The beautiful bluebells of Chalet Wood.

Friday 29 April 2016 – Wanstead Park, London.

It is spring here in the UK, not that you can tell that by the weather. Two days ago there was a flurry of snow in London – admittedly if you had blinked slowly you would have missed it, but it was a snow fall nonetheless. I am blaming a cutting arctic wind that slices through to the bone if you are not adequately dressed. When I was walking home after taking these photos today there was a brief wind driven hail and rain shower that felt like mid-winter had returned. It was awful.

Only working a four day week means I have Fridays off, so I took the opportunity to nip out to Chalet Wood in Wanstead Park to check out the bluebell fields, hoping that it would be less crowded than I knew the weekend would be. El and I have been planning on visiting for the past couple of weekends but just have not had a chance to make it. With the season about to end I decided to go solo.

Having been to look at the bluebells last year it took me no time at all to find my way there from Wanstead Park Station, which obtusely is near Wanstead Flats, not Wanstead Park. The walk through the flats was quite nice though, the sun keeping the cold away.

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Once I got to Chalet Wood and the bluebell grove I took lots of photos, there is no point in me saying any more really!

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I liked the interplay between shadow and light between the trees and the way the small paths wound their way through the patch, allowing visitors to get in amongst the flowers without trampling them down.

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I think this crow was guarding it’s small patch !

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Fabulous – and not too many people there either. I had planned on getting there early to catch some early morning sun coming through the trees, but I didn’t make it, there was still some sun though it was sporadic, eventually leading to rain and hail on the walk back home.

Photos of Epping Forest.

Friday 22 April 2016, Epping Forest, London.

Ever since we got back from New Zealand and Hong Kong I have been suffering from a distinct lack of interest in actually doing anything, though if I am honest this malaise has been hanging over my head like a threatening rain cloud for a while. In the last couple of weeks I blamed the jet lag. Convenient. Yet wrong. Not that I have any other answer for it. Maybe it is just simply that I got lazy! I have had a couple of attempts at the gym since we got back and didn’t enjoy either of them, I feel unfit and slow, and at times a little miserable about it all.

Yesterday I read a post by Paul, a guy I follow on WordPress, about how getting outdoors and doing some exercise can make you feel a whole lot better. I know this, in fact I have known this for a long time, yet still I was doing very little about it. It is a great read, so check it out and it did make me determined to get up early this morning, get back to Epping Forest, take my camera and go for a good walk.

Then…… This morning. I had a poor sleep, again, second really bad night in a row. I was awake when El got up for work, and I planned on getting up and out the door before mid-morning. Once El had left, the malaise hit me again and all of a sudden I was planning on a day of reading and wasting time surfing the internet – doing anything but what I really needed to do. Shift my butt – and my head.

I was on my second cup of coffee, still in bed, reading Kiwi Trail Runner magazine when I came across another article about exercise and a healthy mind. This time I did make it out of bed. I am glad I did!

I took the bus to Chingford Station on the edge of Epping Forest. I had been thinking of walking home from Chingford using all the linked sections of forest that I use on mountain bike rides, but on the bus I changed my mind and decided to head into the forest and wander vacantly instead. Getting lost would be OK, it is not a vast forest and I sort of know my way about.

I started off walking up one of the many preformed paths, following a man walking a couple of small dogs at a much faster pace than I planned on mustering today.

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I am trying to slow down a bit, I have always been a fast walker, and since being in London, I have got faster and more ‘aggressive’ in my walking, I have a rush hour head on all the time. I want to teach myself to relax, care more about the journey than the arriving. I think I did OK today. I noticed the smells of the forest, as soon as I was under the tree cover; the earthy smell of mould and rotting tree fall permeated the air, a healthy natural smell, not unpleasant. Just there and it felt good noticing it. Taking the time to listen and smell and really see was something I need do to more often.

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I finally reached the end of the path I was on and had a few choices of dirt single track to chose. I wanted to try and find a silver birch grove I have passed through on my rides, which had become a favourite part of the forest. I have not ridden here all year – part of my slackness. I was blaming the mud – but I rode last winter. I was sort of scoping out the mud today with a near future ride in mind. There was a lot less mud than winter, but still plenty about.

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Carrying on in what was the general direction of where I thought I wanted to go, I saw loads of trees I wanted to take photos of. I am a bit of obsessed with trees and forests at the moment, a very long moment I guess. At the start of the walk I was looking for something different to take photos of, there is a lot of tree fall in the forest, short roots and light soil leave them exposed to the dangers from a high wind.

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With spring well under way, there is a lot green about, fresh buds mixing with old winter growth. There is not a huge amount of colour around, but seeing the trees starting to embrace the spring and lead us towards summer is such a good thing.

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The other thing I was looking to take some photos of was the small stream that runs through this section of the forest, it was my target for when I headed back towards the station. I like the way it twists and turns every few metres. Next time I hit the forest I will walk the stream from one edge to the other.

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More by good fortune than good planning I found the area I was looking for, a gentle hill that heads up in the direction of High Beach. I love this grafittied (I think) beach tree. Some of the dates stretch back a few decades.

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This part of the forest is just stunning, and that was before I hit the silver birch section. It is a time of the year I really like in the forest, just as the leaves are starting to reappear on the trees, there is more light, softer more delicate colour and the shapes made by the branches and trunks are still visible.

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And then I went a bit camera mad. One of the wise decisions I made when I packed a bag last night, and I did think twice about this, was to bring a tripod. I brought a lighter weight one, which I did regret as it did not cope well with the weight of the 5d. Next time I will take the big one. But the tripod allowed me to take better photos.

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I spent quite a long time wandering aimlessly around the silver birch grove. The great thing about Epping is it is so small you just cannot get seriously lost. I didn’t bother with trails up here, just moved between the trees to the next location that took my fancy. I found a nice open space at the top of the low rise, where I stopped for a drink of water, a snack and a sit down on a pile of dead trees.

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There was another lovely little grove of silver birches on my way back towards the station; I really do love these trees and just could not help myself and took a few more photos.

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I must admit to getting a bit mis-placed on my way back, thinking I was in one place and then finding out I was somewhere else, just like I do on my bike rides. I saw a couple of small deer in this section, I was not quick enough to get a photo, but it was pleasing to see them, maybe one day I will come back with a bigger lens and do a bit of deer stalking.

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I eventually found the stream again, so I walked along it for a while, taking photos here and there. These little bridges are pretty cool, I am assuming for mountain bikers to cross the small streams. I just like the fact they are there and there is no path leading to or away from them.

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Soon enough I was on one of the fixed paths heading back towards the station. Except I wasn’t, I was on a path heading away from the station… Not terribly away, not 180 degrees, now that would have been embarrassing! Once I worked out where I was it was a fairly short hike back to where I started.

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I was out for 3 ½ hours. 3 ½ hours of relative peace – you can hear the road from many places in the forest, but fresh air, lovely trees and semi-solitude. It was what the soul needed and I felt so much better than I did when I woke up this morning and almost did not go out.

I have now bought a book on English trees, it is about time I could name more than just an oak tree.

In other news – let’s drift back in time a bit to last week. I quit my job. I don’t have another one to go to, but I have a three month notice period, which just made looking for another job seem impossible. I have taken the risk and hopefully it will pay off!

P.S A question a few days after posting.

I have just looked at this post on a different computer from the one I edited the photos on. The photos on that computer were, in my opinion, a bit too bright and almost over-exposed. Do you see over-bright photos or over-dark photos ? I am interested to know so I can make sure I edit on the right computer!  Please let me know.

Bike exploring in Epping Forest.

Sunday 30 August 2015 – Epping Forest.

I haven’t been out on the bike for a few weeks so I took the opportunity of the extra day off work with this being a long weekend to pop out for a couple of hours of pedalling up to and around Epping Forest. It was a solo ride today so I took the camera along as well, it always gives me an excuse to stop riding and have a rest, not that I really needed one as this was a slow ride.

After a few weeks of not too bad weather there has been a bit of rain over the past week and some of the tracks were really slippery, like someone had poured oil onto an ice rink – with added ruts to keep it interesting. Surprisingly I did not fall off like I usually do in the slippery stuff.

There are many things I love about riding in Epping Forest, and one of those things is getting to Epping Forest. In Auckland I had to drive 40 minutes to the forest, here I ride 40 minutes, and just about all of that time is off road. The small area of Walthamstow Forest is five minutes from home and there are a couple of really good trails in there. I am always finding something new, though this one didn’t seem to go too far.

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I just cannot believe there is riding this good in NE London!

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Across one of the numerous roads is the narrow stretch of Highams Park and its small boating lake, I don’t think I have ever seen any one in a boat on the lake though. There were lots of dog walkers and families out, so it was a slow and polite pedal around the lake.

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I was keen to try something different on this ride, Epping is pretty big and riddled with trails, I am slowly getting familiar with the basic layout of the forest now, and while I still get ‘lost’ on every ride I haven’t resorted to using my phone to find myself for a long time. I was a bit annoyed that the battery died in my Garmin watch as I do like to see where I have been when I get home. I ended up riding up Warren Hill, a change from the single and double track I had been riding on.

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I rode up the side of the forest looking for a way to get in to the trees to see if there was any single track in there, I ended up riding up the grass and ducking down to the right at the top and a wide section of track that was really starting to show a bit of early leaf fall. Autumn must be on the way, though it was pretty warm out this morning. I just love the trees in English forests. I was still taking it pretty slow, the track was slippery as heck and stupidly I didn’t have my riding glasses in my bag and there was a lot of loose dirt flying up and hitting my face, on occasion I was riding one handed with the other in front of my eyes. This does not make for high speed runs, even on the downhill sections.

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Soon enough this part of the forest ended up at one of the main roads, I think I was crossing Epping New Rd. I haven’t had to life my bike over a fence for ages!

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My mission for the day was to find Loughton Camp, the site of an Iron Age fort. There is, of course, nothing left now except the dirt mounds. As this site is from around 500BC, over 2500 years old there is still some speculation as to what it was used for, the most likely being that it was used to protect cattle from other tribes/villages. There are stories that Boadicea used the camp, and that many many years later the highway man, Dick Turpin had a hideout here. It has some interesting history !

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The sign says no cycling as this is a listed historical site. A you can see the place is riddled with bike tracks, in fact I rode through it myself as I came from the opposite direction where there was no sign and I didn’t really realise where I was until it was too late. Sorry !!

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I can see why people have been riding here, with all those banks and berms, it looks like there would be a bit of fun for those more inclined to jumping than I am. A shame, as a fan of preserving history, as well as a mountain biker, I like to see these place preserved, but accessible. There needs to be a better education plan – and some more signs. It is a lovely part of the forest though.

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By complete accident I found my next stop, the tea hut at High Beach. Cup of coffee and a sausage roll. A perfect mid ride refuel and hugely popular with all types of riders – even those weird lycra clad road types.

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The ride back towards home was as random as usual, I don’t think I rode on any tracks I have previously ridden on, such a warren of single track around here, just perfect for losing time and place in. I love it how tracks that are so clear just sort of die out in a clearing, and I have to ride around trying to find another track to get out, or make my own way through the trees, proper trail riding.

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Soon enough I was back on the familiar trails that lead from the official Epping Forest back to home in Walthamstow. I usually ride on this River Ching (calling this a river requires one to take a massive leap in imagination). The bridge gets ricketier and ricketier each ride.

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Over the North Circular and that was pretty much the end of the ride, just a blast down the road to home. I love it that this forest is that close to the city !!

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El has been doing up the garden over summer, and there is now a nice new patio area – just where I used to clean the bike. I am not sure what to do now !!

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The bike is still dirty….

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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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 ?

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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.

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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…

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

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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 !

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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.

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

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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.

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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…

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

A new year shakedown Epping Forest mountain bike ride.

Sunday 04 January 2015 – Epping Forest.

First ride and first post of the new year, I am hoping to be able to keep up with both.

My Christmas and New Year were both enjoyable, El and I stayed around home for the most part, though we both worked a couple of days between Christmas and New Year. It was a welcome break from work, it did get a bit stressful towards the end and after so long off work, four months seemed a long time between holidays. I cannot say I am looking forward to going back tomorrow, but at least I am relaxed again – reasonably so anyway.

I missed my family over Christmas, in the end I did not even get too see them on Skype which was a real shame, and apparently they had a good time without me! I did enjoy my time with El and her boys though, lots of food, some wine and not too bad TV made for a good couple of days and it was lovely being able to share it with them again.

I have made a couple of small life decisions in the past couple of weeks, firstly I am growing facial hair again, I won’t go full hipster beard, just a small winter warmer and an opportunity to not have to shave for a few weeks, my most hated chore. Secondly and more radically I have deleted my FaceBook account. I have been there, almost since the beginning, but have finally gotten sick of it and the fact that it intrudes so much into my life, mostly because I let it I will say. Anyway I will see how it goes with a FaceBook free life. It can only be better.

It was a pretty lazy holiday period, though we did walk, I have not run since before Christmas and have not been on the bike since late November when I did my first bike event in years. An event I was really poorly prepared for and subsequently did not enjoy as much as I should have. Not that that kept me off the bike though – laziness and an ever extending stomach kept me off the bike.

Last week, local mountain bike enthusiast, Tony from Walthamstow Cycles, sent an email round about a group ride in Epping Forest this Sunday and it was the impetus I needed to get off my sorry ass, get the cold gear out, lube the chain, pump up the tyres and get ready to go out for a ride – even if it was supposed to be in a -1 freezing fog.

Fortunately, on the day it was comparatively nice; with grey skies, a light mist and a positively warm zero degrees when I left home to meet the crew at 8:30. There was supposed to be eight riders heading out today and surprisingly everyone was there and even more surprisingly everyone was there on time, in fact we actually left the meeting point early. This is not something I am used to at all. I like this group already!

We rode off from Beacontree Ave into Walthamstow Forest, a small section of forest that links up, via a few more small sections into the broader Epping Forest. You know it is cold when the frost covered grass is crunching under your wheels and the puddles in the mud are iced over. Luckily once we got under the trees the layers of mud were not so iced over, just slushy and boggy and clingy. Did I say luckily ?

I had tossed a camera in my bag on the off chance I would get a chance to get some photos off a foggy and damp Epping Forest, but as expected the opportunities were few and far between, this was a bike ride, not a photographic mission!

We rode through to Epping Forest by a long and winding route, trying to avoid the worst of the mud and wet areas from a very full River Ching. There was some quite tasty single track sessions that I am unlikely to ever find again. Once in Epping Forest itself, it was ‘good’ to ride up Pole Hill and away from the wet land. It is the highest point in the forest, though at a massive 91 metres it is hardly going to be much use for hill training. But we did take a break at the top and I got to take a couple of pictures. Sadly there was no view….

IMG_1103IMG_1101The best bit about riding up a hill is getting to ride back down again, I rode this trail on my first ride in the forest but was never able to find it again, it was a lot more fun when there was some grip, but even slippy and slidey it was still a load of fun and one of my favourite trails of the day – not that there was a bad trail ridden….

IMG_1102We had another break for some running repairs as we headed across the middle of the lower half of the forest, and I again took the opportunity to take some photos. The forecast had said that there would be an increase in fog over the morning and they were not wrong for a change.

IMG_1106Our next stop was Strawberry Ponds, a lovely area of the forest that I would like to visit again and take some photos at. A location I have now lined up for a session if it snows, though finding it would be a challenge. It is a beautiful spot and the middle of the pond was very much covered in ice.

IMG_1109IMG_1110After almost three hours of riding we took a much earned rest at the tea shed at High Beach, coffee and the famous bread pudding was very well received. The riding had been quite hard, we were hardly setting a rocket pace, but the mud was constant and we were either sliding around, splashing through puddles or grinding through thick sucking mud – the worst kind. I was not feeling too bad, mid-pack in fitness so able to keep up easily enough and with steady riding I had not gotten too hot or too cold – with the exception of my toes which were freezing. New socks are on the shopping lost.

IMG_1111We took a few short cuts on the way back towards home, scooting quickly down some of the more established paths. Losing half the group as we went. It was a bit of a slog back across the flat areas with a some real bog grinds and a crossing of the River Ching (in reality a small stream) when we came across an impassably flooded section of track.

Tony offered us the use of his pressure washer to rinse the bikes down, along with a quick chain lube before I rode home after almost 28 kms of mostly single track riding. My new bike – a Genesis Latitude, was perfect for this riding, the bigger wheels were great in the mud and the bike is so well balanced, I am really glad I bought it.

IMG_1113It was a great morning out, a hell of a lot of fun with a good group of riders. I earned the sausage, eggs, chips and beans I had at the local cafe for lunch ! Thanks Walthamstow Cycles !!

Meet my new friend.

Saturday 18 October 2014 – Epping Forest.

Ok, last post from Epping Forest for a while I promise (fingers crossed behind back), but I have been enjoying myself up there and this week was different. This week I was riding my brand spanking new bike and it was a real joy.

After the last couple of rides on the old and too small Kona I had decided that I was enjoying my riding enough to spend a decent slice of cash and get a new bike. After a bit of time looking around the internet and some discussion with Tony from Walthamstow Cycles I decided on a Genesis Latitude 20, a steel framed UK designed bike – I also decided on a bike with lots of gears.

I haven’t bought a bought a new bike for years, the last one was the Kona Dawg full suspended bike I bought what must be twelve or so years ago. The DMR I ride in NZ was assembled from a frame I bought second hand in 2005 and bits from other bikes I had owned. I can definitely say that technology has moved on since I bought or built. The new bike has 27.5 inch wheels, a size I had not even heard of on a mountain bike a month ago – apparently they are the new thing, and it has twenty gears, which is also new to me. It seems I did get very out of touch.

I had a very busy weekend booked but managed to sneak out on Saturday morning for a couple of hours in the forest to give the new beast a bit of a run.

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This is the one and only time it will be truly clean…

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It was a good ride, I am pretty sure I did not ride any of the same trails I rode last week, I definitely got misplaced twice this time, once in a small section of forest before the main park – I did an unexpected loop, but it was a nice trail. The second time was on a really good section of flowing single track, though sadly I rode up the gentle gradient – twice, before popping out on a road and having to use Google maps to work out where I was. Which was not where I expected to be!  It didn’t take long to get back on track though.  There are so many trails in the forest, and unlike home there is no trail marking and the trails are two way. Not that there were many other riders out on Saturday morning to meet coming the other way.

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The bike rode beautifully. With a large 19 inch frame and the big wheels the centre of balance was significantly higher than I was used to, but it is such a stable platform I barely noticed the difference. It also felt a lot lighter than I expected and even with those massive handlebars it was surprisingly quick to manoeuvre.

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The fork is an X-Fusion Velvet RL2, I have not heard of the brand before, but they seem to have a good reputation and the fork was very smooth and even better I could lock it out for the road section to and from the forest. I have never had a lock out fork before, luxury!

I did come off at once stage, the rear wheel just flew out from underneath me in this really greasy section of track on the way back home, luckily I managed to get off the pedals before I hit the ground and came out unscathed – and “clean”.

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Actually I was filthy when I finally arrived home, the tracks were either very greasy, very wet or very boggy in so many places. One of the reason I really enjoy winter riding…

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Fabulous bike and another great ride.

an Epping Forest sleepout.

Saturday 04 October 2014 – Epping Forest.

After an awesome ride in the forest last weekend I was really pleased to get a message from microadventure organiser extraordinaire Anna, talking about an early autumn, last day of summers warmth microadventure on Friday night. Even better, it is in my hood – back in Epping Forest.

I managed to sneak home quickly after work to get changed and pick up pack before deciding to take the bus all the way up to the meeting place in Loughton rather than bussing to Leyton and catching the tube. Frustratingly the bus took ages to get out of the bus depot and more than a kilometre up the road as the traffic was really bad, I ended up being over half an hour late to the station, but it seemed I was not the only one. It was dark when I arrived at the station and rather than hang about waiting to see if there were any other stragglers I started walking up through Loughton and out into the forest towards our meeting point at the Robin Hood pub. I didn’t realise the road would have no footpath as well as no street lighting.

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Strangely I was the first to arrive at the pub, but I was not alone for long as others started arriving soon after me, some having taken rather a long walk from Loughton station. There were ten of us who turned out for the night, which started with a couple of beers, some quite nice Thai food and a little whisky tasting.

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After the whisky tasting we headed off from the pub, crossed the road and went straight into Epping Forest. We took a twenty or so minute walk down one of the paths until we found what looked to be a comfortable clearing to set up camp for the night. The great thing about this microadventuring malarky is that it should be nice and easy, no great packing of tents and camping equipment. Tossing a sleeping bag, mat and a bivvy in a small pack is all that you need. this makes for a quick transition from finding a place to camp to being settled. Sweet !

Then sleeping type things happened, for most people, not so much for me, but some happy snoring sounds rumbling around the forest suggested some had a good sleep.

Fortunately it was a pretty mild night, I was expecting it to be colder than it was, and was glad I really didn’t have to test the boundaries of my summer sleeping bag. It was a pretty comfy night and reasonably quiet in our section of the forest.

It was a slow start in the morning, I lazed about for a while waiting for signs of life from the others.

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Eventually I got up and went for a stroll to find a clear photo of the sunrise I could see through the trees.

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I also found we had some neighbours as well.

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Most people were up soon after I got back, with not a lot to do it was pretty much a case of pack up and go. A couple of people had these awesome jet boilers, small gas filled stoves that put out intense heat and boil a container of water in just over a minute – no good for cooking, but brilliant for coffee, which was generously shared around.

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Once packed we walked the thirty or so minutes down through the forest to Chingford station and caught the train home. For me it was three stops and I was home by 8:30.

I am really pleased I went, it was a fun night out, with a great bunch of people.

As forecasted the temperature plummeted on Saturday, dropping about eight degrees over the weekend. And there ended summer!

An Epping Forest Epic

Sunday 28 September 2014 – Epping Forest.

Growing up in New Zealand in the 1970s meant my friends and I were riding bikes in the dirt years before the term mountain biking came along, but then teenage laziness arrived and I did not really get back on to a bike until I bought an old mountain bike off of my friend David in 1998. After a couple of rides in Woodhill and Riverhead forests near Auckland I was hooked. Over the next dozen or so years I rode most weekends, in many places in New Zealand and made opportunities to ride when I was on work trips to Sydney and Boston. To say I was keen would be an understatement, it was the first time I found a sport, or any form of exercise I truly loved. The frequency of rides waned significantly in my last year in New Zealand as I discovered trail running and the trail running community. I rarely had the time or the fitness to do both in any one weekend. And then I left the country !

Apart from the facial expression I love this photo of me taken at the 2007 Moonride 12 hour event. It is the only event photo I have ever bought – and it is the first time it has been seen in public… That little pop took me completely by surprise!

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Back to today.   I had bought my Kona Lanai’i before I started working and had ridden it a couple of times on the road, basically using it as a cheap form of transport. I had it booked in for a service with Walthamstow Cycles the week I was offered my job and have not had the time to ride it since, though Tony from Walthamstow Cycles had offered a couple of times to show me around the nearby Epping Forest.

El and I have made a couple of visits to the fringes of the forest and each time I go I think about what the forest would be like for mountain bike riding. Well today I had the opportunity to find out as I took Tony up on his most recent offer.

I was up early for a Sunday and soon into my old regular pre-ride breakfast of coffee and banana and peanut butter on toast.

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Tony, Tom and I had arranged to meet about five minutes ride away from home, on what turned out to be the edge of the forest.

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I was really surprised to find we actually ducked into some trail so close our meeting place and it was a nice thirty minute ride through Walthamstow Forest, Highams Park, the edges of Woodfood Golf course and Hatch Forest before we hit Epping Forest proper. I was stunned at how much off-road riding was to be found so close to home, and though I am sure I will never find it on my own, there was one section of single track that had the heart soaring and a monster grin appearing on my face – lovely, swoopy and fast. So unexpected.

We were to meet a forth rider at Butlers Retreat, but due to alarm issues he didn’t show. Mountain biking in New Zealand never offers you the sight of buildings built as far back as 1543, which is when the building in the background, Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge was built. Love it !!

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The view down over London is apparently amazing on a clear day, I guess I will have to come back !

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It was a great ride, I took a load of photos – well I thought I did, some were still on my phone when I finished and some were not… We rode a broad mix of single track and forest trail and I was pleasantly surprised at how many forest users were out making use of this wonderful resource. Horse riders, runners and mountain bikes were everywhere.

We had a few stops, one for a broken chain, which were really appreciated by me, I have not ridden a mountain bike since February and my lack of fitness really showed. It was also apparent that my bike is too small for me and I will need to buy a larger frame. Yay 🙂 The frame is the same size as my beloved DMR back in NZ, but the geometry is not the same and it was just uncomfortable and I had really sore hips and back by the end of the ride.

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There is a great mix of single track in the forest, grin inducing fast sections and twisty, turny root filled lovely bits mixed with loads of link-up trails and grassy sections.

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Though it is largely flat I was still pretty worn when, after a couple of hours of riding, we finally stopped for tea and a bun at the High Beaches tea-shed. A well known, and very popular stop for all sorts of forest and forest road users.

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Tom had to get more water so we headed over to the Epping Forest Centre car park which has a tap, and found a couple of blokes washing off their bikes. This contraption using a sealant gun to hold down the tap was just inspiring !

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It was a shorter ride back to the streets where we started and I was definitely feeling it at the end. It was a most awesome ride and I cannot understand why I have not been riding up there for weeks. I will be back, but I am sure I will never find half those trails again. I really appreciated being shown around by Tony and Tom and couldn’t believe the stats that they produced after the ride. 23.4 miles in the forest for a first ride was not too bad at all !

I am pretty sure I earned the half a cold pizza I had for lunch!

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I haven’t had a dirt tan for ages 🙂

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Maybe not an epic in real terms, but it was an epicly fun ride.

Thanks Tony and Tom. I am looking forward to my next outing, and buying some proper riding shorts !

Following the Ching.

Good Friday 18 April 2014 – River Ching, Chingford to Highams Park.

Last weekend El and I took a walk up to Highams Park, which is two train stops north of where she lives in Walthamstow. There is a lake (read large pond) in a small woodland extension of the much larger Epping Forest and as it was a nice day it was a good place to walk to, and around. Plus El got to show me where she used to live – in a house long knocked down to allow a part of the North Circular motorway to be built.

When we walked around the lake we saw a track heading off into the distance and decided that we should come back and have bit more of an explore – but armed with a bit of information as to where track was likely to go. Not that you can get too lost in this section of the forest – it is completely surrounded by suburban streets. I have been keen to explore a bit more of Epping Forest and had bought a map of the area a while back, so after a map referral we decided to catch a train to Chingford, head up to Connaught Water and follow the River Ching back down to Highams Park Lake. It was not a long walk, only a few kilometres, but in theory it should all be off road and maybe in the trees – it sounded pretty damn perfect to me.

We arrived in Chingford late morning and found Connaught Water fairly easily, it is only a km or so from the station which is on the southern edge of Epping Forest. It was a reasonably sunny day, but there was quite a cold wind blowing and out on the open areas of the forest park it was quite chilly – so we were looking forward to getting into some shelter from the trees, plus a forest walk really should have trees!

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Connaught Water is called a lake but really it is just a large pond, but it has fishing and boating and at twenty five minutes from Liverpool St station on the train – it is pretty damn cool !

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It also appears to be the source of the mighty River Ching, and this is the headwaters… It is hard to believe that when this flooded back in 2009 it actually caused damage!

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The river flows from here down to the River Lea closer to Walthamstow, though we were only walking the forested section.

The first section of the path was well formed, though there is absolutely no signage at all at any stage and this was a bit frustrating, especially matched with a map last printed in 2010. Things had changed a bit since then.

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The path is shared with walkers, runners, bikers and in some sections – horse riders, we saw a few of walkers, runners and riders on the way, though once we were out of the main section of the forest it was very quiet. The path was pretty dry, but you can see where it has been heavily cut up in winter by bikes, horses and loads of runners from the nearby Orion Harriers. Some parts look like they could be quite fun to ride on as well – unlike this open and smooth trail.

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After crossing the main road north from Chingford we were off the clearly defined path and followed the river more closely.

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The forest was really nice here, though we were really in a small section of parkland in the middle of suburban London it was beautifully quiet and there was an amazing amount of bird song to provide some background.

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We crossed another road and the track followed the edge of a golf course for a kilometre or so, crossing the fairway at one stage, which was a bit disconcerting as it was not sign posted, we were not really paying attention and there were people were playing the hole. Fortunately they must be used to walkers as they waved us through without any aggravation.

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We got a bit misplaced at the end of the golf course, but with a quick look at the phone we found the entrance to the top end of Highams Park, and a nice little area full of late spring blue bells.

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Again the forest here was really nice, some lovely spring foliage on the trees and a nice windy and clean ‘river’ to follow.

P1030535At one point there was even a rope swing, though I am assuming you are not supposed to drop into the river from it !

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After an hour and half of walking we popped out on to the ‘lake’ at Highams Park.

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We could have continued on for another couple of kilometres of forest through to Hollow Pond** but finished the walk here and headed to the nearby supermarket (they had Picpoul de pinet wine on special) and then caught the bus home…

It was a really nice walk, and hopefully the start of a summer of Epping Forest walks.

** Hollow Ponds is the title of a new track by ex Blur and Gorrilaz vocalist Damon Albarn who was brought up in nearby Leytonstone. I like the song and it is cool that something as small and local as Hollow Pond gets name checked by a fairly big star.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwfsV50m7Dg