Epping Forest/Lea Valley
10th March 2015
High Beach is the centre of Epping Forest. It is not the geographical centre, but it is the place where people congregate. A long time haunt of bikers, families, idlers, horse riders, not to mention frazzled ecstatics recuperating in the summer dawn hours, and walkers like ourselves. A tea stall is here, a pub is here and the forest visitor centre is here, and here we start today’s walk. Today we will snake down towards the suburbs of Chingford, across the North Circular. We will creep behind Snaresbrook Crown Court, over the Hollow Ponds and briefly brave the Leytonstone High Road before embarking upon the Wanstead Flats toward Forest Gate, glittering portal to the East End.
The paths in this part of the forest are broad and well-made for they accommodate wheelchairs, cyclists and horses. ‘Walking for softies’ I scoff insensitively, knowing full well such confidence will be ill-founded. Sure enough as the forest drops down to the River Ching, the paths become less well-used and less well maintained. They frequently disappear altogether and leave us hopelessly weaving through undergrowth and around swampy morasses.
We walk behind the visitors centre on an undulating path through the leafless beech trees, the Epping New Road running thirty yards to our left.
In a month or so as the trees start to green this will be a different walk entirely. Secret Informant has hopes of spotting a hawfinch, but a couple of ornithologists we chat to are dubious, ‘But you never know your luck’ says one encouragingly.
Dropping down from High Beech, the trees start to thin and the ground becomes more marshy. A climb up a broad chase takes us to Queen Elizabeth’s hunting lodge. (This of course refers to the first Elizabeth and not, as far as I know, the current head of the quasi-feudal shambles that some refer to, possibly quite accurately, as ‘a state’).
The footpath descends and becomes more erratic and difficult to follow. Ebb Tide, fortunately, is a fearless pathfinder. There is still plenty of mud.
The path now becomes an interstice of Chingford. Despite growing up on the London/Essex borders, I am ashamed to admit that, before now, it had never occurred to me that there actually was a River Ching. And here we are beside it.
Past Highams Park Lake, and Secret Informant is partially compensated for the absence of hawfinches earlier in the walk by the sight of green cockatoos (Wrong. See comment below. Ed.), more noisy than visible, in the trees on the other side.
Across the North Circular at Waterworks Corner, pausing to dwell upon the view across the Lea Valley to the towers of Edmonton Green and the chimney of the Angel Road incineration plant.
Resembling a downmarket Dubai, high buildings sprout in London with a queasy flamboyance and and all the utility of Giant Hogsweed on a roadside verge.
An enforced passage down the busy Woodford New Road and a cut past the ghost of Whipps Cross lido through Hollow Ponds to the beat of the bodhran.
Across the Central Line above Leytonstone Station…
Does Leytonstone have ideas above its station?
And while we’re on the subject of excruciating puns, ‘e1 bid’ (E11 is the local postcode) is truly terrible. We emerge with relief onto the open prairie of Wanstead Flats.