HERITAGE - 15: A Walk In The Woods, Epping Forest Trail via High Beech

Once a hideout for highwaymen such as Dick Turpin and Sixteen-string Jack...

Epping Axminster... a carpet of red and pink sets off these bare trees in this scene between the bridle path and a lower road that joins housing with the two through routes on either side of High Beech.
Epping Axminster... a carpet of red and pink sets off these bare trees in this scene between the bridle path and a lower road that joins housing with the two through routes on either side of High Beech. | Source
Knobs and knurls on this pollarded beech - it seems only this species of tree was managed in this way. The original purpose was to provide wood for charcoal production
Knobs and knurls on this pollarded beech - it seems only this species of tree was managed in this way. The original purpose was to provide wood for charcoal production | Source
Mid-winter starkness - without leaves the trees look threatening in the fading light. The camera wasn't being shaken, an energetic wind blew the boughs pretty briskly
Mid-winter starkness - without leaves the trees look threatening in the fading light. The camera wasn't being shaken, an energetic wind blew the boughs pretty briskly | Source

Epping Forest... an Introduction

An area of ancient woodland in south-eastern England that bounds Greater London on its north-eastern edge with north-western Essex. What was once a royal forest, it is now the domain of the City of London Corporation.

Accessible throughout the year, the area covers 2,476 hectares (24 kms, 9.3 sq miles), located at 52.66 N, 0.05 E and was opened to the public in Queen Victoria's fortieth year, 1878. It stretches from Epping in the north to Forest Gate (Wanstead Flats) in the south, around 19 miles in distance and 2.5 miles (4 km) from east to west at its widest. In many places it is much narrower.

The forest sits on a ridge between the wide valleys of the rivers Lea in the west and the Roding in the east. Much of the land is unsuitable for agricultural purposes due to the thin, gravelly soil left behind after the last Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago.

'Epping Forest' was recorded first in the 17th Century, previously known as Waltham Forest - as is the present London Borough to the west of here, east of the River Lea on its present alignment. The area then known as Waltham and subsequently Epping Forest has been forested since Neolithic days. Two Iron Age earthworks are still evident. Loughton Camp near the A104 Epping-Woodford road is hidden amongst the trees, accessible only on foot - riders not allowed - as is the site at Ambresbury Banks a few miles to the north between the A104 and the small settlement of Ivy Chimneys near Theydon Bois.

What was once an area of mainly lime and linden is now chiefly beech, birch, oak and hornbeam due to extensive forest clearance in the early days of Saxon settlement. Deemed to have legally been royal forest during Henry III's reign in the early 13th Century, its status permitted access for commoners to gather wood and forage for food, to graze livestock and turn out swine for mast - fattening up. However, only the king had hunting rights. 'Forest' (from the French 'foret') in its historical context meant an area kept for royal hunting where forest law held sway, not that it was wooded everywhere.

A nice little tidbit for you. Highwaymen and footpads (thieves who had no horses) abounded in the area. At nearby Theydon there is a pub named after a dandy, Sixteen String Jack (real name John Rann, who used multiple coloured drawstrings on his hose) who was hanged at Tyburn aged 24 in 1774.There was also the notorious Richard 'Dick'Turpin who fled Essex after murdering someone. He 'set up shop' near Doncaster (then in the West Riding), Yorkshire and was captured after stealing a mare 'Black Bess' and her foal. When he sent a letter to his brother to stand as a character witness the postmaster, Turpin's erstwhile teacher, recognised his writing and his goose was cooked. He was hanged at the Knavesmire (now the site of York racecourse) on 7th April, 1739. The cell he was held in is in the Castle Museum, and he was buried in a small churchyard near the walls on the east side of the city. A massive stone slab was set onto the grave to deter those who would have shown his corpse at fairs around the country.

For a fuller account of the history and ecology of Epping Forest see the Wikipedia entry: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epping-Forest

See also Jeremy Dagley 'Pollarding In Epping Forest' and writing by historian Stephen Pewsey

Getting underway

 Looking back towards the Waltham road along the combined bridle path/footpath/cycle track
Looking back towards the Waltham road along the combined bridle path/footpath/cycle track | Source
Not exactly the pearly gates, but the way in to what some would accept as heaven
Not exactly the pearly gates, but the way in to what some would accept as heaven | Source
About halfway along this pathway, a branch path on the western side. After rain this part of the path turns into a quagmire. Overall, between higher points and droppings it can be boggy underfoot
About halfway along this pathway, a branch path on the western side. After rain this part of the path turns into a quagmire. Overall, between higher points and droppings it can be boggy underfoot | Source
Source
London, the south-east and the Epping Forest area in darker green to the north of the metropolis
London, the south-east and the Epping Forest area in darker green to the north of the metropolis
Nice piece of Mother Nature's sculpture (a bit Henry Moore-ish if you ask me)
Nice piece of Mother Nature's sculpture (a bit Henry Moore-ish if you ask me) | Source
More evidence of 'Henry Moore' influence on Mother Nature's work
More evidence of 'Henry Moore' influence on Mother Nature's work | Source

Plenty to choose from, and a couple of Iron Age hill fort sites that are marked on the Ordnance Survey map (see below) or City of London guides, free at various snack bars of the Visitor Centre near High Beech - behind the King's Oak. They have a foldable walk guide that you can buy, and shows all the routes. However, this book includes a lot of other 'goodies', including some good shots of the wildlife and the free roaming longhorn cattle.

Well worth the investment.

The dappled woodland floor with a fallen tree half-hidden - in places the forest floor is impenetrable, 'Hansel & Gretel' terrain, the stuff  of Grimm fairy tales
The dappled woodland floor with a fallen tree half-hidden - in places the forest floor is impenetrable, 'Hansel & Gretel' terrain, the stuff of Grimm fairy tales | Source
Bare trunks, dead grey wood at this second turnoff from the main track
Bare trunks, dead grey wood at this second turnoff from the main track | Source
We've come to the road that links High Beech - others write it as 'High Beach' - with the Waltham road and Epping Upland
We've come to the road that links High Beech - others write it as 'High Beach' - with the Waltham road and Epping Upland | Source

If you don't buy the book above, take one of these Ordnance Survey maps that shows everything, contours, public phones (useful in case of accidents and your mobile phone battery's run down), as well as hostelries and walk routes or bridle paths that you can also follow - riders have right of way, remember.

Here we go (I did this route once a week usually until I took over my daughter's car)

... Now I drive there and walk through the woods while it's still light, without having to think about getting down to Loughton along a busy dark road (there are paths, but they're quagmires after rain, and you can easily finish up a mile or more away from where you want to be amongst the tangle of trees, where dead leaves hide the paths - a bit like an introduction to a murder mystery).

You've read the background to the area. Now you're going to walk the walk (you'll need some sturdy boots - or galoshes if it's been raining). To do that, unless you've got your own transport, start off from Loughton Station on the Central Line. There are bus stands on the right as you exit the station, the nearest being also for the service 255 (blue and white buses to Waltham Cross). At the time of day I get there the timetabled buses leave every twenty minutes from 09.10 until evening, so that gives you some latitude. The service also leaves here for Debden a few miles to the north from here, so check the destination blind.

There is an alternative stop outside Sainsbury's, so you could get yourself a bottle of water and whatever else before setting off. All the 255 buses from this stop are bound for Waltham Abbey or Waltham Cross in nearby Hertfordshire. The journey takes around ten-fifteen minutes by way of the Wakes Roundabout on the A104 Epping road. There's a stop at the road just after the roundabout, you want the next one a few bends further.

Alight at the stop close to the gated bridle path/cycle path/footpath. All you have to do now is follow it southwards, away from the road. When it's been dry a few weeks it's great solid walking, otherwise be ready to trudge through something like Mississippi mud pie.

If you're lucky you'll see fallow deer - have a camera at the ready - or rarer, muntjac, a dog-sized breed of deer from India that escaped from captivity. I've never seen any, but people I've been with have seen them. You'll hear lots of birds, seeing them is something else. At some time in the near future it's planned to let the long-horned cattle roam free. Cattle grids, gates and fencing have been installed, so the rest is a matter of time.

Watch out for riders - cycles and horses - ahead or behind. Some days there are walkers aplenty. I prefer doing the walk during term time, but not many kids come on this route anyway.

A couple of trackways lead off this one to the right, handy for views across to the west or taking a picnic. The one you're on bends this way and that, enough to keep the interest, and alternatively drops and climbs. On the left is mostly dense undergrowth away from the path as you climb towards the road that leads from the Wakes roundabout to Waltham Abbey up to High Beech (in case of confusion some signs point to 'High Beach', but it's named after the tree type).

Epping Forest

Walking for enjoyment

Do you enjoy walking,

See results without voting

Having crossed the road.

the rubble path dips sharply away from the barrier. At the bottom a narrow track leaves to the left, handy if the main path is waterlogged or muddied. You have to watch your step near the top of this track. Sometimes it's worse than the path below but there are ways around, through the trees.

Opposite a gravelled car park to your left there's another track to the right, worth exploring another time. It leads down into the woods and comes out near the golf course at the bottom of the hill, turn left and you come to the Wellington public house on Wellington Hill 'next door' to the golf course.

Back to our path, sometimes churned up by cyclists, you come to another car park at the top of the path. A narrow footpath leads around the car park at the edge of the wood and comes out behind Carl's tea hut (a converted container painted mid green). Across the way, over the green is the King's Oak hotel and public house often used by wedding parties, beside which is another snack bar with a tearoom at the back. It's choices time.

Summer to winter, green to reds and golds

Having crossed the road, this is the next stage to High Beech - named for the beech trees that proliferate here  - this is a pollarded tree, multiple trunks bound together originally for charcoal burning
Having crossed the road, this is the next stage to High Beech - named for the beech trees that proliferate here - this is a pollarded tree, multiple trunks bound together originally for charcoal burning | Source
There are several of these 'bivouacs' around the forest, all the way down to Wanstead Park, built of branches recovered from the woodland floor. Not much use in rain, though!
There are several of these 'bivouacs' around the forest, all the way down to Wanstead Park, built of branches recovered from the woodland floor. Not much use in rain, though! | Source
Off the beaten track, down amongst the trees, a bit of man-made wood sculpture against a backdrop of winter leaves
Off the beaten track, down amongst the trees, a bit of man-made wood sculpture against a backdrop of winter leaves | Source
On the damp side of a pollarded tree, some of nature's handiwork...
On the damp side of a pollarded tree, some of nature's handiwork... | Source
Surreal remains of a tree trunk with lopped branches
Surreal remains of a tree trunk with lopped branches | Source
Elsewhere in the same woods, a mass of tree fungi grows in 'high-rise' fashion
Elsewhere in the same woods, a mass of tree fungi grows in 'high-rise' fashion | Source
... and another sample of Mother Nature's Axminster carpeting
... and another sample of Mother Nature's Axminster carpeting | Source

At High Beech, time for tea... Or something a bit stronger?

This is Carl's hut at High Beech, chatting customers and a short queue for refreshments, sandwiches, sausage rolls, pies etc. ('Mandy' didn't fancy being photographed, so she hid inside)
This is Carl's hut at High Beech, chatting customers and a short queue for refreshments, sandwiches, sausage rolls, pies etc. ('Mandy' didn't fancy being photographed, so she hid inside) | Source
'Tree Mark'. One of Carl's regulars, he's a 'tree surgeon' and all-round garden contractor. There's also 'Cycling Mark' (haven't seen him for a while) and 'pilot Mark', a commercial aviator  - who also happens to be a dab hand at chess
'Tree Mark'. One of Carl's regulars, he's a 'tree surgeon' and all-round garden contractor. There's also 'Cycling Mark' (haven't seen him for a while) and 'pilot Mark', a commercial aviator - who also happens to be a dab hand at chess | Source
...And then there's the 'King's Oak'. Next door is another snack bar (behind which is a seafood bar that never seems to be open when I get there (maybe it only opens in the evening for late pub patrons)
...And then there's the 'King's Oak'. Next door is another snack bar (behind which is a seafood bar that never seems to be open when I get there (maybe it only opens in the evening for late pub patrons) | Source

Carl's tea hut... to Brad's

I usually stop at Carl's tea hut on my way past High Beech. A few friends and acquaintances stop off here, so there's usually a chance of a chat. Also his daughter Mandy often takes charge. Now and then I've seen Penny, Rod Stewart's wife (nee Lancaster, no relation) with her dad. Watch out for a black Range Rover.

As other friends stop at the tearoom next to the King's Oak I stop off there as well, and then it's onward.

A walk along the road for a few hundred yards past the pub is necessary, to reach the next path. Remember, walk on the right on roads without pavements/walkways, so drivers can see you and you can see them and take avoiding action.

There's an old-fashioned hexagonal ice house almost hidden by trees and holly bushes past a couple of gates on the left, and the path continues by the far side of this building. Leave the road here. [After wet weather it might be wise to keep to the road to the junction]. It's a nice walk, although again watch out for riders.

A footpath runs beside the bridle path for much of the way, tree roots criss-crossing everywhere so watch out with your footing - it's easy to trip over. Ferns grow as high as a man along here, and although you're only yards away from the road it's only when you hear passing cars that you're made aware of it.

Nevertheless you should cross the road at the 'Y' junction and follow the bridle path where the road narrows for one-way passing. Take the left turn and follow to a narrow footpath on the left. This brings you out of the woods to a clearing, to Brad's tea hut, another converted container. This is where the bikers come at weekends, armies of them! You can't see the road for bikes then.

Brad took over from his grandad Bert a few years ago and keeps a good menu, grilled burgers and bacon etc in rolls as well as salad or cold meat rolls. Different to Carl's inasmuch as Brad has a wheeled generator at the back for his grill. He's good for chat, and there are several 'faces' I know here, some who frequent Carl's as well.

Soon, however, it's time to strike out again.

Onward, another quarter of an hour...

'Ours is an ice house, ours is!'  Set back from the road through the woods is this, just past the King's Oak and a smallholding. Looks like Victorian. Ice houses were usually built on the estates of well-to-do families before fridges came about
'Ours is an ice house, ours is!' Set back from the road through the woods is this, just past the King's Oak and a smallholding. Looks like Victorian. Ice houses were usually built on the estates of well-to-do families before fridges came about | Source
seen from the front, nearside and...
seen from the front, nearside and... | Source
...the off-side with a lean-to chimney (?) Think of the horror stories you could build around this. Location: near High Beech, Epping Forest and remember, you saw it here first.
...the off-side with a lean-to chimney (?) Think of the horror stories you could build around this. Location: near High Beech, Epping Forest and remember, you saw it here first. | Source
Past the 'King's Oak' along the road, past the old hexagonal Ice House, rejoin the track on the way to the Robin Hood roundabout (don't think he ever came this way). A nice dry track
Past the 'King's Oak' along the road, past the old hexagonal Ice House, rejoin the track on the way to the Robin Hood roundabout (don't think he ever came this way). A nice dry track | Source
Speaking of which, this particular part of the track is impassable after rain!
Speaking of which, this particular part of the track is impassable after rain! | Source
...And this is the view looking the other way, well used by cyclists, trampled by horses...
...And this is the view looking the other way, well used by cyclists, trampled by horses... | Source
Just to oblige, here's a rider on her way to High Beech or back to the stable. There are several riding schools and stables in the district
Just to oblige, here's a rider on her way to High Beech or back to the stable. There are several riding schools and stables in the district | Source
One of my namesakes waits for service at Brad's hut. Bradley is the grandson of the previous encumbent of the tea hut - a converted shipping container. Bert retired years ago, living with his Phillipine wife, sometimes escapes there from our weather
One of my namesakes waits for service at Brad's hut. Bradley is the grandson of the previous encumbent of the tea hut - a converted shipping container. Bert retired years ago, living with his Phillipine wife, sometimes escapes there from our weather | Source
Fancy a real challenge? The Epping Forest Challenge Walk might be up your street
Fancy a real challenge? The Epping Forest Challenge Walk might be up your street | Source
On the way out from High Beech to the Robin Hood roundabout, the cattle grid - at some time the forest herd will be allowed to roam free, some longhorns, some Highland cattle
On the way out from High Beech to the Robin Hood roundabout, the cattle grid - at some time the forest herd will be allowed to roam free, some longhorns, some Highland cattle | Source

On the road again

A path of sorts leads from the back of Brad's hut down towards the roundabout named after the pub at one corner, the Robin Hood. Through the gate and at the roadside there's a drop to the road. Take care here, cars coming from the cattle grid can't be seen. Scurry across and through the trees to the verge at the roundabout, watching for traffic coming from your right. At the traffic island look left and pass around the small pub garden to the minor road that leads downhill.

Where the footpath stops there's a path to the left through the trees. Alternatively cross the road to the verge and follow that to a narrow path on the right hand side of the road. If you follow the left side path keep the road in sight (or when the path takes you out of sight of the road take right-hand paths. On the other side of the road take left hand paths.

The path on the left brings you back to the road near a mere (a small lake) by the other side of the road. Take the path behind the wooden stage (for observing pond life, not angling) and follow to the mere. The other path joins the main path just before the mere at a waist high post (painted white at the top to indicate a riding route).

On the wide path again, just before you pass the mere, turn left onto the footpath that takes you through the wood to a large clearing or common. The path takes you down into Loughton over a public road, (Nursery Road) down Connaught Avenue, past the Natwest Bank on the corner to the High Road and past Sainsbury's again to the Central Line.

Home (almost)..

Duly refreshed, back to the tracks...

This pond, situated beside the road named 'The earls path', is called the Earls Path Pond. Fair enough. Can't argue with that.
This pond, situated beside the road named 'The earls path', is called the Earls Path Pond. Fair enough. Can't argue with that. | Source
Nice bit of dappling on the path for you, between the last pond and...
Nice bit of dappling on the path for you, between the last pond and... | Source
The second pond
The second pond | Source
After crossing the road a bridle/footpath passes a couple of meres or small lakes. This is looking back to the bridle path from the path down through the wood to a small common
After crossing the road a bridle/footpath passes a couple of meres or small lakes. This is looking back to the bridle path from the path down through the wood to a small common | Source
Looking out from the wood to the open common. The footpath leads over the low ridge...
Looking out from the wood to the open common. The footpath leads over the low ridge... | Source
Of course I have to stray from the straight and narrow to take this piece of wood 'sculpture'
Of course I have to stray from the straight and narrow to take this piece of wood 'sculpture' | Source
A flash of colour on the way. Willow Herb, aka Fire Weed or Bomb Weed was found on bomb sites around Central London and suburbs (the German V1 and V2 rocket bombs invented by Wernher von Braun left swathes of ruins in a wide arc around SE England)
A flash of colour on the way. Willow Herb, aka Fire Weed or Bomb Weed was found on bomb sites around Central London and suburbs (the German V1 and V2 rocket bombs invented by Wernher von Braun left swathes of ruins in a wide arc around SE England) | Source
... Then too soon it's back to civilisation. The posh part of Loughton lies over the rise. Big houses, driveways... new money
... Then too soon it's back to civilisation. The posh part of Loughton lies over the rise. Big houses, driveways... new money | Source

The way back to Loughton is straightforward, down the Earl's Path road, cut through south (turn right off Earl's Path Road) along a woodland bridle path before taking another well-trodden path east (left again) over an open area where you can see Loughton over the trees. Cross a quiet back road, climb a rise and down into the town to cross the main road by the Nat West Bank, past a Sainsbury's supermarket and taxi stand into the booking hall of Loughton's Central Line station.

I'll take you on another couple of walks - see Profile Page - in the area. One looks behind the footpaths from close to Brad's Hut. The other is closer into London, around the Hollow Ponds on Leytonstone Flats, and open area between Whipps Cross Road and Snaresbrook Road near Wanstead. A third takes you across Wanstead Flats to Wanstead Park to the south. All these walks are in what was once the larger Epping Forest and is still controlled by the City of London Corporation.

Some choice real estate

As you come down Connaught Avenue to get to the Central Line station at Loughton you pass some choice real estate. Some handsome properties down this way that command prices with lots of noughts, like half or three quarters of a million pounds...
As you come down Connaught Avenue to get to the Central Line station at Loughton you pass some choice real estate. Some handsome properties down this way that command prices with lots of noughts, like half or three quarters of a million pounds... | Source
... as this one would be, with its ornamental gates. How about stumping up £500,000 or £750,000 for this 'des res'?
... as this one would be, with its ornamental gates. How about stumping up £500,000 or £750,000 for this 'des res'? | Source
This is the choicest piece of real estate - and it's my way back to square one! Ta-ta!
This is the choicest piece of real estate - and it's my way back to square one! Ta-ta! | Source

See also: HERITAGE 16 -

A Walk In The Woods - 2: Wanstead Park, (Nobility Brought Low)

More by this Author


8 comments

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

Hi alan, as I was reading I was trying to remember parts of the route, because I went there years ago! lol! that tea hut reminds me of the one down near my works, brought back memories! I will have to go up there again one of these days, and for anybody wanting to know the walk and route this is great!


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 2 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Hello Nell, that was quick! You got your running shoes on? Might see you up there one day (I usually go Tuesday/Wednesday afternoons, depending on the weather).

There are several walking routes you can follow, several common use bridle/foot paths that converge on High Beech. Walking along some of the roads can be dodgy, but there are footpaths that criss-cross the area between the roads from Chingford to Epping.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

Thanks for taking us along on this virtual walk with you. You really captured some great photos and described the walk so beautifully that I almost felt as though I was tagging along. Many up votes! Love that tree that reminded you of sculpture. The pollarded tree was also interesting. I was not familiar with that term.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 2 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Hello Peggy W, glad you enjoyed 'the walk'. The policy of the City of London Corporation (CLC) is to let the woodlands go back to nature. The result of the policy is that undergrowth often overgrows, and some of the older trees are the casualties. It was probably covered in ivy before it 'went under'.

Have a look at the article by Jeremy Dagley - mentioned above in the first part - about pollarding, a forestry policy. If you go into the wikipedia article about Epping Forest the pollarding piece is linked with the notes at the foot.


old albion profile image

old albion 2 years ago from Lancashire. England.

Hi Alan. I am exhausted after reading this cracking hub. The usual things to say about your research and great photographs, but this time I was with you on the road because you give so much information. As I think you know I am a wheelchair user but I want to jump up and walk the walk.

voted up and all.

Graham.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 2 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Hello Graham,

No, I didn't know you were a wheelchair user. Having said that, much of the route can be used on a wheelchair - as long as you've got someone with you to push in steeper places. Between the Waltham road and High Beech it's fairly wide and easy in dry weather. No excuses now, Graham.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 20 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

This is a very enjoyable hub. I loved the tour! Thank you for sharing the interesting photos and information.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 20 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

You're welcome Alicia. Maybe you'll treat us all to a tour around your 'back yard'.

There's a 'twin' to this page, Heritage 16: 'A Walk In The Park', i.e. Wanstead Park, which is closer to where I live. Another one in the series goes under the title 'A Deeper Walk In The Woods' takes you off the beaten track near High Beech here and carries some more unconventional images.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working