diamond geezer

 Monday, October 28, 2019

Yesterday I walked through Epping Forest from Epping to Chingford.

It was very enjoyable.

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Even though I've walked through the forest on numerous occasions, invariably a different route each time, I still can't get my head round how the whole place fits together. The full network of paths is extensive and hugely complex, but even if I narrow things down to just the main trails my mental picture remains inadequate. The forestkeepers don't make things easy, there being no signposts anywhere, merely a few painted arrows on posts which are otherwise unexplained. It's as if they just want you to wander round and explore on your own, hopefully without getting horribly lost, so heaven knows how mapless visitors got by before smartphones.

What I have got expert at is the start of the trail south from Epping. I know where to bear right to avoid Theydon Bois, and I know when to stop following the yellow arrows or risk ending up in Debden, but I still can't get to High Beach without checking on a map and beyond that I'm an utter novice. So what I decided to yesterday was to follow the Green Ride bridlepath from north to south to try to imprint one key spine route on my memory. I think I was mostly successful, so next time I'll attempt some twiddles off it, but I'm still a long way from feeling confident enough to wander around Epping Forest unaided. Practice makes perfect, but some places take a heck of a lot of practice.

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Folk I pass while out walking are often quite friendly and often say hello, especially if they're over a certain age. But what they usually say is "Morning", so long as it's not too late in the day, because this appears to be the universally agreed greeting. And what repeatedly irks me, as a clockwatching pedant, is quite how many people are happy to greet me with "Morning" even when it's after twelve noon and patently afternoon. The temptation when this happens to chip back with "Afternoon!" is overwhelming, and I usually try to stop myself for fear of looking unutterably smug. Of course when people set out on a long walk it is usually morning, and most ramblers have better things to be looking at than the time so it is an entirely understandable error. I've taken to saying "Hi" to everyone instead, because it's safer.

Anyway, yesterday the complete opposite happened. I was walking past a family of four around half past eleven, somewhere near Furze Ground, and the dad turned to me with a smile and said "Afternoon." Ha, I thought, you've completely forgotten to put your clocks back, or at least your watch is wrong, so you genuinely believe it's already afternoon when in fact it's still before midday. I realised that I was in the only hour of the year when it was possible to snap back with "Morning!" in a bout of chronological oneupmanship, and how this would be an impeccably smart rejoinder. I had a gift of an opportunity, not to be missed. Unfortunately my subconscious had already kicked in and I'd said "Hi" instead, so the clever reply was now redundant and I spent the rest of the morning feeling slightly disappointed with myself. I'll probably never get the chance again.

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Not only are the leaves on the turn in October but the ground is too. What has been solid earth all summer is on the verge of becoming quagmire, but even with all the rain we've been having it's not quite there yet. I noted yesterday that although numerous footpaths across Epping Forest had muddy bits, none of these were yet impossible to step around. The emergence of winter mud usually occurs in dips where drainage is poor, and/or at points where the footpath narrows and everyone's footsteps have churned the same soil. On some date in early autumn a wet patch appears and most people step around it, then this previously dry earth churns up forcing people to step even further to one side, and inexorably the muddy patch widens.

I'm not ashamed to walk right along the very edge of the undergrowth to avoid muddy boots, clinging onto branches for balance where necessary, even though I know it looks wimpish (and is probably only going to make the muddy patch wider). That said, there was one path on Bell Common which looked so boggy I did retreat and divert via the road instead, much to the scorn of two ladies following on behind, but I had the last laugh when I reached the cricket pitch over the M25 before them and they emerged brow-beaten and brown-booted.

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The northern end of Epping Forest, near Epping, was a lot quieter than the environs of Chingford. This may be because the car parks are tinier, or because London's much further away (or it may just be because I got to the Chingford end two hours later and lots more people were out of bed by then). At the Epping end I met the occasional outdoorsy couple, a few cyclists, some keen dogwalkers and the odd jogger. At the Chingford end I passed streams of people flooding out into the forest, most not looking like they were going overly far but making the most of a sparkling autumn day all the same.

Three particular family groups proved memorable...
• A dad with a manbun sending his five shaggy-jumpered children off into the trees, each armed only with a carefully selected stick.
• A mother trying to cajole her two sons to do star jumps in what ought to have been the middle of nowhere, except I was walking past so the eldest was too shamefaced to join in.
• A family conference being held in the middle of the footpath, abruptly ended after the one of the daughters pointed into the woods and shouted "Do your poo in there".

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On my way home I dropped in on the new Bauhaus Pioneers exhibition at the William Morris Gallery, which is small but very good, although you absolutely must not take photographs of William's green wooden table, so I haven't.

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