When Epping Forest is mentioned, the first thing that usually springs to mind is its reputation as a dumping place for bodies, rather than its impressive status as the largest tract of ancient forest land around London.
Its vast area, relative solitude and complement of grisly stories may make it sound more like a nightmare scenario than an enjoyable walking destination, but that is far from true.
Easily reached on the central line, I disembarked at Theydon Bois, the pronunciation of which, much like ‘Petty France’ made my French companion laugh with derision.
Theydon Bois is like the suburban ideal of a rural village. Neatly cut lawns, big houses and a well patronised local are all there, it seems bizzare that there is a direct link into central London.
From the tube station, entry into the forest is about a five minute walk. I slipped in through a pathway next to a churchyard where a man walking his dog was the only other person to be seen.
Once inside, the options for the route you want to take are almost endless. Covering almost 6000 acres there is certainly plenty to explore. What struck me most was the variety of terrain within a relatively small area, from dense woodland to wide, tree lined paths, bracken swept plains and avenues of grassy mounds and hillocks. You can really keep walking indefinitely, but there are plenty of opportunities for circular walks, including one from the tube station that is marked throughout.
For such a tranquil spot within easy reach of central London it’s remarkably quiet. I visited mid afternoon on a Sunday and only came across a dozen people at most and the majority of these were on the main thoroughfares.
I caught the trees just before the fall. Leaves were still firmly on branches and there was only the faintest hint of the rich orange hues that Autumn will bring. To visit the forest in Autumn proper will surely be a fantastic sight and I will definitely be returning before the year is out.
No hike would be complete without a pint at The Bull, the pub by the station, and once on the tube it’s only a 35 minute journey back to Liverpool Street.