Meridian Line before, it is basically an invisible line that splits the earth into that sits on Zero longitude – all other measurement points are taken from this reference line (its most well-known point can be found at Greenwich at the Greenwich Royal Observatory).
Waltham Abbey Pubs
There are several pubs in Waltham Abbey within easy walking distance of the Waltham Abbey High Street but we’d recommend:
The Welsh Harp, Waltham Abbey
You should visit the Welsh Harp if only for the setting and to either sit outside and admire the wonky timbers or the cosy snug interiors. One of the best looking pubs in south of England, the Welsh Harp is located in the Market Square and dates back from the 15th century. It is a timbered black and white building and wouldn’t look out of place in a BBC costume drama. It has a small passageway (Lynchgate Passage) running through it which leads directly into the former abbey and churchyard.
The Sun Inn, Waltham Abbey
Located on the high street about a two minute walk / stagger (delete as appropriate) from the Welsh Harp, the Sun Inn has loads of outdoor seating including a beer garden out the back and is known for its karaoke sessions. If you aren’t in the mood for sing, sup from a range of traditional ales and beers on tap.
Incidentally, if you are feeling peckish after your pints, wander over to Tony’s Pie and Mash shop in the Market to get a taste of a traditional favourite, pie, mash and liquor (basically, eel sauce!). David Beckham has also been known to frequent Tony’s Pie and Mash Shop, so you’ll be in good company.
Epping Forest District Museum
Towards the end of Waltham Abbey high street as you walk away from the abbey and next door to the town’s library, the Epping Forest District Museum is a free to visit attraction detailing the local history of the area including archeological finds uncovered in the Abbey over the years. The museum itself is housed in a grade II listed Tudor building and has six galleries, with over 50,000 historical items either on display or in store here.
Waltham Abbey Gunpowder Mills
The only surviving former gunpowder mill remaining in the UK, the site has been in use for over 300 years and was decommissioned in the 1990s. Now, it is a huge site that combines various activities from woodland walks to Mad Science lessons for the kids (we’re presuming they aren’t using real gunpowder!).
Lea Valley Regional Park / Lee Valley Country Park
Just a short one minute drive or five minute walk from Waltham Abbey is start of Lee Valley Country Park, which runs from Waltham Abbey to Broxbourne and has over 1000 hectares of parkland, waterways and wildlife to explore (plus the only frisbee golf park we can recall outside of Queenstown in New Zealand).
What we like about the park is that it is suitable for say a short stroll along the canal or river or equally you could spend all day here, hiking or exploring on your mountain bike. And for extreme sport fans, there is also a Lee Valley White Water Centre here (we’ll just stick to having a drink in the bar that looks out over all the white water action).
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- A guide to Victoria Park Village and park
- Guide to Walthamstow Wetlands, north east London
- Things to do in Hackney Wick, East London
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