Walks And Walking in Essex – Epping Forest
Epping Forest is an area of ancient woodland that stretches from Wanstead in East London to just below Harlow in Essex. Epping Forest is a former royal forest originally reserved as a royal hunting ground. Epping Forest offers the perfect landscape for walks with walking routes for all ages and abilities with plenty of wide grassy paths and well maintained gravel pathways. For the more adventurous there are a myriad of cut throughs into the denser woodland and if you like long distance paths then there is The Forest Way, Three Forests Way and sections of the London Loop.
Epping Forest sits on top of a ridge between two valleys; Lea Valley and Roding Valley and mainly contains grassland, woodland, forestry, heath lands, rivers, ponds and bogs. A result of glaciations its elevation and thin gravely soil made it unsuitable for agriculture although there is plenty of farmland in use today. There are also small pockets of long horn grazing cattle, fallow deer and the smaller muntjac deer still evident.
Epping Forest walks can be accessed from the main Centenary Walk from Wanstead to Epping as well as from Chingford, Gilwell Park, High Beach, Upshire, Theydon Bois, Loughton and various other towns and villages with good parking, rail and bus routes.
Most Epping Forest walks are fairly short, taking only an hour or so to complete and more suitable for the family rather than the purposeful and experienced trekker. A good pair of walking boots is always recommended but trainers, sandals or shoes are fine if you stick to the main pathways. As with all ancient woodlands you will encounter some mud along the way and sometimes the grass and brambles can be overgrown so a walking stick or walking poles are always handy to move the stinging nettles out of harm’s way.
Although the visual historical references for Epping Forest are Queen Elizabeth I’s hunting lodge and Queen Victoria’s Centenary Walk its history dates back much further than that with the remains of the Roman settlement at Loughton Camp and the Iron Age Hill Fort at Ambresbury Banks. Queen Victoria made a visit to Epping Forest when re-opening it to the general public riding in an open carriage from Connaught Water along Fairmead Bottom to High Beach.
For many of the towns and villages situated near to Epping Forest it gave them the opportunity to graze their animals and a good source of fuel to generate important revenues for the local inhabitants. Whilst Epping Forest has never been cultivated or restricted it has always been managed by man throughout its one thousand year history. Over the last one hundred years or so Epping Forest’s open grassy areas have declined due to the lack of grazing and, as such, has become more dense, cutting off the natural sun light below the trees that facilitated the growth of many plant and floral species that have now become extremely rare or even extinct.
For more information about Epping Forest there is the Epping Forest Conservation Centre, a central location for most walks and walking routes with trails leading you through ancient landscapes of coppiced and pollarded trees all in close proximity to cafes, pubs and transport networks.