HERITAGE - 15: A Walk In The Woods, 1.Epping Forest Trail via High Beech
Once a hideout for highwaymen such as Dick Turpin and Sixteen-string Jack...
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
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.
Epping Forest Walks
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.
Eppping Forest Ordnance Survey Maps
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).
Walking for enjoyment
Do you enjoy walking,
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
At High Beech, time for tea... Or something a bit stronger?
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.
Let's take a short diversion down the hillside
Meanwhile... onward another quarter of an hour...
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.
Duly refreshed, back to the tracks...
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
See also: HERITAGE 16 -
A Walk In The Woods - 2: Wanstead Park, (Nobility Brought Low)