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Heritage - 55: Tracking Anew Into Epping Forest's Summertime Hues

Updated on August 13, 2020

Eeny meeny miny... Hang on a mo, there's choice...

Start at the car park by the green tea hut opposite the 'King's Oak' hotel. Walk towards the traffic barrier at the end of the bridle path (same side of the road) and stroll past to the crest of the hill. There are various ways to descend the slope.
Start at the car park by the green tea hut opposite the 'King's Oak' hotel. Walk towards the traffic barrier at the end of the bridle path (same side of the road) and stroll past to the crest of the hill. There are various ways to descend the slope. | Source
A short way on you'll see the tree shown here with a sort of natural barrier made of fallen tree trunks and branches. The 'barrier' is an accident of nature...
A short way on you'll see the tree shown here with a sort of natural barrier made of fallen tree trunks and branches. The 'barrier' is an accident of nature... | Source
Carry on. you'll see a golf course through the trees. Instead of descending to the golf course go uphill a short way to the broad slope between the trees. Looking like a termite hill is this tree trunk just below the crest of the slope
Carry on. you'll see a golf course through the trees. Instead of descending to the golf course go uphill a short way to the broad slope between the trees. Looking like a termite hill is this tree trunk just below the crest of the slope | Source
Back amongst the trees, in the opposite direction now. Take a look at these two trees, their trunks seeming to lean towards each other. Walk closer, you'll see they're feet apart. There are many freaks of nature in the forest. Look around for more...
Back amongst the trees, in the opposite direction now. Take a look at these two trees, their trunks seeming to lean towards each other. Walk closer, you'll see they're feet apart. There are many freaks of nature in the forest. Look around for more... | Source

Winter's past, spring has developed into summer...

That's right, we're back up off the Epping New Road and we've left at the Robin Hood roundabout, unmistakable with the building square to the main road and a garden you descend to amongst trees. It's a nice pub - at least I think so - and the staff/owners are a very friendly Thai family who have local bar staff to help out. A variety of local ale brews helps a bar meal go down.

If you don't fancy that, close by off the Cross Road is the Original Tea Hut, marked on the ViewRanger map below, with a choice of tea, coffee or cold canned and packaged fruit drinks with hot or cold snacks (ice cream in summer). You can always come back to it after your walk.

Drive or walk up to High Beach (Beech), explore the woods there, visit the Epping Forest Centre (Thursday-Sunday), maybe have a meal and drink in the King's Oak pub bar.

Make your walk as strenuous and demanding or not. Footpaths are there for those of limited physical ability, and lead past interesting natural features. Or you could go 'rough walking' as I do, forsake the footpaths and follow your instincts down the hill by or along Carl's Tea Hut (another green-painted container conversion) and the large car park. Parking is at a premium at weekends from Easter onward.

There is always the option of following the broad descent parallel to Wellington Hill, past the golf course. Can be a trial ascending the hill again, although your appetite will be sharpened... Let's see what other options there are.

Mother Nature's Casualties

"Age shall not weary them..." said about soldiers could apply to trees. This trunk has well and truly gone to 'tree heaven'. Divers vegetation and small creatures have laid claim to the 'corpse'. Recycling will run its course...
"Age shall not weary them..." said about soldiers could apply to trees. This trunk has well and truly gone to 'tree heaven'. Divers vegetation and small creatures have laid claim to the 'corpse'. Recycling will run its course... | Source
Here's another, a 'rheumatic' tree. In fact the thick branch here has taken a heavy blow from another tree. Shoots have sprung from the bough, with leaves growing from them
Here's another, a 'rheumatic' tree. In fact the thick branch here has taken a heavy blow from another tree. Shoots have sprung from the bough, with leaves growing from them | Source
More relics that look like extinct dinosaurs occupy the side of a track that leads through trees to the 'Duke of Wellington' public house on nearby Wellington Hill. Completely devoid of living shoots or parasitic life
More relics that look like extinct dinosaurs occupy the side of a track that leads through trees to the 'Duke of Wellington' public house on nearby Wellington Hill. Completely devoid of living shoots or parasitic life | Source
Here's a sight you don't often come across. Back near the Original Tea Hut these two tree trunks look like a Tyrannosaurus Rex's legs.
Here's a sight you don't often come across. Back near the Original Tea Hut these two tree trunks look like a Tyrannosaurus Rex's legs. | Source
Tired and old, this one also gave up the struggle and yielded to gravity
Tired and old, this one also gave up the struggle and yielded to gravity | Source

When you've walked through a forest, have you ever wondered about the shapes trees take?

Conifers are fairly regular in appearance from one type to another. Deciduous trees are another matter altogether. Additionally in this forest, protected by forestry laws, charcoal burners once plied their trade. To do this more efficiently they grew individual trees together by binding them as saplings, giving them a peculiar appearance. You can see the effects all the way south to Wanstead Park, once home to the Child and then the Tylney families. Here also a Henry Repton was employed by the landowners as landscape gardener. His legacy is witnessed by the Repton Oak, four saplings bound and grown together (in old age one 'sapling' has succumbled to disease and collapsed) in the narrow part of the park that leads to Blake Hall Road opposite the tennis courts. All Epping Forest Lands, including Leytonstone Flatts near Whipps Cross Road and Bush Wood (land adjoining Bush Wood Road) at Leytonstone belong to and are overseen by the City of London Corporation. The range of the territory is largely covered by deciduous forest and copses, with little conifer but for some in the City of London Cemetery on Aldersbrook Road between Manor Park and Wanstead Park Avenue (also part of the City's remit).

Much of the deciduous forestry takes interesting shapes, many of the beech trees off the A104 Epping New Road having been pollarded. Much of the rest, oak and silver birch, has been left to its own devices, amassing its own undergrowth - or lack of it - such as thorns, nettles and bushes that have accrued and from time to time been cut back in the time since Queen Victoria handed the land to the general populace of eastern London and north-western Essex around Epping and Waltham Abbey. Some of the more interesting shapes I've captured here, many may be discovered by you if you venture here.

Down the bank from High Beech.... and around in a wide circle back to the bridle path from the Waltham road

... Descent from Carl's hut through the forest isn't neck-creakingly steep...
... Descent from Carl's hut through the forest isn't neck-creakingly steep... | Source
... And in places there are surprises underfoot, trees to sidestep.
... And in places there are surprises underfoot, trees to sidestep. | Source
And then you come to where in the colder, wetter months a torrent of water pushes the leaves and dead branches aside on its way downhill to a sluice by the roadside.
And then you come to where in the colder, wetter months a torrent of water pushes the leaves and dead branches aside on its way downhill to a sluice by the roadside. | Source
The ground rises on the other side, one way - left - to the golf course and - right - to the link road past some houses...
The ground rises on the other side, one way - left - to the golf course and - right - to the link road past some houses... | Source
Every now and then there are reminders of the charcoal-burning activities prior to these woods being opened to the public.
Every now and then there are reminders of the charcoal-burning activities prior to these woods being opened to the public. | Source
Here's a tree that looks like a bear. Bears became extinct in Britain by the 18th Century.
Here's a tree that looks like a bear. Bears became extinct in Britain by the 18th Century. | Source
Around on the far side, below the road on the north side of High Beech that links up with the Waltham road to the Wakes Roundabout, a contrast between the light green of the ferns and the darker tree foliage.
Around on the far side, below the road on the north side of High Beech that links up with the Waltham road to the Wakes Roundabout, a contrast between the light green of the ferns and the darker tree foliage. | Source
Before the climb back to the bridle path there's this link-up with two branches on different trees. There's a meaning her somewhere...
Before the climb back to the bridle path there's this link-up with two branches on different trees. There's a meaning her somewhere... | Source

A return to the forest is always on the cards, especially as it's only about a forty minute drive to High Beech. There is a large car park at the top but when the sun glares down you get back into an oven. Better park further north along the road with the trees to block out much of the sun's heat.

You can't beat a walk downhill but you have to climb back up to road level. It's worth it, with the promise of a cuppa and a sausage roll at Carl's hut, served up with a smile by his friendly daughter 'Mandy'. But first that walk. It can be exhilarating, it can be draining, but it's always interesting. Shapes abound, trees can be contorted, sometimes they're grown together - a process known as 'pollarding' used by the charcoal burners that populated these woods up until the 19th Century, before the woods were officially opened to the public with grand flourish by Queen Victoria on May 6th, 1882. She'd travelled from Windsor to London, and by Great Eastern Railway to Chingford - then still in Essex - from where she was escorted in an open carriage to the King's Oak Hotel at High Beech for the opening ceremony.

The ground drops fairly steeply from the plateau here. To the west is North London, visible beyond the reservoirs. To the north is the road that links up with the Waltham road to the left and Wakes Roundabout straight ahead. To the south is the old reservoir at High Beech and an older pond beside the road that leads past the Original 1930 Tea Hut. Wellington Hill descends past the Wellington public house near the golf course, A parallel road to the south leads to Sewardstone. A sort of 'gridwork' of roads criss-crosses the area joining High Beach with Loughton and Theydon to the east of here.

Thickets clutter parts of the woods, so closely grown only fallow deer and muntjacs can penetrate. The muntjacs are a small breed of Indian deer as small as greyhounds, let loose some years ago or escaped from captivity. They thrive here in the largely temperate Epping Forest and are singularly elusive. You might see them in the evenings when it's quieter. On the other hand there are areas of the forest bereft of undergrowth, depending on the types of trees that abound. Natural groundwater can be scarce in summer, and some trees are 'greedy'.

At the foot of the hill the road that crosses north-south along that side of the hill acts as a link between wider thoroughfares. Horses are stabled here and there around the hill for riding students or advanced.

Find your way about...

Forest features and local attractions around the whole of the forest area
Forest features and local attractions around the whole of the forest area | Source
ViewRanger map of the High Beach (Beech) area shows the Robin Hood roundabout above Loughton to the east; see also the Wakes Arms roundabout (next north) with the 'switch-back' road to High Beech.
ViewRanger map of the High Beach (Beech) area shows the Robin Hood roundabout above Loughton to the east; see also the Wakes Arms roundabout (next north) with the 'switch-back' road to High Beech. | Source

Back to the long and winding Bridle Path off Fairmead Road (near the Robin Hood roundabout)

Remember this scene? We're here again in spring/summer, and look at the difference!
Remember this scene? We're here again in spring/summer, and look at the difference! | Source
Dappled in the afternoon sun this time, the track seems to gleam with the light
Dappled in the afternoon sun this time, the track seems to gleam with the light | Source
A sawn-off tree trunk stands amid encroaching thorns and other occupants that have 'annexed' the territory
A sawn-off tree trunk stands amid encroaching thorns and other occupants that have 'annexed' the territory | Source
Near the old unmade road past the Original Tea Hut that now leads only to a car,park, a 'family' group of tree trunks that seem to wind around each other,
Near the old unmade road past the Original Tea Hut that now leads only to a car,park, a 'family' group of tree trunks that seem to wind around each other, | Source
Assorted flora and fauna have taken over this blighted tree trunk in the same area.
Assorted flora and fauna have taken over this blighted tree trunk in the same area. | Source
Like a grey ghost, this twin tree trunk stands aloof from the profusion of vegetation around - springtime, but not for some
Like a grey ghost, this twin tree trunk stands aloof from the profusion of vegetation around - springtime, but not for some | Source
Back uphill towards the road, and through the trees to the 'Original 1930 Tea Hut'...
Back uphill towards the road, and through the trees to the 'Original 1930 Tea Hut'... | Source
Why not drop in and sample what Brad has to offer. He took over from his mother, and grandfather Bert before her and with the backing of silent partner Ralph has gone from strength to strength
Why not drop in and sample what Brad has to offer. He took over from his mother, and grandfather Bert before her and with the backing of silent partner Ralph has gone from strength to strength | Source

Back near Epping New Road and the Robin Hood roundabout (odds are it's a fanciful appellation and he never came south of Nottinghamshire)

This area seems to have become a favourite haunt of mine, not least because there are still parts between here and Church Lane I haven't looked into... And it's handy for a cuppa at Brad's tea hut (the 'Original', remember).

There are features between the public roads - Cross Road and Fairmead Road - that I've covered and return to, and some I haven't even touched. In places it's almost like a jungle and I wouldn't be surprised to see a tiger lurk there, or a panther. There must be parts that deer - and particularly muntjac - hide away in because they look impenetrable. You may have heard of deer tracks, and the only ones I'd say could access them are muntjacs. They're an Indian (south Asian as opposed to North American) species brought here by animal dealers in the 19th Century with a view to selling them to private zoos or collectors. Some escaped - they've got sharp teeth that point down and would be dangerous to those not accustomed to handling wild animals - and made their homes in forests around the capital. In height they're about the size of a labrador and are very well camouflaged for life in dark areas. Their chosen time for foraging is early morning or late evening, like most deer. Generally fallow deer are more common, a species brought by the Romans and Normans for hunting, as the native red deer tended to circulate well away from inhabited areas, largely on land only accessed with difficulty.

Grey squirrels also abound in Epping Forest, another creature - like mink - that drove many native species out of the regions they were brought into and occupied when well-meaning animal rights activists freed them from captivity. Whichever way you turn there are multiples of grey squirrels. Around here they're fairly shy, like their red counterparts now not seen in the south except on the Isle of Wight (grey squirrels haven't yet perfected the art of swimming or rowing, but give them time...).

... And at the going down of the sun...

A short walk after a cuppa and a bite of something, or an ice cream, head westward through the trees to where the sun seems to be spliced by the trees
A short walk after a cuppa and a bite of something, or an ice cream, head westward through the trees to where the sun seems to be spliced by the trees | Source
...  And that final farewell before the drive back to town
... And that final farewell before the drive back to town | Source

© 2019 Alan R Lancaster

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