Tube Walks – Epping Forest

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.

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Slipping into Chocolat

 

A sea of patchwork fields; interspersed with meandering country lanes and accompanied by the distant roar of a tractor or perhaps a peal of church bells from the village below.

This is how I picture the area that I grew up in, which, for a long time, seemed impossibly boring. There wasn’t, as far as I can recall, a single event that even approached noteworthiness in all the time I lived there. Now, however, I can appreciate that this is no bad thing, and, on returning from London, my family home seemed like a bastion of unspoilt countryside rather than a monochromatic bore.

Several weeks previously, somebody had told me about a lake a few miles away at Fonthill where they had filmed part of the film ‘Chocolat’. I understand that this immediately contradicts my saying that nothing noteworthy ever happens in the area, however, I can assure you that this is completely out of character for my humble district and I met the news with disbelief. But, after some rudimentary research, it proved to be true. The river scenes from the film, for example when Johnny Depp’s character arrives in the village, were filmed there.

My journey began rather auspiciously. The fog was so thick that you couldn’t see from one end of a field to another, and, being a fairly cold morning, the normally bustling footpaths were deserted, which felt slightly eerie. I also quickly realised that the desert boots I had chosen, having left my walking boots in London, were deeply unsuitable for the muddy and uneven paths I was following and spent more of my time developing a rudimentary style of ice skating than I did actually walking.

Eventually, I made it to Fonthill Lake, and, after clumsily vaulting the stile, I followed the footpath that led around its edge.

My first thought was that I could see very little resemblance to the scene before me and the body of water depicted in the films. I quickly came to a fence that informed me that it was prohibited to continue any farther. Unperturbed, I turned and continued back the other way and was stunned. The view was spectacular, mist shrouded the trees around me, the lake stretched far off into the distance, and to my left a stream gurgled contentedly through perfectly green hillocks and sweeping trees. I am not in the least surprised that they chose to film here, as to me it looked like an ethereal paradise.

I couldn’t believe that such a beautiful spot could exist so close to where I had grown up, and what’s more it was completely deserted. Being totally alone is a luxury I had forgotten the value of until I moved to the city.

On my way back, I noticed what looked like an extremely oddly shaped bush on a hillside, which, upon closer inspection, happened to be a grotto upon which a tree was growing. I must admit it was quite a surreal sight, and I expected any moment to see a goblin poke his head out of the side, but, to my immense relief, it was deserted. After poking around inside, and smacking my head on a low hanging rock, I left with a considerably higher estimation of my local area.