In her latest guide to a great car-free day trip, Phoebe Taplin walks from Sawbridgeworth to Harlow Mill Train Station and enjoys the splendor of Gibberd Garden and Pishiobury Park…
Leaving the car behind can turn a day into an adventure and help the environment.
One of the most popular car-free excursions from Bishop’s Stortford is to simply walk along a stretch of the River Stort and hop back on the train. This four mile walk starts at Sawbridgeworth railway station and continues to Harlow Mill. Along the way it visits some local treasures including Pishiobury Park and Gibberd Garden.
20th-century urban planner and architect Frederick Gibberd worked on all types of buildings, from mosques and cathedrals to power plants and airport terminals. In 1946 he became general planner for Harlow New Town.
He bought a house near Harlow in 1957, gradually filled the steam-side garden with sculptures, and was living there when he died in 1984.
Now, from April to September, Gibberd Garden is open to the public on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons. Admission is €5 for adults and €1 for children.
The quickest way to get to Gibberd Garden from Stortford without a car is to take the train to Harlow Mill Station and then walk. It’s just over a mile and there are detailed directions at www.thegibberdgarden.co.uk/find_us.
As the garden doesn’t open until 2pm, here’s a longer walk from Sawbridgeworth train station. Turn right past the Maltings complex with its shops and cafes. If you haven’t brought a picnic, this might be a good first stop as there are few other places to eat right along the route. My current favorite at Maltings is the little tea room on Trackside at the other end of the side closest to the train station. https://tracksidetearoom.co.uk.
Follow Station Road, cross the River Stort and take an immediate left onto the towpath. Cross Sheering Mill Lane, pass a few paths and turn right onto a boardwalk. Stay straight through a sloe tunnel, across a field and through the forest beyond. Turn left through any gate to explore historic Pishiobury Park. www.parksherts.co.uk/parks/view/pishiobury-park.
Henry VIII bought the medieval mansion on this site in 1534 and gave it to Anne Boleyn. Fifty years later, Elizabeth I’s Chancellor built a new house called Pishiobury, and in 1782 Capability Brown (probably) landscaped the park. There is an old avenue of oaks at the top of the ridge and a newer avenue of lime trees on the other side.
When you’re done exploring, return to the side of the park you arrived at, head downhill to a gate with an information board, and follow a winding wooden walkway established in Spring 2018 through the wicker bed. On the other side, near the gate, turn right onto another relatively new stretch of promenade, follow it back to the Stort and turn right again onto the towpath.
Cross a footbridge over the river and continue for almost three quarters of a mile with the water now on your right. Just after a small footbridge with metal railings, turn left onto a grassy path. Go through a tunnel under the railroad onto a wooded path. It’s often a little muddy under the tunnel, but generally passable in drier months.
The entrance to Gibberd Garden is about a quarter of a mile up this lane, just past the eagle spired gate. When the gardens are open you can enjoy tea and cake in the barn cafe before or after exploring.
Gibberd described his garden design as “a series of spaces, each with its own character,” and it’s this sense of wildly different spaces that makes the garden so much more than the sum of its nine acres. One minute you’re in an intimate glade with ancient stone basins salvaged from desecrated churches; In the next minute, you’ll be wandering past stainless steel mobiles or rugged concrete statues surrounded by flowering trees and ornamental ponds.
And artist Krijn de Koning has created a new site-specific installation in 2020: Green/Blue is integrated into a cluster of willows in the garden’s arboretum.
Walk back down the tracks, under the tunnel and to the left of the tracks. At the other end of the field, cross the footbridge, turn right and follow the path to the left. Go through a gate, continue onto Wheatfields and turn left onto Old Road. Just before the railway bridge, a small footpath leads to the right to Harlow Mill station.