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.

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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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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?

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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

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

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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.

‘Winter Time’ Walk in Epping Forest

Bury Wood Epping Forest

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The clocks went back and I awoke to a clear blue sky calling me out to walk. I headed for Chingford and up along the edge of Bury Wood, crossed Bury Road and through the beautiful Hawk Wood on the edge of Epping Forest. I’ve been intrigued about the name for a while and was sent this beguiling note on the name by Joanna from the Chingford Historical Society:

“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.”

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Yate's Meadow

Up over Yate’s Meadow (the name of which I learnt from some lovely people who came on my Pole Hill walk – it’s only marked Yardley Hill on the OS Map) for what must be one of the most spectacular views of London – the towers of the City encased in forest – a stockade in the woods as in ancient legend.

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Up over Lippitts Hill, footpaths offering stunning views over Enfield and Waltham Abbey.

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The vista from this side of the ‘western escarpment’ between forest and Lea is beyond London looking out at England stretching the length of the island – or so it seems on days like this.

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Down Thompsons Lane, then Wellington Hill, and ascending Rats Lane – the path of angry dogs.

Back in Epping Forest at Hill Wood the trees so majestic I gasped out loud. They deserve to be worshipped.

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Chingford Plain at sunset was the perfect end as a cold nip embellished the air. Winter’s here it said, the dark evenings have descended.

 

Spring in Epping Forest

Leyton Flats, Leytonstone

Sometimes, in the absence of a better plan for a walk, you should alllow yourself to be guided by your feet. That’s what I did last Sunday, leaving home at 2pm, directionless.

Blackthorn, Leytonstone

My trotters led me up Leytonstone High Road to the Green Man Roundabout – gateway to the forest. The gorse (I think) was burning brilliant yellow in full bloom, the white blackthorn flowers waved at the early Spring picnicers nearby on Leyton Flats.

metal post near Birch Well

Metal Post Birch Well

I followed the path that runs behind Snaresbrook Crown Court, the borderlands of Leytonstone and Waltham Forest. Next to the Birch Well I spotted a metal post beside a low standing stone, the embossed text no longer legible. My best guess is that they are boundary markers, perhaps of the old Borough or the Parish.

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Birdsong rang out across Gilbert’s Slade in celebration of the arrival of Spring, and I sat on a pile of logs to savour the scene. This is a tract of land that is forever boggy and swampy, noted by Buxton in his Epping Forest book of the 1880’s and still very much the case. He laments the lack of beech trees here, where hornbeam, holly and oak dominate.

Highams Park Lake

The wildfowl were lively on the waters of Highams Park and I rested again, one of my favourite spots on this Forest walk. This is a route described and mapped by Buxton and one I’ve followed frequently over the years, memories of those previous walks and the churnings of my mind annotated into the footpaths, re-read and added to with each passing.

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From Epping Forest by Edward North Buxton

Although the end point of the walk would be determined by the sunset, the Royal Forest pub beside Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge always looms large in my mind around this point. Would I be able to get past it – or would all paths lead to the pub?

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I picked up the course of the gentle River Ching and followed it along the lower reaches of the forest, downhill from Woodford. London is blessed with these meandering tributaries that often get overlooked in favour of the grand rivers of the city or the celebrated ‘lost rivers’ of London, buried but not forgotten. The Ching is a modest water course, going about its business flowing from the forest to the Lea.

Welcome to Waltham Forest Chingford

On Rangers Road, Chingford I pass a second Waltham Forest boundary marker of the day – on the other side this time is not Redbridge but the County of Essex. Today has not only been a forest wander but a borderland walk.

Royal Forest Chingford

Somehow I contrived to arrive on Chingford Plain as the sun started to set shortly after 6pm meaning the only logical thing was to progress to the bar at the Royal Forest Brewer’s Fayre where I processed the walk over a couple of pints and toasted the arrival of Spring in Epping Forest.

 

 

Epping Forest Winter Walk

Epping Forest

A Sunday afternoon (last week) wander in Epping Forest, basking in those precious last hours of daylight.

The Tube to Loughton and up Forest Road to where the Loughton Brook meanders along the forest floor.

Epping Forest

The ground around Debden Slade was still frozen white, encrusted mud ridges to be traversed like miniature mountain ranges.

I ascended, skirting through the trees – Shelley’s Hill, Kate’s Cellar, Broome Hill and crossed Epping New Road.

Epping Forest

The winter light was nourishing. Distance wasn’t an objective. It was about just being in the forest.

I took a late lunch of a generously loaded bacon bap in the carpark of the King’s Oak as the bikers examined each other’s machines, revved the engines and talked of petrol stations on the A12. I got chatting to a couple who watch my YouTube videos and we discussed the great walks heading north of the forest to hills above Waltham Abbey and beyond.

Epping Forest

As the sun started to dip below the tree line, I turned back downhill through fronds of frozen ferns, retracing my steps as the gloom became darkness and the lights of Loughton twinkled in the near distance.