There many days when I behave like an absolute twit, and this was one of them. Enjoy this bumpy, Autumnal rampage through the sprawling, Essex forest and take it as a lesson on how not to leave the path provided.
We begin in our route at Loughton tube station, having just spent a half an hour on the Central Line wondering where all the other people have gone. The section of line formerly owned by the Eastern Counties Railway is one of the oldest railway alignments now in use by the London Underground, which extended its network out here in the 1940s.
The area has been settled in since the iron age. There are remains of a settlement to be found in the wood here. Loughton, along with its neighbouring Chigwell, Debden and Buckhurst Hill, seems to have a rich history whose patchwork is augmented in the modern day by the residences of various footballers and sportspeople I’ve never heard of. As we pass Northwest, directly through the heart of Loughton and out again, there’s a steep ascent before we dive down a footpath to nursery road, resuming this direction into the forest, which has been protected from further development since an act was passed in the 1870s.
The area known as Fairmead bottom, across the busy Epping New Road (which we’ll revisit later), is our entrance to the forest proper. The car park here is one of many dotted along this highway through the forest. We’re quickly plunging along the pathways, the upkeep of which is funded by the City of London Corporation. I pause the in video at 3:58 where the GoPro seems to have picked up the steady, bassy thud of my temples just for some general amusement. Then we’re off into this ancient woodland. The forest is over 6 thousand acres in size and is something of a buffer between London and Essex. It’s a land of special scientific interest, once rumoured to be a royal hunting ground in Tudor times.
My route here is something of special scientific interest too, given that I seem to eschew some perfectly good paths (as featured by Ordnance Survey maps) in favour of random crashing through habitats. All I can say is, sorry. I’m sure you’ll do a better job. In this manner we head North through Hill Wood, pass the tea hut and crossroads towards Paul’s Nursery. Without actually passing through, this is a good picnic spot and once a famous plant nursery, which accounts for the Rhodedendrons and Azaeleas you’ll seen in their glory at warmer months of the year.
A further tramp in a North Easterly direction chucks us out at the gate and onto Epping New Road again, AKA the A104. I wouldn’t rush crossing this one. Everyone drives like footballers.
Over the road we dip down to cross the streams of the Wake Valley and Great Monk Wood, so named after the monks from nearby Waltham Abbey. Beech trees, birch, oak and hornbeam lead the way to Deershelter Plain, where said animals used to be fed. I take yet another wrong turn here, but if you head East you’ll end up crossing Golding’s Hill (11 minutes on video), neatly south of the steakhouse and car park on the Wake Arms roundabout. The woodland on the other side is somewhat spookily deserted; an atmosphere that is augmented by the random bone I happen upon about at 12:37.
If you continue to head East you’ll end up at the next car park. Crossing Coppice Row, pass through the opposite car park and immediately turn right, following the path all the way East to Theydon Plain and The Coppice. In one final pointless flourish, the video passes through The Coppice and then we double back on ourselves along Piercing Hill to rejoin Coppice Row. This leads us into the heart of Theydon Bois. Just a sniff inside the M25, this village is assembled alongside a pretty green intersected by an imposing avenue of trees. And it’s on the Central Line so is about as close as you can get to not feeling like you’re in London whilst still being entirely within its smoky reach.
There are car parks at regular intervals along Epping New Road which this route closely follows (see map)
Central Line: Loughton, Debden, Theydon Bois (35, 38 and 41 minutes from Tottenham Court Road respectively.)
Loughton is well provisioned for restaurants and facilities and you pass a large Sainsbury’s at the very start of this route, should you need to stock up on water. There’s not much along this route otherwise, so take I’d advise taking a bottle with you.
Theydon Bois, although a smallish village, boasts 2 pubs and 2 curry houses (Contemporary vs Traditional), 2 bakeries and a fish and chip shop. Take your pick. If you’re sweaty and horrible and prefer not to offend the local patrons, you can always settle for a Lucozade from Tesco.
There are loos at Loughton, Debden and Theydon Bois stations. Both facilities at Loughton and the female facilities at Theydon Bois are accessible without having to pass through the ticket gates.