Back to the forest

07 September 2019 – Epping Forest.

It’s all a bit a green, this forest. Up, down and around, no matter what direction the eyes face, a sea of green. The dark of the dense and wild holly, the light of the highest leaves filtering the sporadically shining sun, the moss on the trees and dense ferneries, the golf course, everything and all. Monochromatic, green.

Late summer is not my favourite time in Epping Forest, it is too close, too narrow, dense, prickly, it can be humid after rain and claustrophobic. It is noisier than I recall, and not good noise either; cars and dogs and too many people, a tannoy from the running club blaring, a jack hammer breaking up something in the distance, planes overhead. I need to visit a few times to learn again to filter these out and the natural sounds, and silences, of the forest dominate. 

It is my first visit to the forest in 11 months, and bloody hell, did I enjoy it.

For most of 2018 I managed to get to the forest at least once a month. It is hardly far from home, I can walk to the fringes in 10 minutes and drive to the middle in 15. There has been no particular reason for not going, obviously St Leonards is taking up most of my spare time, but I am in Walthamstow enough to at least have visited once. The lack of walking has been noticed and really struck home this morning when I pulled my walking trousers on and had to take a few deep breaths to do them up. A baggier t-shirt than normal went on top, cover up the overhang. I am getting fat.

I took the bus to Chingford and walked to The Woodbine Inn to the north; catching a bus, a train and a tube back home. I won’t repeat it. The walk was great, the journey home was expensive, long and a come down from the high of the walk.

I wanted to make this a decent walk so started by walking along the side of the golf course and up to Pole Hill. The path is wide and used heavily by walkers and mountain bikers, the scrub on both sides of the path; one separating the path from the road and the other the golf course, has not been maintained for ages, and it is full of bramble and nettle. Council cuts due to austerity; I bet the golfers hate it, though this is Tory country so austerity is their own fault. I do not sympathise for them.

I tend to not use the formal walking paths, but this is the only option for most of the walk up the ‘hill’; at about 70 meters it is not much, more a large mound than a hill. There is a good view of London city from the top. Though I don’t usually stay, just turn down one of the dirt tracks and head back towards the forest proper.

As I mentioned a post or two ago I bought a new, cheap(ish) mirrorless camera, the Lumix GX800. I had this with me today along with one of the old lenses I had from when I went to Sri Lanka in 2013. The camera is very small and light so I didn’t need the camera bag to carry it. I took the light tripod, though as often happens when I got to the forest I did not use it. One of the very cool features of this new camera is the ability to shoot natively in 16*9 format as well as the traditional 4*3.  16*9 gives a much more landscape look to the image and is great for woodland photography, allowing for more width and less sky. Obviously I could do this crop in Lightroom, but being able to do things ‘in camera’ is much more my style.

Hawkwood, the strip of forest down the side of the golf course is not very wide, and is under some sort of clearance regime at the moment, a lot of undergrowth has been cleared, hopefully this will not mean a mad rush of holly over the autumn and winter. There is quite a line between the cleared and the yet to be cleared.

I really like the walk through Bury Wood and Black Bush Plain, I generally start on one of the mountain bike tracks and then wander off down one of the side tracks, generally heading in a northerly direction, though I don’t really care. I am not going to get lost and this is a lovely, varied bit of forest. Host to a fine stand of hornbeam surrounded by ferns.

This area has been cleared by the Epping Forest Volunteers who have removed the holly and new growth saplings to allow grasses and ferns and more traditional undergrowth to flourish. The ever expanding and ubiquitous (and evil) holly, is a species introduced in the past couple of hundred years. Traditionally self managed by cattle and wildlife, with nothing to curtail it it grows wildly and densely and does not all anything to grow beneath it.

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Heading up through Hill Wood, one of my favourite sections of the forest I followed a lose path up to High Beach.

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I stopped for a coffee and sandwich before carrying on into territory relatively unknown. I have not walked in the section north of High Beach before, I have visited to the north east a few times, but this section was new to me. It was also very busy and I was a little uninspired by it, though I was now following one of the main paths, primarily as I thought I had at least an hour of walking to go. It turned out to only be 45 minutes, which was disappointing, I could have wandered off into the trees and seen a little more, and been a little more alone.

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Crossing Claypit Hill Rd I came across a really nice little downhill mountain bike section with a couple of tasty jumps I would have enjoyed 10 years ago. It was not long, but it looked good. I must get back on to my bike again. The final section I walked through was a flat plain, I think it was Honey Lane Quarters. There were some nice trees and I would like to have taken more photos but the camera had run out of battery! On the fringes of the trees just before the road I spotted three small deer. In truth they spotted me first, and I only saw them as a flash of movement, only realising what they were when they stopped further away. As I turned towards them they ran off and out of sight.

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It was close to my final destination, The Woodbine Inn, so off there I toddled. I have heard good things about the pub, good beer well kept and a welcome place for walkers.

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I did not find it that welcoming, the staff were friendly, but most of the customers seem to be staring at me like I was some sort of alien. I drank my pint, caught the bus to Waltham Cross Station and waited for the outrageously priced train back towards home. A pint in my local was more enjoyable, and I do not feel particularly home there either.

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I loved being out in the forest again, I took a few photos, summer is not my time for photography, but it is a good time to walk.

About wheresphil

Originally from Auckland, New Zealand, now living in London.
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