One thing I can’t fault London for is green space. It might not be so abundant in The City, where I recently had to go to the top of a skyscraper to get my green space, but there are countless wonderful parks across the capital to have fun in. However, as lovely as these parks are, you are still surrounded by the pollution of central London. As a lover of nature and that feeling of being somewhere remote and wild, they don’t really hit the spot.
Epping forest is a vast area of ancient woodland cutting between East and North London, sweeping from Manor Park in London all the way up into Epping in Essex. It’s over 6000 acres today, although it was once closer to 60,000 acres. It’s an old Royal Forest. This means that it was used as a hunting ground for the likes of Henry VIII. The geek in me would love to go metal detecting there, but sadly (and understandably) this is strictly prohibited.
Like any good ancient woodland, the Forest is home to many myths and legends, and has seen it’s fair share of drama. The most famous connection to Epping Forest is Dick Turpin, a famous English Highwayman who for some time lived in the surrounding area. Turpin became involved in a gang which would poach deer and horses. When Turpin was eventually wanted for arrest, he fled into Epping Forest where he spent several weeks hiding out in a still unknown location where he was eventually discovered.
Another unknown location in the Forest is the Suicide Pool. Sounds like a jolly place, right? Legend has it that two lovers used to meet by the pool. The young girl’s father found out about the affair and killed her in the same spot. When her lover found out, he too drowned himself in the waters. Since then the pool is supposed to give anyone around it a deep feeling on unease, and even invoke suicide in people who otherwise would not have done so. Nobody really knows where the pool is; supposedly it’s deep in the Forest and not easily accessible. One local did claim to know the location of the Pool, but refused to reveal it, describing it as “dank, evil and malignant, with an atmosphere unpleasant beyond description”. If it’s not easily accessible then I am quite happy for it to stay that way, if it even exists. Creepy!
Myths and horror stories aside, I think that perhaps one of the most extraordinary things about Epping Forest is that this enormous and history soaked woodland is easily accessible from multiple tube stations! I’m lucky enough live in East London and very close to Epping Forest, and consider myself to have the best of both worlds to have both city and nature a short train journey away.
The easiest station to access Epping Forest from is Loughton on the Central line. From here, you can walk up a single road all the way to the forest, which takes around 5-10 minutes. From there, it’s simply time to explore and wander in the lovely surroundings, and wonder how you can be in such beautiful woodland and yet only half an hour from the center of London.
The Suicide Pool is thankfully not the defining feature of Epping Forest! Home to areas of woodland, grassland, heath, rivers, bogs and ponds, the forest makes the perfect host for a variety of nature. Without even seeking it out, we stumbled across frogs, frogspawn, a bee’s nest built into an old upturned tree root, and some voles! The voles might possibly have been rats, but I’d prefer to maintain that they were voles. At least until somebody who can tell the difference comes along and ruins it, anyway.
A picturesque winding river broke up the area of the Forest that we were in, and a variety of ‘interesting’ bridges had to be crossed from time to time in order to keep going. These ranged from full-out properly constructed bridges, to logs of varying (or should I say worrying) thicknesses. Occasionally you just had to cross your fingers when stepping out and hope that the log wasn’t going to break, landing you up with some wet feet. Next time we go, I’m just going to wear wellies and wade around like the 5 year old I wish I still was.
We were lucky enough to be wandering around in some fine spring weather (I’m beginning to make London look like this eternally dry and sunny place, aren’t I? hah!) and the dappled sunlight through the trees, the clear air and the lack of any traffic noise was so refreshing and relaxing.
We were there for around an hour and we barely scratched the surface, so there will be plenty more to explore on future visits. One day in the summer, Nick wants to trek across the whole Forest in some Lord of the Rings style adventure. Frankly, I’m too scared of coming across the suicide pool to do anything reckless like that. That’s definitely it. Not lazy. Scared.
Whether we pack our elven bread and trek the forest remains to be seen, but one thing we certainly will be doing one weekend soon is volunteering with the Epping Forest Conservation Volunteers. The EFCV are a lovely group of people who meet up in the Forest weekly to do essential upkeep work and ensure that Epping Forest remains the lovely place that it is. We are really looking forward to getting involved and helping out in our local area.
All in all I found Epping Forest to be a much-needed escape from city life that can easily be enjoyed whenever you feel like it. It sets London aside as a city that truly can offer you everything, nature included.
I will leave you with a picture of me channeling my inner Eyore in the twig tent we came across: