We had originally decided to walk the Lea Valley because at this time of year canal towpaths are less muddy than other places. However owing to the straightness of the canal towpath and the overall familiarity of the stretch between Waltham Abbey and Tottenham Hale we have opted for other places. We are heading for Epping Forest which crowns the escarpment bordering the east side of the Lea Valley as it broadens towards the Thames.
Behind us the dreaming spires of Harlow. Or, less fancifully, the utilitarian block and glass of the Glaxo building. This is what Big Pharma looks like from the outside.
We are joined today by the Laughing Cavalier, a seasoned walker and expert on the footpaths in these parts and he is guiding us along a part of the Three Forests Way. The path links Hatfield and Hainault Forest, both fairly tightly defined, via Epping Forest which still manages a certain amount of sprawl between the suburbs.
We are also joined by Master F. after a long absence. In between times he has embarked on something he describes as ‘paid employment’, which has distracted him from the more serious business of walking the Essex countryside. I hope it is legal and that he is very careful when he is doing it.
We start at Epping Green and the Laughing Cavalier starts down a path by the side of the pub. ‘We don’t want to get too muddy right at the beginning’ he says, somewhat ominously. Two buzzards circle overhead. The mud is not long in coming.
Into Epping Forest from the north across farmland, towards the valley of Cobbins Brook which flows secretively between the hills down to Waltham Abbey before joining the Lea somewhere under the M25. Note the mud in the foreground.
A herd of fallow deer, (Epping Forest Black, opines the Laughing Cavalier) skipping effortlessly across the mud…The Deer? or the Laughing Cavalier? Ed.
…move across our path which takes us past large haystacks, a strategically placed television and a vineyard.
The path cuts straight across a muddy field. The kind of mud that clings to the soles of shoes so that they become heavier and heavier. And then heavier again.
Through the village of Upshire and eventually past Copt Hall, which has always had a sinister ambience to my mind but is now probably just an enclave of over-priced housing.
A bridge over the mudless M25. Looking across the Lea Valley the dreaming spires of north Enfield are visible to those with the will to dream.
A gentle lope along well-made footpaths to High Beach. These are well laid and built to withstand horse riders and cyclists as well as us lowly walkers. They are not muddy.