I never watched Grange Hill on telly, it was a bit after my time, but when I moved to London I was intrigued to find it’s an actual place.
Today I start my hike from Grange Hill station. In 30 years in London, I’ve never actually been on this branch of the central line, so a bit of excitement there. Not much.
Walk up the hill to the start of the forest which means using a path that is part of the London Loop. I have crossed swords with the Loop before and indeed would recognise the style of the concrete path across the playing field anywhere.
Then I’m in the first bit of forest.
The leaves are sort of half out on all the trees, which look to be mainly hawthorn. Oh don’t ask ME, I don’t really do trees except in a general ‘aren’t they pretty?’ sort of way at this time of year.
Pass a little pond and a jay flies across in front of me, out of the reeds by the pond and perches in a tree to have a look.
I’m hoping it was not up to no good among someone else’s nest. Two mallards exit the pond rapidly as I pass.
Walk up a little path, cross a road, head into the next bit of forest, which is the main bit. I’m on a track that goes up the middle of Hainault Country Park and Hainault Forest. I’ve chosen this walk because Hainault Forest belongs to the Woodland Trust and is said to be carpeted with bluebells but there’s no sign of any at all. On Friday I was in Philipshill Wood and there were masses of flowers, but I don’t see many here apart from some violets. I can hear a woodpecker though, rattling away.
Anyway, it is very pretty, though clearly the trees are not nearly as old as in Epping Forest. Turn left at a junction and walk along another path, which eventually comes out at a road. Turn up another track and walk along that, still in the woods.
See in the distance three girls on horses. As I approach one of them calls ‘can you pick up my mobile please?’ Sign of the age – you take your mobile with you when riding and of course if you drop it, you have to find someone who’s not on a horse to pick it up for you. It’s a long way down from a horse (I speak from experience – I fell off one once).
I’m looking for a left turn, and think I’ve found it then realise the sign I’ve seen is a ‘private – keep out or else’ sort of sign. However there’s an extremely muddy patch next to it, and sure enough – sod’s law’s operating nicely – the path I do want is across the mud. Today I’m wearing hiking boots, so the only real problems are ensuring that I don’t tread in anything deeper than my boots are high, and not slipping straight in.
Manage not to do either and head up a narrow footpath with trees either side. To my left I can see tents – clearly a campsite. Continue a little way, cross a road, go up the edge of a farmyard (I always hate doing this, it’s like walking through someone’s back garden) and pick up the path again. The view to my right is fab.
Ah. This path. It’s a green lane. It must be absolutely ancient, though it doesn’t seem to be marked on the map as anything other than a national trail. There are trees either side and they are mature broadleaves (beech possibly, I really haven’t a hope of identifying trees without leaves).
This path has been here a long long time. I am seeing the flowers that I was looking for earlier in the main part of the forest: bluebells (not doing too well this year, only a few flowers on most spikes), self-heal, celandines, clouds of stitchwort.
There’s a fallen tree right across the path; fortunately I can crawl under it – I’ve had a fair bit of practice at this one on different walks and know it’s fraught with danger. I put one knee on the ground and expect it to get wet, instead of which it is amusingly speared in half a dozen places by a dried out holly leaf. Hm. Pass some of last year’s bulrushes gone fluffy and hardly recognisable, in a little pond. There are ponds all the way along and they must be year-round ponds else they wouldn’t have bulrushes.
I keep on and come at length to a road, get out the map and turn left along it, past a small white church with a steeple, which is St Mary and All Saints. This is the most interesting blurb I could find about it online.
The stone bit in the middle must be part of the original construction. Then 100 metres or so later, right again, along a track down the edge of a wood labelled as ‘private’. I’m not sure the owner has the right approach here as anyone intent on mischief would do it anyway and the rest of us only want to take photos and look, which I do anyway.
The track goes diagonally across two fields (much glaring at map because there’s a sign saying ‘please keep to the path’ and you can’t actually see the path but two other people come up behind me and I follow them at a polite distance) and stop to look at a paddock full of assorted goats.
Come out shortly afterwards on a narrow road by a cattery and walk down to the main road, where there is a bench next to a notice about the cattery.
You know why I’ve put in a photo of the sign, don’t you?
Ah, luxury, that bench. I’ve been walking three hours, haven’t had a single break in that time largely because since I left the forest there has been nothing to sit on except damp grass. Eat egg sarnie, and debate whether to walk to Theydon Bois, another couple of miles, or not. Wander up the road till I find a bus stop with timetable.
A nice lady stops and tells me that to get the bus today I need to keep going up to the Log Cabin cafe and stick my hand out when the bus comes, rather than using a bus stop. The bus is due in 15 minutes which is really good timing as it only runs every two hours. This works a treat.