Look to the rose that blows about us

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Arrive at the tea ‘ut and the dragonfly pond is still dragonless, but there are flag irises, which I love.

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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.

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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.

If you go down to the woods today . . .

Yesterday I moped around and did nothing particularly constructive. Today I decide it’s going to be different. Wake up definitively at about 9.50 which is entirely the result of taking antihistamines. Try to catch the vestiges of the dream I was having and realise it is so weird I shouldn’t have bothered. That’s another antihistamine effect.

So, at some point when I was awake during the night, I decided to go back to Philipshill Wood, which I visited a couple of weeks ago. It belongs to the Woodland Trust. At the time I was suffering a camera malfunction (flat batteries) so I didn’t get photos of all the primroses, violets and wood sorrel that were out. Time to try again.

Get to Chorleywood station, get out, walk straight into a fancy French market. Normally speaking wild horses wouldn’t keep me from a fancy French market (I have a thing about soap in multiple flavours, as you’ll know if you’ve been following my blogs a while), but 1. I have no money and 2. I don’t want to carry it all the way. Wherever all the way might be. I am in denial about the faint possibility of a hike.

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Trudge up the hill and get to Old Shire Lane. View is wonderful. Notice with some excitement an arum lily growing in the hedge. These can be hard to spot, the flowers being green, except in the autumn when they have bright red berries. My heart jumps into my mouth as a small ginger animal bounces out of the hedgerow at me, but it’s only a small and pretty cat wearing a fetching pink collar.

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Reach the start of Philipshill Wood. This is owned by the Woodland Trust. It’s fabulous. The first bit is relatively new planting (it is classified as ancient woodland but you can see this is fairly new because the trees are in rows) and is absolutely carpeted with bluebells. Even I can smell them. A bit like hyacinths, which they are related to, but with something green and woody in there too. Also, close inspection reveals they are English bluebells (long tight narrow flower) not continental bluebells (more open bell-shaped flower). The effect of thousands and thousands of them is to produce a mist a foot off the ground, quite dizzying.

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Now, the main tracks through this woodland run east to west but I’m following the path less taken, which goes north to south. I’m heading for the clearing at the bottom of the hill where there was loads of wood sorrell and primoses a couple of weeks back. It’s the most beautiful walk. At one point, my path goes along a belt of pine trees and the scent of them in the sun is indescribably lovely. Two breaths of it and the world is a better place. The woodland canopy is full of birds singing their heads off, but of course I can’t see them, they are about fifty feet above my head. Keep on going downhill and come to a patch where there are little round pine cones on the path. If you’ve ever trodden on a marble, you’ll get the picture. I say ‘oops’ a couple of times.

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Get to the bottom where about five paths meet. There are still primroses, but the wood sorrel flowers have gone, there are just a few leaves left. We’re now getting things like enchanters nightshade, which along with dog’s mercury has a wonderful name but is not much to look at. Turn left along the path and walk along, observing a thatched roof to my right. There is a building marked on the map and I’m very curious as to what it is, but there’s a thicket between me and it and it’s none of my business anyway so I keep going. See what looks like an orange tip butterfly but tell myself I’m imagining a more interesting existence for a cabbage white. A great tit is watching me from a tree and then flies off, with another great tit following. Things tend to be in pairs at this time of year.

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Reach the edge of the wood and get out map. I know I wasn’t planning a hike as such, but . . . it’s beautiful weather, and a shame to miss it, and I’m enjoying myself. Plan out a route that will take me over a motorway, passing through a couple more woods. I’m back on Old Shire Lane, which is clearly an ancient path, the hedges are full of different plants. Stop to photograph the first red campion of the year, and a second later an orange tip butterfly lands on it and in my excitement my finger wobbles off the shutter button and I miss it. Ah well, there’ll be others. Get to where I want to turn off and go across a field and it has horses in it. Nice horses: they ignore me. It’s only a couple of hundred metres anyway. Cross a road, go across another field and into a new wood. Bottom Wood. It’s heard all the jokes, thank you.

IMG_3598 IMG_3601Well, Bottom Wood is gorgeous. More bluebells than ever and not another person in sight. I follow a meandering path downhill, stopping to take more photos (you can’t have too many photos of bluebells) and also find quite a lot of lady’s mantle. I come to the edge of the wood and an open field. There’s a little arrow pointing me helpfully across and the map says go diagonally across so I do this. There’s no discernable path, just grass and buttercups and a view of the M25.

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At the other side of the field I walk down the edge of a belt of woodland to a bridge over the motorway and turn right through another belt of woodland with – you’ve guessed it – bluebells in. This one is Ladywalk Wood. Go down to the farm and see something rather surprising. A mallard flies in and perches on the apex of a roof near me.

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Mallard, perch? Mallards haven’t got anything to perch with, have they? It’s quacking its head off too. I leave it and quack on. I mean crack on. The weather has not stayed sunny and it’s starting to spit with rain. I observe a cute little pied wagtail perched on a dungheap and wonder if it thinks it’s a metaphor for something.

Emerge on main road, just 100m from a bus stop. There is a bus due in 16 minutes although it’s Sunday. This makes me very happy as I’m cold, my foot is hurting and I didn’t bring food or drink out with me as I didn’t intend to go for a hike.

Just shows what you can do if you let your subconscious loose, eh?