These trees have stories – Epping Forest

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Epping Forest Walk – Loughton Camp to Epping via Ambresbury Banks

I head into the forest at 3.15pm in the rain – up from Loughton Station straight to Loughton Camp – a place of peace, retreat. Rain taps on the fallen leaves. The gloom and rain mean there’s not a soul around. The mighty trees look over me.

trees

These trees have stories – great mythologies, lineages stretching back millenia. I wish I could hear their tales, if I stand still for long enough and listen to the breeze will I gain their trust?

Epping Forest

Epping Forest path

A large white horse stands on a bend on the the high path through Great Monk Wood like a mythical beast. I chat to the rider and compare notes on traveling through the forest in the last light. We part in opposite directions wishing each other well. I have a distance to go to reach Epping and it’s now just before sunset.

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trees

trees

It’s dark when I cross the road and onto Ambresbury Banks. I stand to admire the deep entrenchment – in many ways more imposing than Loughton Camp.

Ambresbury Banks

Ambresbury Banks

It’s pitch black now – but I have a nice wide path to guide me and the forest to myself. Not even an animal stirs or a nocturnal dog walker. How easy would it be to duck into the overgrowth, throw a tarp over some low branches and bed down for the night?

Trees

A fallen tree by the path in Epping Thicks glows white like a ghostly face on the edge of the path. I feel it in the pit of my stomach – and stand still.  When I move on I see movement through the trees, horses running along the ridge at the top of the forest …. before I see that it’s my walking giving the static tree trunks motion against the lights of Epping Town in the distance, like a woodland zoetrope. How the light plays tricks on the mind in the dark. The running horses were ghosts of my own mind.

The forest is still.

Epping

Epping cricket pavillion on the edge of the forest

 

 

Talking about Walking & Sebald’s Austerlitz on Resonance FM

It was a great pleasure to go on Bob and Roberta Smith’s Make Your Own Damn Music Show on the brilliant Resonance FM last night where we talked about the recent walk we did following the footsteps of W.G Sebald in his celebrated book Austerlitz.

The Sebald chat starts at about 35 minutes in and includes some contentious opinions on echoes in the book with Patrick Keiller’s early photographic work. The show also features a fascinating interview with Curator and Art Writer William Corwin.

The video of this walk will be on my YouTube channel soon.

I would also love to hear from anyone interested in participating in my Kensal Rise project for Brent 2020 – please email me via the contact form on this blog or leave a comment. Thanks.

Forest of Surprises

Winter Epping Forest Walk

Epping Forest

Sitting on the outer bank of Loughton Camp looking west into the winter sun fractured through the naked boughs. The Camp feels silent, slumbering, latent. It has a presence, resonating across those millenia since it was constructed when the forest stretched out to the coast and London was a scattering of villages in the woods. I imagine myself watching over a herd sheltering behind the bank, looking over the steep gulley to the west, pulling my heavy cloak around me listening for wolves and bears, hearing boars snuffling amongst the acorns and beech mast. I feel oddly at home in that frame of mind.

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Loughton Camp

Epping Forest

Entering the forest from Loughton, just before 2pm, I felt a calm descend as I made my way over Staples Hill and up to Loughton Camp. The plan was a simple one – meander from Loughton to Epping (or Theydon Bois depending on light and legs).

High Beach Epping Forest

Pillow Mounds

Following the path up Broom Hill to Mount Pleasant I find my way to the Epping Forest Visitor Centre at High Beach. I never quite manage to catch this place open (maybe once 10 years ago with the kids) so it was a pleasant surprise to be able to go for a look around and admire the vintage London Transport posters advertising the forest.

Epping Forest

Verderer’s Path

Epping Forest

view from Honey Lane Quarters

Over Claypit Hill I followed Verderers Path through Honey Lane Quarters, where a majestic view opened up looking over Honey Lane Plain to the hills around Waltham Abbey where I walked just a couple of weeks previously. It’s interesting to read how J.A Brimble laments that this view was obscured by trees when writing his classic London’s Epping Forest in 1950.

Epping Forest

Epping Forest

Crossing Woodridden Hill  (or Woodredden Hill) I entered St. Thomas’s Quarters. The clusters of people wandering from High Beach don’t seem to venture this far from the King’s Oak, and the path along the edge of the farmland offers a wonderful stretch of forest solitude. I’ve walked the other side of this farm to the hills around Copt Hall and Upshire and followed the ridge along to Galleyhill Wood just to the north of Waltham Abbey – glorious walks (followed by a schlepp in the dark through Bumble’s Green to Broxbourne Station). Brimble notes the varied nature of the scenery on this side of Epping Forest and Buxton describes a route similar to the one I follow.

Epping Forest

I crossed the hill into the Warren and entered the last half-hour of daylight. There were three other walkers resting on a fallen tree having a sandwich before turning back down the hill. This beautiful avenue of pines stood guard over the muddy path that snaked its way towards Epping Road and in the direction of Ambresbury Banks.

Epping Forest

An old milestone marked the point where I passed into Epping Thicks. I stuck close to the road, realising that I’d by-passed Ambresbury Banks, and enjoyed this apex of the forest before reaching Bell Common and the descendent through the backstreets of Epping to the station.

 

 

 

First Walk of 2020 – Beyond King Harold’s Tomb at Waltham Abbey

It seemed apt somehow to start the decade with a visit to Waltham Abbey Church and the tomb of King Harold. The supposed burial place of the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, a notable site of medieval pilgrimage and sitting on the Greenwich Meridan. But these weren’t the things that brought me to Waltham Abbey on the 2nd January 2020.

Waltham Abbey

Waltham Abbey WW1 anti-aircraft gun emplacement

A ridge rising on the outskirts of Waltham Abbey had caught my eye on a number of walks, usually at the end just after sunset where it tempted me to climb its summit to catch the last of the light. Then a recent comment on my YouTube channel informed me of a site of interest near Kennel Wood, a First World War anti-aircraft emplacement, which just happened to be in the vicinity of the hill that had called me so many times. This is where I headed after paying homage at the Abbey and Harold’s tomb.

 

Watch the video above to see the hike into the hills above Waltham Abbey around Monkhams Hall.

 

Second World War Buildings on Wanstead Flats

Wanstead Flats

I’ve long been intrigued by the concrete foundations of a World War 2 building in Long Wood on Wanstead Flats. I first stumbled over them in the dusk some years ago, wondering what could have been buried in this small patch of woodland.

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There was a small lump of concrete in the scrubby grass in front of the wood that was probably a remnant of the World War Two buildings that stood here.

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At first I thought this was the concrete base of an Second World War anti-aircraft gun, but sebsequent reading appears to point to this being some sort of auxiliary building associated with the war effort.

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There are a number of Second World War relics on Wanstead Flats, most obvious are the barrage balloon posts. But there are also some white panelled buildings used by the ground staff and a squat brick building by the petrol station that was apparently a decontamination block. In the central section of the flats, where there was an Italian POW camp my son found a rusty metal box buried in the ground that may have been associated with the camp.

 

Here’s a great walk around the Second World War history of Wanstead Flats from the Leyton & Leytonstone Historical Society

2019 – A Great Year of Walking

A review of my walks in 2019 on my YouTube channel – a fantastic year of hiking.

From river walks along the Tyburn, Roding, Thames, Philley Brook, Ching, Dagenham Brook, Hogsmill, Crouch, and Lea to the woodlands of Epping Forest and the wide open spaces of Wimbledon Common and Wanstead Park. The London Loop featured large as I covered the sections from Moor Park to Ewell. I walked the first stage of the Essex Way from Epping to Ongar. I strolled the East London streets of Old East and West Ham, the beautiful porticos in Modena, Italy. And every step of the way you were there – Thank you so much for joining an amazing year of walking in 2019.

There’s more to come in 2020!

 

Music used in this video: Fern by ann annie / Fresh Fallen Snow by Chris Haugen / Tupelo Train by Chris Haugen / Pachabelly by Huma-Huma / Ambiment – The Ambient by Kevin MacLeod / Nevada City by Huma-Huma / Breathing Planet by Doug Maxwell / Little Drunk, Quiet Floats by Puddle of Infinity / Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Liszt

Psychogeographer-in-residence walk No.5

This glorious walk over Pole Hill and along what J.A Brimble called the ‘western escarpment’, is the final video in my series as psychogeographer-in-residence for Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019.

We begin at Chingford Station, an early staging post for forays into Epping Forest when it was declared ‘The People’s Forest’ by Queen Victoria when she came to Chingford in 1882 in celebration of the passing of the Epping Forest Act of 1878 which preserved the forest for the citizens of London. Queen Victoria’s 7th son, the Duke of Connaught, became the first Ranger of Epping Forest, and our walk heads along Connaught Avenue.

At the end of Connaught Avenue we start our ascent of Pole Hill, the highest point in the London Borough of Waltham Forest. At the summit is a trig point and an obelisk bearing two plaques. The first notes that the “pillar was erected in 1824 under the direction of the Reverend John Pound M.A. Astronomer Royal. It was placed on the Greenwich Meridian and its purpose was to indicate the direction of true north from the transit telescope of the Royal Observatory.” The second commemorates the association with T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) who owned this land until 1922 when it was incorporated into Epping Forest.

Often overlooked though is the concrete base of a Second World War Anti-Aircraft Gun which would have scanned the skies above the Lea Valley as German bombers made their way to wreak destruction on the London Docks.

psychogeographer

We follow the footpath through woodland and descend into the valley of the Hawksmouth, before climbing once more, this time across Yates’ Meadow and Yardley Hill. From here are some of the finest views of London as we stand perched on its northeastern border, with Essex behind us. The towers of the City shimmer in the distance calling to mind PJS Perecval’s description of London’s orgins as a “stockade in the woods – the Llyndin of the ancient Britons.” (London’s Forest, 1909).

We retrace our steps back down the edge of Yardley Hill, and into Hawk Wood. One of the participants in the guided walks I led with artist Rachel Lillie, emailed me with this note on the possible origins of the name of Hawk Wood, “In 1498 William Jacson of Chingford Halke (Hawkwood) was a member of the Swainmote Court. Halke in Middle English meant a refuge, retreat or hiding place. It also has been said that Hawk means a nook of land in the corner of a Parish.”

psychogeographer

Crossing Bury Road we enter Bury Wood till we reach the point where the Cuckoo Brook crosses the footpath. From here we turn across Chingford Plain, a place I end many forest walks bathed in glorious sunset. Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge stands proudly on the hill from where Henry VIII would watch the hunt on the plain below. A Brewer’s Fayre sits invitingly next to the Hunting Lodge or you can continue across the grasslands where cattle graze back to Chingford Station.