diamond geezer

 Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A walk in the (Epping) Forest
with mini-postcards

Epping Water TowerParallel to the north-eastern arm of the Central line, on a ridge more Essex than London, lies the ancient woodland of Epping Forest. It covers almost 6000 acres, from Epping in the North to Wanstead in the south, and it's all owned and managed by the City of London Corporation. And, for some reason, until last weekend I'd never properly visited before. So, walking boots laced and map in hand, I took the train out to Epping and set off from there on a ten mile stroll. And blimey, why did I wait so long?

Epping Foresters Cricket ClubLess than half an hour's walk from the station is the edge of the forest proper. A broad grassed path curves across Bell Common to a very innocuous cricket pitch, but the thin soil hides a multi-million pound secret beneath. When the M25 passed this way in the 1980s, local protests ensured that a cut and cover tunnel was dug beneath the outfield. Stand here today and the motorway is entirely invisible, even if the sound of peaceful birdsong is tinged by the distant murmur of traffic noise.

Ambresbury BanksSurprisingly few official pathways pass through the forest, although there's nothing stopping you stepping off beneath the tree cover and making your own way. Off-track's the way to go, especially if you're one of the many sporty bikers for whom Epping Forest is undulating heaven. It's rather more of a trial for cycling families seeking energetic togetherness, however. "Is this the last hill, Daddy?" asked one particularly sulky young girl on a pink bike. Whatever Daddy told her was undoubtedly a lie, but it worked.

Woodredon HillEvery now and then the oak and beech trees cleared, and there was an excellent view out across the surrounding countryside. Down below are the flat plains of Essex and Hertfordshire, whose fertility is the main reason they've been cultivated and populated while up here hasn't. The finest view was from the top of Woodredon Hill, from which it was possible to make out the M25 threading west towards Cheshunt, with Waltham Abbey beyond and a giant Sainsbury's distribution centre in front. Well worth a stare.

High Beach tea hutAfter relative solitude on woodland tracks, High Beach came as a jolt to the system. This is the forest's social nucleus, where cyclists meet bikers meet Essex drivers (for picnics and kickabouts, from what I saw). No need to venture far from the visitor's centre for a variety of tasty options. The King's Oak pub was trumped by the excellent refreshment kiosk nextdoor (burgers, rolls, ice cream), or else there were a couple of tea huts dispensing hot liquids and snacks. On a sunny bank holiday weekend, the (well hidden) bikers' tea hut throbbed with merry leather.

Jack's HillBack in the forest, it was easy to lose the crowds by walking more than a few hundred yards from the nearest car park. I was passed by several whooshes of lycra-clad two-wheelers, and many a gaggle of weary parents pushing toddlers, and even by a gang of huffing hiking cub scouts, but most of the time I wasn't passed by anyone at all. Perfect natural solitude. And don't expect (at this time of year) to see any colours other than green and brown - the handful of pink rhodedendrons I spotted were rare exceptions.

Buttercup meadowAfter my lengthy stroll I needed to get back to the Underground, which here is always further away than it looks. I don't think I'd have made it back to a station without a map. The forest trails are completely unsigned, and most lead far from civilisation, so you really have to know where you're going. This must be a real problem for cyclists, and I saw several temporary bike trails waymarked with flyaway sawdust. I was also surprised that some of the tracks were still muddy in places - this must be proper wellington boot territory after heavy rain.

Theydon BoisI ended my walk by making my way northeast to the commuter village of Theydon Bois, not least in order to discover what this mysterious tube network extremity looked like. My favourite spot was a meadow on the outskirts filled with golden buttercups, where sunsoaked couples lounged in the long grass. Then, finally, across the over-sized triangular village green to the iris-edged duckpond, wondering how much it must cost to live in rural commuter heaven. But when it's this easy to get to, I shall be out here more often.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream