The Epping Forest Project, Phase 5 – May.
Reluctant at first I headed down the gentle slope and into trees, uninspired and frustrated at myself for not being able to relax into this morning alone in the forest.
As I descend towards what I suspect will be a small stream the noise from Epping Road slowly recedes, the bird noise becomes prevalent and I start to hear beech nuts and other tree fall crunching under foot. The peace of the surroundings is settling my busy mind and soon enough my footfall is quieter, my march has become a relaxed stroll and my ears and eyes are tuning into the frequency of my environment. I hope to see deer.
Another busy month, another with few opportunities to get to the forest of a weekend. I must try and get up after work some time, battle my way through the late afternoon traffic, or this project will never take place.
For the first time this year I took the mountain bike for a quick ride before El and I went out. I didn’t go far, just to Higham’s Park Lake, though even that was enough for me. The newly arrived adult hay fever has been particularly bad this summer, even with the daily pill I am left sneezing, coughing and streamy of eye on the worst days. It was still great to be out on the bike for the first time in months, though I did suffer for it.
I also found my new favourite tree, so gnarly!
I bought an Epping Forest book the other week, it was mentioned on Twitter and just seemed like the perfect book for me. Written by the naturalist Edward North Buxton in 1884, I found a second edition copy from 1885 on the internet for £17. The book is in fabulous condition and contains the author’s description of the forest and 6 maps, all drawn from his exploration of the forest. Epping Forest have recently released an updated version of their forest map, so it was with great delight I spent some time comparing the two. There were not too many differences, the roads and paths were almost all the same, interestingly Hollow Pond did not exist in Buxton’s book. I looked it up and the pond was only created in 1905 when stone was quarried for the construction of nearby Whipps Cross Hospital.
This morning’s walk was to look at Ambresbury Banks, one of the two ancient earthen forts in the forest; the other being Loughton Fort which I have visited many times in the past. The construction of the earth fort is believed to have commenced around 700BC and the site was occupied until at least 42AD. There is a 6ft tall bank and moat surrounding an area of around 4 hectares.
There is not a lot to see to honest, a bank and some beech trees, some pollarded and some not. It is quite close to Epping Rd and the traffic noise was quite loud, verging on unpleasant. It was not what I needed this morning. I walked the perimeter, where possible I used the top of the wall. Walk in the footsteps of those ancients who created this haven for their families and their livestock. It is more clearly defined than Loughton Fort, but I feel less of it than I do for Loughton, perhaps it was just the nearby road?
Completing the loop of the site I consulted my new map and decided to head towards Theydon. I did not have a huge amount of time this morning, so started walking along one of the mapped pathways, taking the opportunity to experiment further with impressionist photography.
Mapped pathways are not really my thing so spotting a bike trail pointing roughly where I wanted to go I wandered off into the trees. Finding the small stream at the bottom of the valley I could see loads of deer sign in the mud, clearly this place, without a steep bank is where wild life came to drink. I decided to follow what looked to be a well used deer track through the twisted young scrub. No human or cow sized animal could walk though here, it was all very low. I was making so much noise bashing though that I gave up any idea of seeing any wildlife at all.
I followed the stream until it joined with a proper trail and finally I found a scene that was worth spending some time setting up the tripod and getting angles just right. The tripod thing is a whole story in itself, though I am never sure on how to express it, one for another day.
Soon after I found this big old beach, I think it is one that was a coppice (chopped at ground level) which has led to these four separate trunks. I decided to take some time with my camera, walk around the tree, set up some shots and try to make some crisp photos. Then the noisiest man in Epping Forest turned up with a friend and they sat right by the tree I was taking photos of. Talking inanely, he at the loudest possible volume, I quickly lost my happy vibe , took two pictures and stomped off.
Almost back at the car I came across a small open plain area with some lovely tall silver birch on the edge and a wonderful old oak surrounded by fern in the centre. I took a lot of images, though the light was hideous; bright and flat, filtered through low light cloud. I will come back here again when there is some big cloud going on. It is a lovely spot.
After a fairly flat and uninspired start to this walk things really did pick up and I was happy with the photos I took, and the time I had outside. My enjoyment increasing the further I moved away from the noise of the traffic; something to add to my mental health toolkit.