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?

Daffodil Epping Forest P1100566

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.

Boudicca’s Obelisk in the Epping Forest Uplands

The mythology linking Boudicca to Epping Forest is a strong one – stemming from the 18th Century belief that Ambresbury Banks was Boudicca’s Camp during the time of her rebellion against the Romans. It is also believed that she died somewhere in the uplands north of the Forest, either through eating poison berries or bleeding out into the waters of the Cobbins Brook. The mythology found its way into the landscaping of Warlies Park in 1737 with the building of two obelisks in honour of the Queen of the Iceni – one commanding views of the Lea Valley high on a hill, the other built in brick at the edge of a field near the Cobbins Brook. I passed both obelisks on this beautiful walk that took me from Epping, around the grounds of Copped Hall through Warlies Park (once the home of the Buxtons of Leytonstone) and finishing on the outskirts of Waltham Abbey with a route 66 bus back through the nightime forest to the tube station at Loughton.

 

Epping Forest in the heatwave

It was probably unwise to head out into the Forest in the peak heat of the day at 3pm. The temperature rose to 30 degrees and stayed there well into evening. I needed shade, but first I required food so stopped for a Full English at Lamb’s Cafe at the top of Lea Bridge Road.

Heading over Whipps Cross, and along Forest Rise, I took the path beside St. Peter’s-in-the-Forest seeking the dark cool patches beneath the trees. I attempted to Livestream direct to YouTube from my phone as I’d done on a recent wander across Wanstead Flats, enjoying the dialogue with viewers as their comments popped up on the screen. But the forest wanted me all to itself and the signal dropped out after a minute.

St Peters in the Forest Walthamstow

Looking at the maps in E.N Buxton’s definitive Epping Forest guide first published in 1884, the raised area of grassland approaching the waterworks is marked as the ‘Poor Allotment’. When looking for the names of various areas in the forest, Buxton is the most comprehensive source. The proposed route of the ‘New North Road’ is sketched out cutting across the allotments (my edition is dated from 1923) – presumably the North Circular which left a much deeper scar upon the landscape.

The footbridge over Forest Road offers one of my favourite views in the area (the other not far away), down along Forest Road to the high ground rising on the far side of the Lea Valley. This stretch of the Forest Road is marked as Haggar Lane on Buxton’s map.

Epping Forest Walthamstow
I continued chuntering a monologue into my camera to be uploaded ‘Uncut’ to YouTube when I got home, to the point where the bridleway over the North Circular offers one of the most spectacular views in the whole of London, laying bare the Lea Valley rust belt. This vista makes me dream of lost highways and diners and drifters propping up lonely bars near closing time. It reveals the true endless expanse of the city. A London that stretches forever.

Traversing Rushy Plain into Upper Mill Plain you become aware of this as being part of a spine of high ground separating the two valleys of the Roding and the Lea falling away from either side. It’s a special spot.

I soon found myself at Woodford Green cricket pitch just as the final balls were bowled before a much needed drinks break. Then I followed Monkhams Lane down alongside Knighton Wood, once Buxton’s backyard, before following Forest Edge to Buckhurst Hill.

Retreat to Epping Forest

Nearing the end of a boiling Sunday afternoon I had the urge to be under the shade of Forest trees, so headed on the tube to Loughton. My preferred route into the forest from the station for the last few years has been via Ollard’s Grove – a vertiginous street of large Edwardian houses leading off the High Road. The name, Ollard’s Grove, apparently is of medieval origin referencing a tenant who occupied this parcel of land, which before the area was heavily developed, would have commanded fine views over the Roding Valley.

Epping Forest

The path leading past the Nursery is lined with tall stems of scorched thistles. A cluster of rabbits broke and headed for cover as I approached, with one particularly confident bunny sat munching grass beside the path as I passed. I stopped in the wide shade of an oak tree to check the score in the World Cup Final and watched Ivan Perisic fire in Croatia’s equaliser.

Crossing Epping New Road I walk through what must have been the grounds of Fairmead Lodge, which had already been cleared by the time that E.N Buxton was writing his definitive Epping Forest guide in the late 19th Century. The cool shade of the glades on Long Hills is like taking a dip in stream, welcome relief from the relentless heat, that at the far end of the forest, has set Wanstead Flats ablaze.

Eucalyptus Epping Forest

A lone eucalyptus tree stands in a clearing in Hill Wood. A bush ranger in Sydney once explained to me the folly of importing eucalyptus trees as they need bush fires to spread their seeds, dripping oil into the flames to intensify the heat to the temperature required to eject their spores into the surrounding scorched earth.

Epping Forest

The bikers’ tea hut at Cross Roads is doing a brisk trade but I resist the temptation to stop for a drink, bound as I am for Shelleys Hill. I descend through Kate’s Cellar into the part of the forest that I’m probably most familiar with, although more often than not I’m blissfully directionless. Soon I’m on the banks on the Loughton Brook leading me to Staples Pond and the route back out of the forest to the High Road and the news that France had lifted the World Cup.