It is not often that we venture to the east of the capital, or perhaps more accurately, anywhere east of the Metropolitan line. There is some logic to this unofficial frontier that has come to dictate our walks, at least on costs and convenience grounds given that we mostly set off from Niraj’s base in north-west London. Nevertheless, it would be hard to deny that Niraj’s inexplicable preference for the West [of England as opposed to the whole world] also plays a part.
That said, the Epping Forest Walk marked an exception to this long-standing convention. Covering some 6,000 acres, the forest is London’s largest open space and stretches 12 miles from Manor Park in east London to just north of Epping in Essex. The forest is also of national and international conservation importance with two thirds designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation.
Our walk began not far from Chingford Station at Connaught Water– one of a number of man-made lakes in the area that were formerly gravel excavation pits. The circular route took us on a well-trodden track through the heart of the forest, northwards to High Beech and back. Although famous for its ancient oak, beech and hornbeams that have stood for many centuries, the forest is home to an astonishing variety of trees - around twenty species in all.
Just before halfway emerged the hamlet of High Beech, the only settlement within Epping Forest. Being Good Friday, we caught a procession heading towards the Holy Innocents Church – a quaint church entirely embosomed by the forest. On reaching, we stood for a brief while in the church’s graveyard, musing momentarily on the impermanence of all things, before entering the church for some inner repose. A little while later, we headed further on, passing the Epping Forest Visitor Centre to the King’s Oak pub for a spot of well-earned lunch. The return leg took us eastwards and back south through Loughton Camp – the site of an iron-age hideout, and along the small streamlet of Loughton Brook meandering its way through the forest, before eventually reaching the far side of Connaught Water where we had begun.
Technical details: Sony a850 with Sigma 50-500mm (Bigma) lens.