That's from Macbeth. I'm feeling a bit gothic today.
Well, I decided to walk from Loughton to Epping today and let's be honest, it's about time I succeeded in doing it. There was the time I couldn't find the path at all. There was the time I ended up in Theydon Bois. This time, I told myself, NOTHING was going to stop me.
Just asking for trouble, then!
Walk up the road from Loughton tube, and instead of taking the first track into the forest (which is how I got hopelessly lost last time), I keep on up the road till I reach the nice sandy track that is designed for people like me.
As I'm about to step on to the track, a cyclist nods to me in a friendly manner and then disappears into the woods on a track that is not designed for mountain bikes and there are signs everywhere to say so and explain that the delicate habitat around the stream in that bit of the forest is being damaged by cyclists, but of course some people always think they are so special they can do what they want.
Rant over. These people do make me mad though.
As it's already nearly half past twelve I eat my sandwiches as I walk along. Sitting down isn't really an option as it poured with rain yesterday and I don't want soggy assets. It's a beautiful day, all blue and green and gold, and some of the trees are starting to turn.
So I stomp along taking photos, and after a half mile or so I see a cat sneaking away through the underground and think
'Aw, how sweet.'
'Lovely bushy tail that cat had.'
'Cute white tip to it too.'
Then after a moment's more thought
'Eejit! It was a fox, wasn't it?'
First one I've seen in the forest. Of course usually I've been there on warmer days and there have been lots of people about but the weather's colder so most people seem to have stayed home. Slackers!
Along I stomp. There are the usual magpies and pigeons and loads of grey squirrels, and then I see a jay which is nice because although I've seen many in London's parks, it's different to see one somewhere like this. I am also accosted by the biggest dragonfly I've ever seen, green and blue and it actually tries to land on me, at which point I do an interesting and creative dance and flap my hands.
Keep walking, and this is my third time on this bit of path, so I am actually starting to recognise bits. Last time of course I emerged halfway along here, I do have a look to see if I can see the spot where I burst from a holly thicket, like something that has reverted to type, but no chance. Note the place where I would turn off if going to Waltham Abbey (still my favourite walk) and keep on.
After an hour or two, get to the road that I crossed and where the trouble started for the second time (ie I got lost again) on my last walk. Examine the roadside map with care. Well, so far as I can see, I went the right way last time, but I must have branched off inadvertently. So I take the same path, keeping in mind that I must not bear right but keep on or bear left.
This I do. After 200 metres I'm aware that
- the path I am on is very very faint and only identifiable as a path by tracks left by illicit cyclists
- I haven't a clue where I am
- I am definitely not on the same path as last time although I have never, at any point, deliberately branched off it.
This is the thing about the forest. All those stories about Hansel and Gretel getting lost etc, they are based on fact. It's quite staggeringly easy to end up in the wrong place without realising how you got there (wherever 'there' might be).
Keep following the track, such as it is and get to the edge of a steep bank. Now, I have no balance function to speak of. Going up is ok with dodgy balance, going down muddy pebbly tracks is not. Walk around the edge of the bank. It's about 8 feet high and I'm hoping that the other side of it will have a shallower way down. It hasn't. In fact, it's steeper. Come back round and this steep path down is starting to look very attractive. The alternative is trying to find my way back to the road, or looking for another path altogether.
Before I start to think too hard about the consequences of a sprained ankle here, I totter down with baby steps, faster than I intended but I make it.
Walk a bit further and find a path that is definitely going left. Follow it. It is a fairly clear path. After a while see a guy with two small children, then come out on to a nice red sandy path like the one I was on earlier.
This is CLEARLY the path I was looking for when I crossed the road, but where on earth was the start of it? The roadside map showing the paths had a 'you are here' spot that told me I was on the main path, but obviously I wasn't. The only thing to do will be to walk back the other way (maybe next weekend if we're all good all week, SparkFriends) and see where exactly this path hits the road. At a guess, it will be about 20 metres from where I set off, but hidden by a bush.
Am so happy to see this path I put on a spurt, stopping briefly to take pix of some Viper's Bugloss (that's pronounced byoogloss not buggloss) a very pretty wildflower with a fabulous name.
Come to a junction in the path.
Get out map.
It's hard to know which way you should go if you are not sure where you are on a path and aren't confident that the junction you are looking at is one of the ones marked.
After some thought, decide to turn right. Am a bit displeased that the path is going downhill, because what goes down must come up, but then again I've already done a fair amount of up, so maybe this is the payoff.
Walk along, and the forest, which had become open and sunny, gets markedly darker and gloomier. I'm not NERVOUS, exactly, but I do start humming to myself. Keep going, stick to the main path and see a house in the distance.
Aha! Now we're in business. Reach the house, and a nasty feeling creeps over me.
A sort of sinking, deja vu.
Go into denial. Keep walking.
Get to a sign.
No more denial. It says 'Debden Green'. I HAVE been here before.
I AM IN THE SAME PLACE I ENDED UP IN TWO WEEKS BACK, WHEN I GOT LOST AND TOOK THE TUBE HOME FROM THEYDON BOIS.
Oh deary me. Get out map, glare at map. Heave sigh. I have got to the same place using a completely different route. Am I going to:
1 give up and go home via Theydon Bois again?
2 retrace my steps the last half mile and walk to Epping
I go for option 2.
Stomp stomp. Back up that hill. Stomp. Up a further hill. Stomp stomp. Pass the junction where I went wrong and restrain myself with difficulty from spitting at it. Stomp stomp.
A couple on bicycles approach and stop as they draw level with me. The man asks
'Do you have a companion?'
I'm sure my face is a picture. In a split second it must register:
'Why, are you offering? What sort of an offer would that be, exactly?'
'No, I'm on my own but my mother and the police and all my friends and my Member of Parliament know where I am so you can't hit me over the head and make off with my worldly goods and they are not worth having anyway.'
His lady friend then explains that they've just passed someone who has mislaid the person he was with and they thought that might be me. Assure them it is not.
Keep going. Stomp stomp stomp. Down a bit then up a bit and the forest has opened out again and is very pretty. I get close enough to a squirrel to photograph it. You can sit in Regent's Park with a bag of nuts and the squirrels will crawl all over you but again, this this different.
Eventually, come to some parked cars and then a road and I recognise the road it is on the outskirts of Epping. I know where I am more or less. I walked past this place when looking for the start of the forest path on the day that the lion didn't get me. Seems like ages ago although it's only a month or two. Dance a little jig.
Epping hasn't finished with me yet though, not quite.
Cross over a road I see a signpost that says 'public bridleway' and assume this is the continuation of the path I was on, the one that goes into Epping. Follow it. It is green, damp and muddy and leads downhill and comes out back nearly where I just started from.
Oh for goodness sake. I've had enough. At least I've been here before and I know which way to go. Walk along the road, up through a playing field, up a bit further through another public field, come to a bit of woodland, path left, path right. I want to go straight on. Within five minutes I'm completely lost in a small impassable wood.
AGAIN. I'M LOST AGAIN.
Get grip on self, retrace steps, take path to left, walk along it, come out on road, stomp muddily through housing estate with oak tree much older than the houses around it, keep stomping on, miss the short cut to the tube station, stomp the long way round, arrive at the tube station, make dash for waiting train.
It's 16.26. I've been walking exactly four hours. Measured on the map thingy, 8 miles. I suspect a bit further, given the number of puddles I've dodged.
But, but, but. Loughton to Epping. I did it!