I’ve had a strong urge to head out to the fields and the countryside recently. I suppose that’s the effect of being confined to one pocket of East London since late March (although I’ve pushed my boundaries on foot from Stoke Newington to Fairlop Water and from Chingford to Bow). So early Sunday afternoon I spontaneously decided to head out into Epping Forest at Leytonstone, to embrace the countryside on my doorstep till I felt it was ok to venture further afield.
The view north from the bridge over the North Circular at Walthamstow always calls me further afield as you look to the lands beyond Edmonton. It’s one of my favourite views in the whole of London.
Highams Park Lake
I took a rest on a bench by Highams Park Lake and chatted to a lovely fellla from the Beacontree Wombles who was picking up litter out of a sense of civic pride and public spiritedness. It was a beautiful day – 22 degrees. I had no particular aim but was aware that for every mile I made away from Leytonstone I’d have to walk that distance home.
4.10pm I arrive at Chingford Plain. My thighs were sore even though I’d only walked 8 miles. This must be another effect of the lockdown. I ate the Sesame Snaps I’d packed. This left just a packet chocolate croissant for the rest of the walk. I was thinking of the great Thurston Moore interview on Tom Robinson’s 6Music show I listened to on Saturday night as I cooked and the idea of undocumented improvised performances and how I still felt compelled to document this walk with photos and text recorded on my phone.
I stretched out my groundsheet beneath the trees near North Long Hills and White House Plain and listened to the silence. The air is so still. I felt the energy slowly ebbing back into my legs as I lay there and meditated. Maybe today was the day to push on through the forest to Epping.
Dead Papa Toothwort lives beneath this tree, I thought when clamping eyes on this gnarly old beast and still under of the spell of Max Porter’s book Lanny. I saw Trinovantes tribesmen hiding in the tall ferns.
The engines from the bikers tea hut thrummed through the trees as I made my way towards High Beach, then followed Verderers’ Ride to St. Thomas’ Quarters. The last time I’d been here was near sunset in deep winter during a time when I often walked through sunset into the dark winter forest. The view from here towards the hills around Waltham Abbey makes the heart sing. It also made me decide to follow the Three Forests Way to Upshire. Maybe I could satisfy my desire to walk across the fields after all.
Over Woodridden Hill more memories of the winter walks visited me as I’d turned in the opposite direction back in March as the light faded into gloom and I made for Ambresbury Banks in the dark. I passed through the gates of the Woodredon and Warlies Park Estate and down a country lane. A rabbit runs along the lane sun light illuminating its ears bright red. A field of dreams opened up offering more majestic views. Dragonflies skimmed over the stems of tall grasses dancing to the hum of the M25.
Crossing the M25 feels like a big moment, by now the furthest I’ve been from home since the lockdown started. I follow the lane through Upshire and down across flowing fields to the Temple on the hill in Warlies Park. It’s 6.35pm and I rest here and take off my shoes. I momentarily consider pushing further north towards outskirts of Harlow, but then realise this may not be the wisest idea – today at least.
I walk past Obelisk Farm. Desire lines cut through the saxifrage and lady’s bedstraw leading to Queen Boudicca’s obelisk ,sweet scent filling the air that follows me through the wood. There’s an Old fella sat beneath the tree line looking out across the view. I’ve only walked this way in winter and always in the reverse direction heading out from Epping towards Hertfordshire. It’s good to see these paths and fields in their summer clothes and the sun hitting the fields from a different aspect.
Tank trap – Outer London Defence Ring
There’s the intoxicating smell of evening damp meadow. Two brown bunnies skip through the grass as I rest on a bench looking back towards Copped Hall. A field of borage paints the field beside the M25 purple. A Pheasant sweeps low over the borage and lands on a clear strip. It’s been a great walk, a necessary breaking free.
I emerge onto the road opposite Epping cricket ground on the edge of the forest. When I think of the last time I was here in the pitch black at the end of a winter walk through the forest I could never have imagined what would happen before I was back here again. Reconnecting with all those paths from Leytonstone through the forest to Epping taking in Upshire has a healing effect. It gives me the strength to take my first tube journey in nearly four months, back to Leytonstone.