Last long walk before the Lockdown

This walk on Saturday 21st March feels like a very long time ago now. The pubs had been ordered to close the night before. Supermarket shelves were emptied in a frenzy of panic buying. Social distancing measures had recently been introduced. People had been urged to only use public transport for essential journeys. We knew the lockdown was imminent and that this was likely to be my last decent walk for a while.

I wanted a route that took me out into nature and kept me clear of the crowds. It also needed to deliver me home without the need for public transport. My feet knew the way and trod a path through Epping Forest from Leytonstone to Highams Park then down through Woodford to the River Roding.

Lockdown walk

On the way out I passed Leytonstone House, which had been home to members of the Buxton Family from the late 18th Century until 1868. It’s where Edward North Buxton lived for a time before he moved to Buckhurst Hill and authored his definitive guide to Epping Forest in 1884. There’s a mulberry tree in the grounds of Leytonstone House that’d been adorned with brightly coloured tree dressings, I imagine to mark the Spring Equinox the day before.

There were an alarming number of people on Leyton Flats heading towards the Hollow Ponds drawn  by the arrival of Spring. The Gorse bushes and Blackthorn trees were in full blossom. I paid homage to the Birch Well and headed for Gilbert’s Slade, giving the crowds the slip in the process.

Crossing the North Circular I picked up a footpath I hadn’t used before running parallel to the road and followed it to new sections of the forest for me. The white noise of the road was oddly cleansing. Turning back through the thick trees of the forest, all was calm. The trees seemed to be murmuring that everything would be ok.

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After skirting Humphrey Repton’s Highams Park Lake it was time to make the turn over the ridge occupied by Woodford Green and cross into the Roding Valley. The streets slumbered like a deep Sunday afternoon in the 1950’s. Views over rooftops stretched to the far side of the river valley. The water tower at Claybury Hospital stood proud on its hill. Passing through the streets of Buckhurst Hill I found myself on Forest Edge, crossing tracks once more with E.N Buxton. Knighton Wood contains the remnants of the landscaped garden of his house.

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I eventually picked up the River Roding on the other side of Ray Park. Of all the many times I’ve walked the Roding between Wanstead and Buckhurst Hill I’ve only once walked it in a southerly direction, and that was 13 years ago. Today it was blissfully free of people. I stopped to pause just after passing Charlie Brown’s Roundabout. An Egret swooped low to the water and elegantly landed in the shade of an overhanging tree. For a moment it was as if everything was how it should be. All the troubles of the world were far away from that riverbank.

The end of winter in Epping Forest

Trees Epping Forest

Loughton Camp

Walk from Loughton Camp to Honey Lane Plain and back via Baldwin’s Hill

3.30pm on Sunday afternoon and a walk up from the station to the sentinel trees of Loughton Camp – the watchers in the woods. Why have I been drawn along this route throughout the winter? There is great comfort in the kind embrace of Loughton Camp, it feels safe here, as it would have done back through time.

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I pushed through bronzed bracken and birchbark scattered the ground on the edge of Great Monk Wood. I wanted to seek out new corners of Epping Forest and identified patches on the map to the north of High Beach.

Trees Epping Forest

Through the trees down the hill from High Beach, following unnamed streams skipping over fallen branches. Have I walked here before? A summer five years ago heading for Hoddesdon where I think I gave up at Waltham Abbey and headed home.

Honey Lane

The thatched water trough at the foot of Honey Lane Plain was the point I was heading for, sparked by a photo in J.A. Brimble’s London’s Epping Forest – perhaps the last point in the forest to mark off my map (there must surely be others?). The forest appears to have spread down the hill, encroaching on the open plain that Brimble described in 1950. The ground sodden, like a water meadow, it has been known as Honey Lane Plain for at least 500 years. The Woodbine pub looks like an inviting stop on a summer walk.

Honey Lane Plain
I climb back up through the trees for a beautiful sunset view from the top of the hill. Towns and towers on distant ridges, places that I can only think it must be St Albans and Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City.

Deershelter Plain
The sun had set by the time I reached Deershelter Plain. The thick tufts of grass acted as islands among a sheet of ankle deep water. The deer skipped through the Birch trees in clusters as I sploshed onwards into the gloom.

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Thankfully I found the Green Ride just as the last light gave way and could be guided by the full moon. There was not a soul around, even the deer were still. Perfectly peaceful. I’d decided to head back to Loughton via Baldwin’s Hill, foolishly hoping to get there for sunset.

The darkness obscured the true nature of the deep muddy ruts that the Clay Road had become. The last climb was painful slog up a mountain of mud. I slid out of the forest onto the street and straight into a large puddle.

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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trees

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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.

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.

‘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.