On the hunt for the elusive ‘Skull Tree’

Sunday 18 March 2018 – Epping Forest.

In a tight clump of holly trees I once discovered an old dining room chair, alone and discarded, missing the companionship of its fellows chairs and the table itself. After an unsuccessful mission this morning to find ‘the skull tree’, I had resolved to at least re-finding the chair. This too proved to be unsuccessful. As I was crashing through a small, dense and tangled thicket of undergrowth, I spotted a very dark fox ambling through the snow in a clearing in front of me. Giving up on the chair, I forced myself clear of the holly and into the clearing. Hoping at least to find some fox prints in the snow that I could follow, in some sort of primitive huntery way. Though I was only armed with my camera.

Unlike two weeks ago, the snow was not thick enough to leave trace of light footed passers-by and my brief urge to be primeval man was over. Standing up I was looking around trying to work out where I was and spotted the back end of at least two small deer skipping away from me. I stood and watched until they disappeared from view, then spent ten minutes trying to find them. To no avail.

I did take this picture in the location I stopped looking. It is my favourite from the day.

The beast from the east made an unexpected and unwanted return this weekend, dumping a light load of snow on to London, most of which fell late on Saturday afternoon. Sunday was cold, much colder than two weeks ago, so I anticipated the snow lying on the ground for longer that it did on my last visit. Even if it didn’t last, going for a walk in the forest is always a good thing.

Last weekend, El and I went to a book reading and talk by the author Will Ashon. I enjoyed his book Strange Labyrinth and its stories of Epping Forest. On the cover of the book, and mentioned in its pages is a small skull carved into the trunk of a tree. I have tried, and failed, to find the tree before, and the talk inspired me to try again today. I had a broad idea where to look, but no specifics. In the questions after the talk I was assured it existed, but no further details were given.

Though I had to clear a light dusting from the car first.

The skull tree is supposedly not far from Loughton Camp so I parked the car nearby and set off, wrapped up warm as I was quite cold. Fingerless gloves to operate the camera not quite adequate enough while not under trees.

Strawberry Hill Ponds

Loughton Camp

Crossing over to the ‘lost pond’, I meandered around the trees for a while, not straying too far from trails, in the assumption that Will must have found the skull tree while walking on a path. I found lots of trees with writing, but no skulls.

I also found a summertime camp, looking long abandoned, and a small group with packs and furled away tents who looked like they may be nomadically living in the forest.

I was getting quite cold wandering around the lost pond area, and felt uncomfortable taking pictures if people were living in the area, so paid my respects to my favourite ancient tree before starting to walk back towards the car, though following a snow covered forest trail rather than the path.

I stumbled across the romantically named Loughton Brook Storage Pond, a place I have never been to, and then followed the brook back down to the car.

Before heading home feeling unsuccessful with not finding the skull tree, I thought I should try and find the old chair I came across back in summer, buried deep in a holly grove. I wanted to see it covered it ice and snow.

Leaving the mandarin ducks in the northern of the two Strawberry Hill Ponds I took to the trees again to find the chair, which takes us back to the start of this post, and a further lack of success.

I was quite cold by now, and getting a wee bit hungry as well, so after taking a couple of photos around the larger southern pond, I took to the main path, and went back to the warmth of the car. Next time I bring food!

The Epping Forest Project, Phase 2–February

February 2018 – Epping Forest.

February was a strange month, we seemed to be really busy each weekend with different activities that allowed me no time for the Epping Forest photography project I started in January. It is also winter, though winter did not fully happen until the very end of the month, even though I was still not feeling as inspired as I should have been. This is not untypical though.

I made two trips to Hollow Pond, a 30 minute walk from home. It is on the southern edge of Epping Forest, a small outpost with a thin link to the larger forest area. I like Hollow Pond, though it has its seedy, sleazy, tree-covered edges that are less attractive and reduce its overall appeal as a place to wander vacantly about. The sunny, open shores are very popular. Families and young and old couples stroll through trees and reeds, feeding the ducks, geese and swans, trying to avoid the marauding , thieving gulls.

Here are the best of the photos from the two walks.

Walk one started sunny, but very windy. El and I were half way around when the clouds started to form in the distance, and we could see rain falling over Woodford. We made a run for the lovely All you read is love bookshop in nearby Leytonstone. Before catching a bus back home.

Walk two was a solo walk starting from Waterworks Roundabout on a gloriously sunny, but cold day. I was aiming for some super close-up with massive of field shots, but there was just enough of a breeze to make them quite tricky, so I went for the loads of intrusive flare instead. Rule breaking by shooting in to the sun. Again.

Epping Forest in snow.

Saturday 03 March 2018 – Epping Forest.

What a difference three hours can make.

The meagre blanket of snow that covered the plain when I arrived on the edge of the forest was all but gone when I left. Arriving with hat, scarf, gloves on and jacket zipped to the neck, departing with all the accessories packed away and my coat wide open to cool down. It was a great morning’s walk between those points.

Three hours later.

The ‘beast from the east’ weather system passed through London, and the rest of the UK, over the last five days. The system brought some terrible weather to many parts of the country, though we in London were unscathed – as usual. What we did have was four days of on and off snow, resulting in the longest period of settled snow in the five years I have lived here.

It has been a really busy month at work so I was not able to take time off to get to the forest, so it was a little worrying to see the snow no longer falling on Friday evening. It was with some nervousness I peered out from behind the bedroom curtains early this morning to see what it was like. Snow on the ground, very flat grey sky and the roads were clear. Perfect!

I am not sure what I wanted to achieve this morning, take photos being the obvious objective, getting some quiet time also appealed. I never listen to music when I am there, one of the few places where I am on my own that I do not. Wandering vacantly appears to be what I excel at.

Chingford Plain


Warren Pond


Butlers Retreat – where I stopped for coffee on my way home. Very nice coffee and cake 🙂

Surprisingly I was alone for most of the morning, only seeing a couple of mountain bikers and a few dog walkers. I saw no-one on the main routes apart from one solitary runner, the dog walkers were all in the trees on what I have considered bike trails. Perhaps they just took the opportunity to roam more freely than usual? There were signs others had been here mid-week.

I was really (pleasantly) surprised how many animal foot prints I saw in the snow, though this is a forest so not sure why I was surprised. Deer, rabbit, fox and bird trails criss-crossed every human marked trail. Great signs for a healthy forest. Apart from birds I saw none of the animals that left these trails, though I was looking.

The snow was very shallow and very light; a foot step enough to disturb it, leaving earthen trails behind. Enough to cover light undergrowth and tree fall. Brambles, nettles and ferns were barely visible and where I would normally walk around the undergrowth I just walked over the top, only becoming entangled the once. It allowed for a more random path though the trees, inevitably letting me get hopelessly lost. As always.

As well as providing an amazing contrasting backdrop for photos and letting the trees stand out from the natural toned background the snow made finding my way around far harder than I expected, I was lost almost immediately I was into the trees and I never found the spot I was at barely two weeks ago. Though discovering this small grove of beech made my morning. The coppery gold leaves just popping out of the background. Humping the tripod around was worth every ounce of extra weight.


Following a bike tyre trail from what I thought was Cuckoo Brook I was aiming to get to a stand of silver birch near the church at High Beech. Silver birch in the snow is a real cliche I know, but then I do love a cliche. I never did get there. I had no idea where I was by this stage.

The morning was getting on and it was time to head back towards the station, with no idea of my location I turned towards the distant traffic noise from Epping New Rd. With the snow and the flat low clouds the forest was very quiet, I could hear the squeak of my shoes on the snow, the occasional bird and a dull but constant, surf like hum in the background. It was almost like being slightly inland from the sea.

I followed one of the main paths for a while, seeing one of the few people that were also out enjoying this rare solitude.

I soon left the main path again and back into the trees hoping to find Connaught Water. It turned out I still didn’t know where I was, though I did find a nice stand of young silver birch to make up for missing the one I was aiming for earlier. It is all a bit Scandi !

Finding another one of the main paths I experimented with a bit of impressionist photography before checking the map on my phone, finally working out where I was and setting off in the right direction.

The paths around an almost totally iced over Connaught Water were almost empty of people, I found this so unusual as this place is normally full of walkers. I had visions of families and young couples out enjoying the snow, tossing snowballs at each other and admiring the dedication of the birds sitting on the cold ice.

The snow was slowly melting away where there was no tree cover and I was quite shocked to see grass that had a white top coat when I arrived was almost bare of snow as I left.

I was really pleased I made it in time, that I had not followed my normal weekend routine and had a lie in.

It was a lovely, peaceful, beautiful morning out, and I hope you enjoyed the photos.

The Epping Forest Project, Phase 1 – January

Sunday 28 January 2018 – Epping Forest.

After six months in this job I have now settled into a routine that works well. In the main I do not work outside of work hours (he says sitting down to work on a Sunday morning!) and while I still have moments of being a total stress-monkey, I am much better at being able to relax into a weekend. I have allowed myself the time and head space to make benefit of the non-working hours.

I have been pondering some photographic/creative project for a while, a project that forces me off the couch and back outside.  Before we went to St Ives I came up with the plan to complete a 12 month photography project to capture the changing seasons in Epping Forest. The aim is to create one great image each month and combine them into a calendar at year end. Hopefully there will be more than one per month, but there is no point in putting pressure on myself before I even start!

I had planned on spending some of the time in St Ives researching the forest and its history and devising a plan for this project. I want to explore a lot more of the forest, get images from a range of locations and find one unusual spot to focus on. Returning to it each month to witness it change. It requires a bit of research, and I was looking forward to that; and where it led me. I tend to wander off down various rabbit holes when I am on the internet, especially when I am researching places and photography. This is something I really enjoy, but it does add to my already expert levels of procrastination. Sickness ended that plan, spending most of my St Ives downtime curled up in bed gazing vacantly at the wall.

We arrived back in Walthamstow from our holiday on Friday evening, and I was feeling a little perkier.. If I was going to achieve this new photo project then I had to be out today, it is already the last weekend of the month. The sky was a flay grey which was good in some ways, photography would be easier than if the sky was very bright, it was not too cold and not too windy either; though there was enough of a breeze to make close-up shots impossible.

My first stop was the top of Pole Hill. It is not much of a hill, only 92 metres above sea level; but it does have a great view to London city in the distance. Pole Hill also sits on the Greenwich Meridian. An obelisk was built in 1824 marking the exact spot. Sort of. In 1850 they discovered it was 19 ft out of line , so a second and smaller pillar was built. This fact always makes me smile!

Pole Hill’s second claim to fame is that T.E. Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia, owned some land and had a hut on the hill; now long gone.

I have ridden up this hill on numerous occasions and most of those times I have ridden off down this track that clearly says ‘Cycling’. There is a forest trail that runs close to the edge of the golf course, it is mostly ‘downhill’ and usually a lot of fun. There is a reasonable sized section of forest that I have yet to explore, so downhill I went.

I was surprised at the amount of space there is between the trees, I normally ride through here quite quickly and spend little time in observing my surroundings. Winter has stripped the leaves from most of the trees, adding to the space and light, even allowing for that I found it quite odd. I wonder if the area has been cleared in the recent past. If the ever present, invading holly was removed there would be huge gaps. I hate the holly, but it does provide a solid contrasting backdrop to winter leaves.

There was not a lot that captured my eye in this section, until I came across this manky old football.

As the forest was so open I headed off for a general wander into the trees, skipping the main path, not that I saw another person in this section at all. I did find this small collection of feathers, there was no blood or physical remains to go with them. I initially thought a fox or a feral cat must have grabbed a pigeon or a gull but am now thinking perhaps this was human work…

Crossing Bury Rd I entered the main southern block of Epping Forest, with a plan to do a loop and head back towards the station. As usual I got little lost so that didn’t happen. I did find this small patch of wispy trees with a tiny new silver birch growing in the middle. I do love a silver birch! I spent quite a bit of time here, taking photos from different angles. There was an unusual moss growth on the bottom of some of the wispy trunks that I have not noticed before. I think I have found my 12 month spot.

This was my favourite image from the day. I like the very muted, flat colours, with that thin shaft of white silver birch in the middle.

Autumn in Epping Forest – Week 2

Sunday 22 November 2017 – Epping Forest.

I was a little disappointed with the finished product after last week’s photo walk in Epping Forest. I had some good compositions and had the light pretty much right in most cases. Two key photographic objectives made. Where I had let myself down was the crispness of some of the images. There were a couple I was quite pleased with that were just not sharp enough in the areas that counted. What really galled is that I had humped the tripod around with me for the entire three half hours, yet I only used it for about ten minutes. What a waste; and don’t ask me why I did not use it. I have no reason.

I decided to go out again this weekend, take the tripod, but actually use it. No proper walk planned. Just photograph near to where I park and take more time, but producing less output.

I left home a little later than last week, it was another cracking autumn day, crisp, but not cold, with little wind and a clear sky; perfect for everyone and there dog to go outside. The car park near where I had planned to check out was full when I arrived, damnit! I ended up driving to another location, one I am familiar with, but it was second choice due to it being close to one of the more popular areas of the forest.  I do like to do my photography on my own.  The forest is the one place locally I can let my mind run free, clear out all the garbage that comes in over a working week, then reset and prepare thoughts and ideas for the week ahead. I always feel refreshed when I get home.

I was amazed at how much the forest had changed in just a week, a lot of the leaves had gone and there are a lot more bare trees than before. Next time I come up there will only be tree skeletons left. I took significantly less photos than last week, I had given my self a lot less time, and I only strayed a couple of hundred metres from the car, but I did use the tripod and I did get much sharper images. 

Mission accomplished!

I love how this tree has managed to reconnect its roots and has survived being blown over.

I spent a bit of time trying to photography these two trees, I liked their shapes and their relationship and I liked the way the light plays on them and with their leaves. I just could not seem to get the shot I wanted. I took enough, and this was the best of an average bunch.

Perhaps this couple sitting nearby put me off.  I always feel restrained when others are around.

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My favourite image from the session.

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Autumn in Epping Forest – Week 1

Sunday 22 November 2017 – Epping Forest.

Last year I managed to pretty much miss the changing of the seasons in London. Autumn arrived quite late and the trees had not started properly changing colour until after I left for India. This year I stayed for the show.

I have not been to Epping Forest for a few weeks, and was really looking forward to this trip. I had a walk planned, batteries for the big camera charged and the tripod in the car.

On a normal trip to the forest I am looking for flat grey light, however today I was hoping for some nice low sun. Actually, what I was praying for was some dense mist, though I settled happily for the clear sky that I got.

I have a semi regular walking route I follow when I go to the forest, covering decent sized groves of beech and silver birch trees. The actual paths taken vary each time, and I often stray in to small blocks of trees that I have yet to thoroughly explore before. Blocks that feel remote, that are quiet; though always my new favourite block.

Though I took the tripod, I barely used it, something I utterly regret now as I do the edit, as most of the images are not really, really crisp. I was disappointed with that. I have no real explanation as to why I did not use the tripod much. I am blaming the fact I had planned too large a walk, for the limited time I had.

I am going to return next week and stick to one small area.

Here are the images I ended up with.  I must admit I took an awful lot, way more than I normally do, but the forest was utterly spectacular. So much colour and so much vibrancy. I will leave it to you to judge 🙂

 

Searching for Obelisk

Sunday 30 July 2017 – Epping Forest.

The day after we returned from our south coast road trip I visited an exhibition at the wonderful Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge on the edge of Epping Forest. The exhibition was a collection of photographs taken by Marion Sidebottom, who is the current artist in residence at the forest. The focus of the work was the ancient trees in the forest, a subject I to am interested in. There were some lovely photos and I enjoyed a brief chat with Marion as well.

The exhibition did inspire me to get out and take some more photos in the forest, and maybe, just get lost wandering around for a while. My mission for this walk was to find a tree that was named in Marion’s exhibition as Obelisk. Two beech trees that appear to be wedded together. Helpfully Marion identified the location for the tree, so it was off to Loughton Camp I went.

Parking in the car park on Epping New Road, I headed off into the trees with the 5d on my back and the tripod under my arm. I was fully prepare for a photography session.

I know this section of the forest pretty well, so I was off the path and into the trees as soon as I left the car. The first scene I stopped at was one I had seen when I was last here on my bike. I am not particularly happy with this shot, though I am also not unhappy with it. This pretty much sums up all the photos I took today.

On the other side of the path I spent a bit of time trying to get a shot of the green moss popping out of the brown and yellow leaf covered soil. There was a lot of fast moving cloud about so it was quite tricky trying to get the light right. In the end I elected for a shady look.

Walking on I soon arrived in a clearing close to Strawberry Pond.

The sun was a lot brighter which made photography a more complex, there was also a strong and gusty breeze blowing, moving all the foliage around. I spent a bit of time trying to get a close up of the bright green ferns against the heather.

I very much like a strong contrast and am constantly on the look out for a bright white tree trunk against a lush dark green background. I like the concept of this photo, but it still not quite right, another one of those, not too bad but not great shots that were the mark of the day.

Crossing over Earls Path I slogged my way up the hill towards Loughton Camp, stopping on the way to photograph the trunks of this beech. I particularly liked the contrasting moss and the way it slowly moving up the trunk.

Arriving at Loughton Camp I was annoyed to find a small group of youf riding mountain bikes over the mounds. As a mountain biker I don’t blame them, they look like they would be a lot of fun, but this is an ancient site and should be preserved so it is still there in another 2500 years. There are a couple of signs saying no bikes, but not enough of them and they are not very clear. I didn’t want to point my camera at them in case they thought I was going to tell on them. I do think it restricted my taking photos though. So here is some of Loughton Camp, facing away from the boys on their bikes. You can see there is a well warn path through here.

With the boys riding around the north end of the camp I decided to explore the south and west, looking for the ‘Obelisk’ trees. The area is huge, and there are a lot of beech here. Apparently 60% of England’s ancient beech trees are in Epping Forest. I did not find Obelisk, but I did find this outline of New Zealand in the thin scraggly grass between the trees.

I spent a bit of time on the flat area looking for Obelisk and for anything else worth photographing, I took a few other images, but nothing I was overly happy with. Mildly frustrated I decided to head back towards the car, though walking down through the trees rather than the main path.

I spent a bit of time at this small grove of silver birch that were backed by some nice dark holly. It was fairly dim now, and I was shooting at quite a slow shutter speed to get a bit of depth. With the breeze and the incline I was not able to get a perfectly still shot. I made a note of the location and will come back here as autumn comes and the leaves start to turn.

The forest was quite dense, surprisingly so. I am used to quite open sections that can be ridden through. I ended doing more of a bush bash than I expected, finally working my way back to the path, Long trousers next time, will save losing skin on my legs.

Once back across Earls Path I took another side trip into the trees in the general direction of the car. I hit another gnarly dense section of forest, mainly holly bushes, which are never fun to push through. Bizarrely I came across a chair in the middle of the trees, there was nothing around to show that it had been the old camp site of a forest dweller or dwellers. Just a chair. Alone. I took a few photos of it. I love the forest!

It was a semi-good afternoon out. I wasn’t overly happy with my pictures, and I was disappointed I did not find the tree. I have two trees to find near Loughton Camp. The ‘skull tree’, from Will Ahshon’s book, and now Marion’s Obelisk.

More reasons to go back , though I do not need a reason to go back other than it is a magnificent section of a lovely forest.

Old school fun fairs and ancient trees. Life in e17

Sunday 11 June 2017 – London.

Summer is coming along nicely now, we have had a bit of rain but that was during the week, and who cares what the weather is like during the week? I don’t, at least while I am working in Hammersmith which is too far to ride to from home. Maybe when (if?) I start this new job which is a lot closer to home I will start riding to work again.

It has been an interesting weekend, quite busy, yet there seemed to be plenty of time to get a few chores done as well. The e17 art trail is on at the moment, it is a two yearly art happening in Walthamstow, which has grown significantly over the past couple of events and now features dozens of exhibitions in local homes and public spaces. El and I decided to take in one of the furthest away exhibitions and do a supermarket shop on the way back. It was nice day for a walk.

We passed Walthamstow Cemetery on the way, I have driven past it a couple of times, but have never been in, as we were on foot it seemed like the right time. It is pretty interesting, unlike the graveyard at our local church which is grassed; and very overgrown at the moment, Walthamstow cemetery is almost grass free. There has been some weird subsidence and earth movement here and a lot of the graves are now rough and tumbled, it was quite an interesting place, though the light was really harsh and I only had my cellphone. I will come back one day soon when the light is better, bring the camera and have a really good look around.

It turned out that the art exhibition had finished the weekend before, but the walk was still worth if for the cemetery visit alone.

A couple of weeks ago it was London Tree Week, something I was not ready for. I did see a couple of photos of what is supposed to be one of, if not, the oldest tree in Epping Forest, along with a rough idea of its location.It was such a nice morning so perfect for jumping on the mountain bike and going on a tree hunting mission. Trying to find a tree in a forest. It could be interesting!

With no real idea of the location of the tree I skipped all the fun bits in the small interlocked sections of forest and park that connect home to Epping Forest proper. I was not planning on stopping until I reached The Lost Pond, where the tree I am looking for is be located. However, there are longhorn cattle in the forest at the moment, and as I had to stop and open a gate it would have been rude to not take a photo when this cow came over to check me out.

My next stop was Loughton Camp, pretty much the furthest North I have been in this block of the forest, Loughton Camp is the site of an Iron Age fortified village from approximately 500 years BC. Obviously there is not a lot to see, but the banks, ditches and ramparts that were formed are still there. I think it is quite cool – a 2500 year old piece of history made of earth half hidden in an old forest.

I also found this very pretty old tree, a back up in case I do not find the one I am looking for! It too is a copparded beech. A copparded tree has been coppiced (pruned very close to the ground) and then pollarded (pruning of the top branches to promote growth) at various times over the decades and centuries.

North and west of Loughton Camp lies The Lost Pond, I have never ventured to this part of the forest before, so as well as the adventure of looking for an old tree I also had the added adventure of riding into an area I haven’t been to. I often end up on trails and in bits of forest I haven’t been in, but that has always been by mistake and in areas I generally sort of know. 

From an adventure perspective it was all rather boring, I rode up the wide walking track for a little bit and then ducked off into the trees on a bit of single track. Two minutes later I found Lost Pond. It was not particularly lost, and I did not feel lost either. I stopped to take a photo of the pond, and two elderly couples wandered out of the forest to look at the pond as well. This made me feel even less adventurous. This section of the forest is particularly beautiful, though I think that every were I go.

Getting back on my bike I started to look for the ‘tree’, I knew what I was looking for, but trying to find a tree in a forest is like not seeing the wood for the trees. There are a lot of really nice beech trees in this section of the forest, which was a very good sign seeing as I was looking for a beech. I was quite surprised but I found the tree almost immediately, admittedly it did not require a huge amount of effort. It was disappointingly easy to find…

However finding it was not disappointing at all, it is a lovely tree. Possibly the oldest in the forest, and possibly over 1000 years old. It is a magnificent and regal specimen. It is a copparded beech tree. , as far back as Saxon times. It has been cut many times, pruned for firewood, fence and house building; who knows what for, but over centuries bits have been lopped off, but always leaving enough for it to continue to grow. Providing a source of wood for future generations.

I will come back to Lost Pond and this lovely ancient tree.

As is tradition on any ride, no matter where I am in the forest I always head to the tea hut at High Beech for a cup of instant coffee and piece of bread pudding; energy to ride back home. High Beech is usually the furthest part of the forest from home that I ride to. There is, of course, plenty more forest on from High Beech; and one day I will explore more of it.

The added bonus after eating the bread pudding is that from this ‘high’ point in the forest there are some really nice down hill tracks towards home, with so many choices and so many criss-cross tracks I inevitably end up somewhere new. This time I found myself in a wonderful little glade, with a couple of great, tall and straight trees. I must take my tree book up next time. One of the joys of randomly riding around the forest is coming across these sunny little spots, with possibility of never finding them again.

It was very peaceful, I could hear birds and the wind ruffling the trees and nothing else, and just as I was taking a photo of some lovely fungus a group of rattling chatting mountain bikers passed on through. Moment of reverie over. It was time to ride on home.

I was pretty knackered when I got home, I had been out for over three hours, which was quite a long time by my current standards and level of fitness. Every ride gets easier though!

After lunch and a wee lie down El and I walked round the corner to Lloyd Park which was hosting ‘Carters Steam-powered Funfair’ over the weekend. It was fabulous. Beautifully restored fairground rides, loads of families and kids. All the fun of the fair as they say. I only had my phone with me, but took a few photos anyway. I love seeing this sort of thing, things from my youth, looked after and being enjoyed by today’s young. Who cannot get joy from old school dodgems. So much better than Playstation.

And to finish, here is a photo of some wild flowers that have been planted in the street behind ours. We pass here every morning on the way to work. Lovely.

Back on the bike !

Sunday 22 January 2017 – London.

A rather belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and welcome to my first post of 2017.

It has been a very long time since I have been on my mountain bike, November 2015 was the last time I rode in the UK. I had a quick and awful pedal on my last trip to New Zealand and have only ridden the commuter bike once or twice since 2015. I have been meaning to get out more, honest.

I am going to stick to my usual excuse, no point in making up another one now. I have been really busy since I returned from my trip. I was unexpectedly straight back in to work and have been working ever since. As my contract finished before I left for India I was not expecting to be working so soon on my return, but I have been back at the same place on a sort of week-by-week basis.

I have also started to look for a full time permanent job, back to working five days a week. It is time to replenish a much hammered savings account. Much as I have loved working four day weeks, I have not saved any penny in over a year and have churned through the money I saved when I was working a full five days. I have been taking job applications semi-seriously this time, I have fired off quick responses to a couple of agencies but most applications have taken considerable time to complete. Fingers crossed one of those applications will prove that all the work has been worth it.

The other reason I have not ridden is I have been lazy, very lazy…

Last weekend as I was walking home from the laundrette I saw a mud covered mountain biker waiting at the lights near the end of my street. He looked like he had had a lot fun and I was quite jealous. I decided that I would do something about it. Mid-week and out of the blue I had a message from someone I have ridden with before asking me if I wanted to take a slow pedal around the forest. Perfect timing!

Fortunately all my bike needed was some air in the tires and a bit of chain lube, a quick spin around the block yesterday morning to make it all worked and I was ready to ride.

What I wasn’t really ready for was riding in -1 degrees. It was cold when I got outside! It was however a glorious sunny day, there was no wind and once we got going I sort of warmed up a bit.

There was a lot of frost on the ground and on the roofs of the parked cars as I pedalled up to the meeting point on Beacontree Ave. I was first to arrive and with a couple of minutes to wait took the first photo of the day. Frosty grasses in a road side tub.

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With little exercise in the last 12 months I knew it was going to be a slow and hard ride, I was lucky that my riding buddy today, Tom, was not in for a fast ride either. I told him that I would be wanting to take some photos on the way. This was not just an excuse for multiple breaks. It was stunning out there this morning! Our first stop was only a few minutes in, this could be a long ride.

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The ground was incredibly hard, I have never ridden on frozen mud before, mud that crunches under tyres or does not yield when ridden on, the puddles were mostly iced over and very few were broken under our wheels. Our next stop was at Highams Park Lake, which appeared to be completely frozen. I know shooting into the sun is a photography no-no, but meh, I have been breaking photography rules for years. Flareage!

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I loved these leaves trapped under the thin ice on the lake.

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It was a bit of a slog up Pole Hill, my legs were starting to feel it and we had only been going for 30 or 40 minutes. While we rested I went for a quick explore, looking for some frost laden leaves.

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There is a great view over towards the Shard and down to Canary Wharf on a fine day, but there was a little mist around so we just had to make do with the view down over Chingford.

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The ride down Pole Hill through the trees next to the golf course is one of a very small number of tracks that actually go down hill in the forest. So naturally it is one of my favourite trails in the park. There is also a great piece of single track on the other side of the road, with solid ground under-wheel, rather than the usual mud it was even better than usual. Though we did come across a really nice fern grove. So I had to stop…

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I loved the way the frost made the surface of the leaves so white and fragile.

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I didn’t take any more photos. Too tired and I needed to concentrate on the riding. We rode up to the tea hut at High Beach, which is a regular stopping point for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. 2 pounds 10 for both. Wonderful, no wonder it is so popular with riders and walkers.

The ride back towards home starts off well with some really nice and mostly downhill single track, but as we leave the forest proper and meander through some smaller, but still forested parks it turns into a bit of a slog. At least today it was not muddy!

All up we were out for about three hours. It was damn good to be out and about on the bike again!

One week later. I went for another ride again today. There was no ice, but lots of mud and it was so much harder.

Not quite autumn

Sunday 23 October 2016 – Epping Forest.

This will be my last full weekend in London until December. Next Sunday I am off to Berlin for three days on a work trip and the day after I return to London I am back out to the airport and off on a month long holiday trip to India, Australia, New Zealand and Dubai. I am looking forward to it, though pensively.

I haven’t travelled alone and to somewhere out of my comfort zone since the month in Sri Lanka back in early 2013. I am now a lot more settled than I was then and am happy with my life and with where I am in it. Plus I have gotten a little older, softer and greyer in the interim. There are nerves, but I am very excited by it. The planning is almost over and the trip will soon be under way.

I have been waiting for full autumn to arrive for a few weeks now. With a long and reasonably dry summer over later than normal the trees in Epping Forest have been holding on to their green colour further into October than expected. While I very much enjoyed the summer, I was also looking forward to seeing the season change. I don’t think I am going to see it.

With no more opportunities to see autumn in the forest this year I drove there this morning to go for a walk with my camera so I can see what colour had come out. Visually, it was largely disappointing, a little bit of yellow, but no dark orange and definitely no red. Yet. It will come I am sure, I just won’t be here to see it.

I took a few photos, not a lot as the colour wasn’t there and I wasn’t really feeling it either. So here are a few of them.

It was really nice to be outside in some (relatively) fresh air and take a walk among some lovely young and old trees, if they were refusing to show off their autumn colour.

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