Today I go for a hikette in Epping Forest. Have not been there for a couple of months, owing to sore foot, but I think I’ll give it a try wearing my Birkenstocks.
Train to Chingford, out of the bus station and 100m up the road you’re at the start of Epping Forest. It’s actually not forest, this bit, it’s meadow and in June after a wet winter and spring, it’s in all its glory. The sky is grey but bright and it’s very warm and humid.
There’s a warning sign about cattle, but no warning about being careful not to get a slug under your big toe if you’re wearing sandals. I say yuck a few times and shake it out.
Well I wasn’t going to use my fingers, was I?
There are myriad paths crisscrossing the meadow and I am navigating by radar diagonally across, aiming for the edge of the woodland. Quite a few people are about, mostly exercising dogs. I’m looking to pick up the nice clear trail that will take me to the tea ‘ut at High Beech. The meadow is a haze of buttercups. This bit is nice and grassy (ref slug) and so there is no problem with gravel under my toes. There is what looks to be a cricket pitch right in the middle. It’s about the right size, but there are a couple of rabbit holes in it, so not too sure.
Stomp along, counting the flowers. Come to a dog rose bush in flower. Gorgeous. Keep going and there’s enormous amounts of honeysuckle just about to burst into flower. Then I’m on the main path and coming to bits I recognise, always a good thing. I’ve been lost in Epping Forest half a dozen times and that’s six times more than I want to be, especially at this time of year.
Why this time of year? Because there is NO visibility through the trees. The undergrowth has grown up and it’s what you might call verdant.
There’s bracken taller than I am (average height for women in the UK in case you are wondering) and the trees are at their prime. There are nettles smelling of cat pee, as they do. Apparently you can eat nettles but I can’t say I would fancy them.
I get to a place on the path that I know to be a sandy quagmire and it’s dry. A tiny stream runs under it, and there is a clump of water speedwell so blue the eyes can’t process that much colour. Just beyond it is a tangle of red campion, and a bit further along the path, a large patch of yellow pimpernel.
There are grassy paths everywhere, and they’ve clearly been mowed to make it clear where they are. I’d love to explore some of them, but I didn’t bring a map today so I don’t. Get to an enormous mass of dog roses, so lovely I name this blog after them (it’s a line from Omar Khayyam and if you think you don’t know who he is, dear reader, I bet you do, he’s full of quotations you’ll know). Then a patch of comfrey in flower, absolutely full of bumblebees. I do not like insects but they are so happing zzzing about their buzzness that I take some photos of them too.
It’s odd how many flowers I see just the one patch of today. Comfrey in particular is very common in this part of the world. Pass a sea of bracken and some that looks very architectural and come out on the road, cross it and go into the bit that leads up to the tea ‘ut.
I first walked this route in autumn after the leaves had fallen and think of it as being light and open. Now it’s summer and the trees are in leaf and it has simply closed in, a green and mysterious world again. There are some rhododendrons growing wild (yes I know they are a pest plant) and when I take a pic, the automatic flash on my camera comes on. That’s how dark it is.
Arrive at the tea ‘ut and the dragonfly pond is still dragonless, but there are flag irises, which I love.
Sit down with a ham salad sandwich and a cup of tea and a piece of cake. It starts to rain.
Review my options and decide to press on. The nearest bus stop that I know of is 20 minutes’ walk away and in fact I have to pass it anyway. There’s a chance that the rain will stop before then. Keep on, get to the fabulous view, which is looking . . . er . . . misty and just beyond it the road and the bus stop, passing a beech tree that must be hundreds of years old.
I don’t know when the bus is due and I’m in Essex not London so the app on my phone can’t tell me so I choose which side of the road to wait (it doesn’t matter which direction I go, as buses in either direction go past a station) according to which is most sheltered by trees. After just 10 minutes, a bus comes and I hop on.
And that, darlings, is the beauty of hiking in the Home Counties. There’s nearly always a bus.
There’s nearly always rain too, of course.