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.