Strawberry Hill Pond

Saturday 23 May 2015 – Epping Forest.

Now that I am a working man I can fully appreciate the fact that May has two bank holiday weekends, or long weekends as we would call them in New Zealand. This weekend is the second of them. Sadly it is also the last long weekend for quite a long time, but at least summer holidays are looming in this, the northern half of the world, so there is something to look forward to.

On the subject of holidays, I have two planned so far for the coming summer; a quick ten day visit to New Zealand in June for my grandson’s first birthday and then I am taking the whole of August as a break. I have a plan for the month off; it involves lots of walking, a tent and parts of the southwest coast path – I am very drawn to that (not so) small, but beautiful part of England’s coast. I blame Malcolm Law!

One of the things I really enjoy about any trip or activity I do is the pre-planning and research, so with both NZ and a proper backpacking holiday approaching I have been spending an awful lot of time in front of the laptop surfing the internet to book flights, plan accommodation and research the best pack and tent for multi-day solo walking trips. This usually ends up with me getting distracted, looking for some obscure noisy band and then buying their records, like the new album by 93Millionmilesfromthesun which I bought last week.

The weather forecast for this weekend is looking reasonable – i.e. it is not supposed to rain, so El and I decided this morning to make the most of the day and get out for a walk. I had wanted to find Strawberry Hill Pond in Epping Forest since I rode past it a few weeks back on a group mountain bike ride, as the sun was out we decided it would be a good thing to do with the day.

We caught a bus up to Loughton as it is on the edge of the forest and not far from where the map said the pond was likely to be. As we walked up the road from Loughton into and through the forest it started to drizzle with rain so we instead of heading immediately into the forest we chose to walk up the road a bit further and stop at the Robin Hood pub for a coffee and a bit of shelter.


We were the only ones in there at 11:30am. I supposed that is a good thing.


We hung around for a while after the coffee as we waited for the rain to stop, but eventually gave up and headed out into a light drizzle, the pub is in the middle of the forest and we only had to walk a short distance to get onto a section of single track used by the mountain bikers – and into the shelter of the trees, as we headed back to the car park where the path off to the ponds started.


As we approached the car park I suggested taking a short detour in the complete opposite direction to look for Loughton Camp, the site of an Iron Age fort. I always imagine ancient fort sites as having ruined walls and slightly leaning old towers, but these very old forts were made of wood and are long gone. All that is left is the earth works. As this was not part of the plan before we left home I only had a vague idea of its location and after 15 minutes of walking up some short, but surprisingly steep inclines we turned around and headed back to where we should have been going in the first place. I will try and find the fort on a bike ride one day soon.


Strawberry Hill Pond, like all the other ponds in this stretch of the wood was formed when Epping New Road was built in the 1830s and gravel was dug from the ground for its construction. Sadly the early burst of clean sun we saw before leaving home did not make a repeat appearance after the rain and the light was terrible for taking photos. Flat and dull. None of the photos I took around the ponds are particularly good, they do show what a lovely spot it would be on a nice day though.


We walked around the outside of the small pond, and I spotted three herons sitting in the top of a tree on one of the islands in the pond. The pond is not fed from any stream so the water is all supplied by rain, it is brown due to the soil rather than it being dirty. It really is a pretty area and it was a shame that the sun was not shining on it to really make the colour in the trees shine.



The herons flew away soon after we saw them. One of them landed on the shore on the far side of the pond so we headed in that direction, just as I went to take a photo from a spot quite close to the bird, a couple coming the other way disturbed the heron before I could press the shutter.


For some reason I was really surprised to see the herons today, I never really saw them as a bird that lived in such proximity to a big city, sometimes it is really good to have perceptions changed.


I thought I knew the way to Chingford station from the pond, and while we did not get lost on the way back and I am fairly sure we took the correct paths, it did take a lot longer to get there than I expected it would. Though there are not too many other places I would rather be unsure of my location in. We soon popped out of the forest onto the bottom of the final hill before lunch.


We chose to stop for lunch at Butler’s Retreat, a Victorian era building, originally designed as a food store, though it has been a cafe for quite a long time now. Neither of us had been there for lunch, plus it was the first place we came to!


We both had bacon sandwiches and they were excellent, as were the coffees and cakes we decided to have for dessert, after all that walking we felt we had deserved cake! The food was very expensive, more than it should be, but at least it was good. I would stop there again I think.

With full bellies we waddled the last kilometre to Chingford Station to catch the train back to Walthamstow and home.

I was disappointed with the weather – especially the unexpected rain shower, but it was a really nice walk and lovely to be back outside. It is a real blessing to have Epping Forest so near by.

Bluebells in Wanstead Park

Monday 05 May 2015 – Wanstead Park, London(ish).

Monday was a public holiday, YAY, a much needed day off of work. Though I did work Saturday, so really it was like a normal weekend, with the added promise of a short week ahead.

The forecast had been a bit dubious leading up to the weekend and it was still pretty unclear most mornings what the day was actually going to hold. Sunday was spent doing not much, a bit of work here and there, the reorganising of my stuff, putting away winter clothes – and finding a bunch of old band t-shirts that had been squirreled away.

We didn’t really have a plan for today, we started off with seeing what the weather would actually do, and as it did not look to bad out there I decided I wanted to see bluebells in Epping Forest rather than head into London and visit the Tate, which was the rainy day plan A. A quick internet search suggested the best blue bells were in Wanstead Park, an edge extension of Epping. As I have not been there before we decided it was worth a visit.

We caught the overground to Wanstead Park station which naturally is next to Wanstead Flats, not Wanstead Park – the flats are a park, but not THE park. Confused ? We walked across the flats, up a side street and were soon into the park proper. I like the fact that Fishing is in capital letters and swimming and bathing are not. Does that mean that Fishing is a more serious offence ?


I had read that the bluebells would be found in Chapel Wood, however none of the signs were giving away the location of Chapel Wood, so we decided to do the decent thing and head to the tea hut for a cup of tea/coffee first, and do the umanly/unBritish thing of asking directions.

On the way to the hut we passed by the tree lined walk to the “Temple”. I had no idea what this was until I looked it up when I got home. The temple was built around 1760, in a section of a much larger estate. The estate was run down by its financially lax owner in the 1800’s and part of it was sold off to the Corporation of London to form what is now Wanstead Park.


The tea hut is the old grotto left that was also part of the original estate and they made a pretty good flat white too…



We were given directions to the blue bells, which ended up being pretty much back the way we came, though closer to the Temple.


This seasonal spring blue bell patch is supposed to the best in all of Epping Forest, which must make it one of the best in London. It was truly lovely – and this comes from someone who does not go all goo over a flower bed. I guess I liked it because it was wild. I took a lot of photos, as did many other people !


I liked that there were paths running through the patch so people could get closer without trampling them. I also liked it that most people stayed on the edges so every one got to take photos without having the frame filled with strangers.





I even asked someone to take a photo of El and I together as well.




Before we left home in the morning we had sort of planned on walking back, so after a brief start in the wrong direction before consulting a map, we headed homeward. Most of the way was under the trees and off the road, which was very nice and I loved the oak trees that lined the way.


Sir Alfred Hitchcock was born in nearby Leytonstone, and had no previous relationship with this hotel, which is named after him. It did not stop us going in for a half though…


It was a lovely afternoon walk, we probably did 6 or 7 miles as well, so good exercise in the sun !

Colchester – far more interesting than expected!

Saturday 25 April 2015 – Colchester.

My last post was all about a training walk on Box Hill for the Oxfam Trailwalker 100km walk I WAS going to be doing in July. As the ‘was’ suggests I am no longer doing the walk. After lots of serious thought I knew I was not going to be able to do this walk justice, I have done virtually no training since the start of the year and having done a 55km run I know what a 100km walk is going to feel like without training. I also know how my body feels now and punishing it further is not going to help. So, partly because it was unfair on my team mates who seem to have more time than me, partly as it would be unfair on El if I work half the weekend and then walk the rest, but mainly because I just don’t think I can do it I have pulled out. Luckily it was early enough for my spot in the team to be easily filled.

As always seems to be the case at the moment, the main reason for my life being so busy is work. I had a bit of a slump week this week so decided last night that I was going to take a day out. I have not had a whole day to myself since I went to Dartmouth before Christmas and I just needed some time when the only interactions I had with other humans was to order food and drink.

Not wanting to spend too much money, but still wanting to do something that got me out of London, I decided to go to Colchester in Essex. It wasn’t ideal, there was no beach for instance, but it was close enough, cheap enough and it had a castle and a river.

The other reason for visiting Colchester was there are frequent, direct trains from Liverpool St Station, Walthamstow also has a line to Liverpool St; home to Colchester was therefore not much more than an hour and no hassle at all. In my book that it always an incentive, inner-city travelling at the weekend is too reminiscent of commuting!


From my limited experience it seems to be the tradition for old towns that are local centres to be surrounded by wide, busy pedestrian unfriendly roads that need to be navigated round and over if you are walking from the station. Colchester was no exception. I had no map, and had only vaguely consulted Google Maps on the train, but when I got to the River Colne and a path that led in the direction of a park I decided to leave the road behind and see where I ended up. Good (not) to see the river is (not) in good health.



My decision to leave the road was a good one as I found myself at the end of Castle Park, which was going to be my first stop.

Colchester’s main claims to historical fame, is it is Britain’s oldest recorded town (from AD 79) and also has the oldest Roman era city walls in the country. The Romans built their first British fortress in Colchester soon after the invasion in AD43, this became the centre of a colony which was then sacked by Boudica’s army in AD61. Soon after this event London became the capital of Roman Britain, who knows what would have happened if the sacking never took place ? The famous walls were built when the city was rebuilt from AD65-80 and are almost 4 miles long.



All that remains of Colchester Castle is the keep, the largest remaining keep in Europe. Construction was completed in 1100 and it was built on top of the old Roman temple. Like all such buildings it has a chequered history and while it was serving as a prison in the 1640s it was the home of the Witchfinder General, Mathew Hopkins. I imagine it was not pleasant to be under investigation.


Like a lot of these old buildings it was built over a few decades using the various materials that were around, including stone and bricks salvaged from the old Roman buildings. I love the randomness of the window openings.



The castle has an excellent local museum inside, it was 7 pounds to enter, which I thought was good value for what was there. It was interesting and very child friendly with loads of (un-museum like) ‘Please touch’ signs on various activities. It was also pleasing to see that it was quite popular with the Colchester community with a few families looking around.


I really liked this chariot race game, these two couples were really enjoying themselves Smile Though I will say they dig hog it and I didn’t get a go. Though I am sure that if I had asked…


There were quite a few things of interest to see inside, I liked this tombstone of Marcus Favonius Facilis, who dies in Colchester soon after arriving in Britain in AD43. This is one of the earliest complete tombstones in Britain.


And another sculpture from the same period, the Colchester Sphinx.


I left the museum in search of the next piece of history on my list, St Botolph’s Abbey. Not having a map meant I got a bit misplaced. But I did find this really cool section of the city walls – I love the weeds growing out of this almost 2000 year old piece of history.


I passed by St Mary’s Church which I had read about in the museum. During the civil war in 1648, Colchester was besieged for many months by the Parliamentarians, the Royalists inside the town placed a small canon on the top of the church tower to fire over the walls, eventually it was hit by return fire and destroyed. When the church was later rebuilt the top of the tower was repaired in brick rather than the original Roman stone.


After a bit of faffing, some road side Google Mapping and eventually some random good fortune I found the ruins of St Botolph’s Priory. Unfortunately so had some people doing a model shoot who were hogging the place so, much as I like to take photos sans people, in this case I couldn’t and I ended up leaving in a minor huff.


The priory was the first Augustinian priory in Britain and like the nearby castle was completed around 1100. A long with many of the other leading Catholic orders, such as St Marys in York, it was dissolved by the order King Henry VIII in 1536 and a number of the buildings were torn down. The church as was allowed to remain to serve the local people but it was destroyed during the civil war. it is quite pretty and peaceful.




It was now past lunch time and my tummy was rumbling. When I was planning the trip last night, I had decided that I would find a nice pub to lunch in, drink a pint of decent ale, read my book, write some stuff, get myself organised with a few lists – I do love a list. Basically relax and unwind. But i couldn’t find a nice pub to lunch in. I did find the new art gallery though.

What a cool building, such a great contrast to the small old tower nearby. The gallery is very nice inside, big, airy and light. The exhibitions were not really to my liking, but the coffee and cake were fab.


The last thing on my list of things to do was to find Bourne Mill. Resorting to Google Maps again I found my way quite easily to this old building on its man made lake on what used to be the edge of town.


The building is managed by National Trust, so I finally got to use my membership card for the first time since I signed up two years ago. The mill was originally built in 1591 from stone left behind during the dissolution of the abbeys in 1536 and was built as a fishing lodge on a series of ponds made by the abbeys along a small stream that fed into the River Colne. It was converted into a fulling mill in 1640 and then into a corn mill in 1840 when the gables were added.



I followed path down the side of the very overgrown stream as far as I could towards the River Colne with the intent of following that back to where I started at the foot of Castle Park. The start of the stream walk was quite nice, at least it was quiet, but it soon popped out on to some busy edge of town roads.


There was sort of a path following the river, though on this side of town it was not the charming river side walk I was hoping for…


There is a ton of building going on around here, flats going up everywhere, I am guessing just to fuel the ever increasing fire for cheaper housing to meet the demands of those forced to leave London as it is now too expensive to live in.


Crossing back into the centre of town, it is clear to see the line between the water haves and have nots, there is a weir at the edge of town that keeps the river running through the parks nice and high and full and far more attractive. Though I am assuming that is due to the river being tidal more than anything more subversive. Still it was nice to be walking through the park again once I passed through its gates.

I headed back up into the centre of town to try and find one of the council website advertised friendly village pubs, but all there seemed to be were large bars with tattooed punters drinking lager outside. Not my thing at all. I wandered around for a bit before giving up and heading back towards the station. My dream of an afternoon relaxing over an ale or two dashed, though I did stop for one in a not too bad pub, but there were no longer serving lunch so I didn’t stay. The one place that looked like it could have been a decent pub in the old Dutch quarter was closed.


It had been a good day out, I enjoyed the old bits and the new gallery, it was nice to walk by a river, though it wasn’t a nice bit of river to walk by. It was nice to not have to talk or listen to anyone, and I could refocus myself a bit away from the madness and pressure of work.

I shall do it again.

The BEST thing that has happened in the last week is I have finally booked my many times postponed trip to New Zealand to see my family. As it now pretty much winter in NZ I have made it a quick visit with no ‘holiday’ time, just 10 days there and a lot to do. It is my grandson’s 1st birthday so I am really pleased to be able to be there for that, plus my oldest son is coming over from Australia as well. Double awesome, I get to see all three kids together!

A Box Hill hike

Friday 03 April 2015 – Box Hill, Surrey.

Easter Friday, a long weekend, Yay – and made even longer by having a much needed day off from work yesterday. Sounds pretty damn good to me !

I am part of a four person team that has signed up to do the Oxfam 100km walk on the South Downs in late July. With work being so busy and the weather not always being in my favour I, and the rest of the team, have not done a whole lot of training, and apart from one meet up in hotel bar to do some planning we have not actually done any walking together.

With this in mind we took the opportunity of a long weekend to get outside and do some walking in the hills just out of London, and Box Hill in Surrey ticked all those boxes. For some unfathomable reason the crazy people I am teamed up with decided that we would meet at Box Hill Station at 10:00 am, though it is not too far away it still meant an early rise on a day off work.

With public transport running reduced services and maintenance work going on all over the network I decided – wisely, to leave early and catch a tube to Vauxhall and get the train from the there to Box Hill, it was a slow journey but surprisingly reliable. I arrived at Box Hill to find one of my team mates already there at the station/cafe/bike shop. I availed myself of coffee, much needed coffee and a bit of cake while we waited. I really liked the station, yet for some reason I have no photo of it, I particularly liked fact it had a bike shop in it, and coffee was served surrounded by bikes

We were on the way soon after the others arrived, and immediately took the wrong turn out of the station. We were going to do the Box Hill Hike, there was a map on the internet with directions and everything nicely laid out, but all from the car park at Box Hill, no mention of the station at all, and no signs from the station either. I though this was rather poor. We realised fairly quickly we had gone the wrong way and were soon heading off roughly in the right direction.

It is a reasonable walk from the station to the official start of the Box Hill hike at the centre car park. It is a nice walk though. It is really nice to be out in the country!



The walk starts at the bottom of one of the many climbs up and around the hill, though we were soon heading up, and I surprised myself and had no issues with the climb at all. Ok, we are not talking Everest here, but it does go up a couple of hundred metres and when the escalator out of Holborn Station is your biggest regular climb, then even half that ascent that can be a challenge. I do not take prisoners on a climb either, so I did have a wait at the top…

There was not much of a view though.


We soon found the car park and the official start of the walk, and once under way the clouds started to lift and the day became quite reasonable. There was a point as we were walking to the start when I was wondering whether we were going to be able to remove woolly hats and rain coats at all, but the cloud eventually lifted and it turned out to be not too bad a day – and it even warmed up a bit.


Before we left I had done a bit of research into the park and definitely wanted to see Broadwood’s Folly, built in 1815 on the hill above the Broadwood family home. The Holm Oak growing through the middle is not native to the area and the seed may have been dropped by a passing bird. I thought it was quite cool…




There was a lot of up and down on the walk, as you would expect from a walk with Hill in the name! I liked it, I am not really a fan of all the flat stuff, and it was really nice to not be walking on roads or surrounded by cars either. This would be a great run, and we did see a few runners out as well as a lots of other walkers.


The church at Mickleham Village.


Back up on the tops again there was some quite nice forested areas, nice and mossy after the winter.


There was also this long stretch called the Mickleham Gallops, where horses were trained for races at the nearby Epsom track.


And at the bottom of the hill, and the start of the next climb – a rather nice cottage, the sort of place I used to fantasize about living in until the realities of living in an old house in the country sank in. Though this one I think would make a good location for a haunted house story.


And then it was back up the hill again….


Once over the top of this climb we were almost back to the start, and a slow wind down back to the station. We arrived just before the train so ran up and over the bridge and for some reason the train didn’t stop like it was supposed to. It was then back over the bridge and into the cafe for coffee and cake while we waited for the next train. The walk took just under four hours, including a stop for some lunch, and the odd break at the top of the many short climbs.

It was a really good day out. I took my Garmin watch and recorded that we did 68kms and we walked back to London. I must have forgotten to turn it off… 

My quads ached the next day !!