Today I decide to go to Epping Forest for a change. Listen very carefully to my plans. I want to walk FROM Epping rather than TO Epping, and now that I've found where the path proper starts in Epping, I can. The plan is to walk from Epping to the place in the middle, Broadstrood, where I can never find the right path, and find it.
Oh DO try to keep up!
Right. Tube, Epping. Various bits of path I couldn't find the first time there are now falling into place. I would explain what they are but the people at the back are already looking glazed and I don't want them falling asleep. Not yet anyway.
Stop at Tesco's and buy a cheap and cheerful ham sandwich, a bottle of water and a Twix. Consume the Twix immediately as famished.
Set off down the road. Almost immediately come across a sign have never seen before saying this is the start of Epping Forest. I'm glad to hear it. Walk along several very urban fields, with a nice pond and bullrushes. Beautiful weather, all blue and gold and green. Fleecy whites etc. Just what I ordered.
Feeling a bit nervous as, if things are going to go pear-shaped, it will be now because this is where I have to remember where the path came out. Fortunately see a very ugly building that I recognise, walk a bit further, turn right, and I'm there.
Go into Stomp mode (coincidentally 'Stomp' by the Brothers Johnson is on iPod at this point). I noticed today that I am naturally walking faster and stopping (relatively) rarely when climbing hills. I'm literally taking them in my stride. This is pleasing. I'm also enjoying the exertion of walking briskly and easily and generally feeling good in myself.
Anyway, the forest. Loads of magpies about, not much else, just the odd pigeon. Autumn is advancing and there are loads of different shades of green and gold and the light is so bright on this bit of the path that my camera can't deal with the contrasts so you'll just have to make do.
After about I think 40 minutes on the path I notice a couple and a small child with a dog standing about 20 metres off the path reading a sign. While I must have passed this way last week, I didn't notice the sign. It's about Ambresbury banks, which I wanted to have a look at. So I wait till they've finished looking and go over and have a look.
I'm going to get a bit nerdy here because I love stuff like this.
Here's the wiki link to info on Ambresbury banks, an earthwork dating from 500BC.
So, 2,500 years old. (There's another large earthwork in the forest, Loughton fort, but though I've walked past it I haven't noticed a sign to it so have missed it. Possibly something to look for next week.) You can see in the photo part of the bank and ditch and it's at this point that I realise that the bank I tottered down last weekend with such difficulty, which was about a mile away from here, was probably some sort of earthwork too. I thought it was odd there was no stream at the bottom. Bit of a weird feeling, that.
So I have a look at the banks and ditches and would have walked right around but it's fairly big and I'm walking a long way today, plus being circular it might get me lost. Indeed if I'd walked round it, I might still be there going round and round trying to find the path out.
Go back to the main path, keep walking. Reach a road and I sign that says 'Jack's HIll'. Now at the time I have no recollection of seeing this last week and it really confuses me. Eventually I remember I did cross this road but as the continuing path was clear on the other side, forgot about it altogether! I had been expecting to come out at the place in the middle where I missed the path twice, but this isn't it. So feeling confused, I stare at the map on the forest sign, my map, heave a sight, call on fortitude and stomp off. As I've only been walking a couple of hours and feel fine, I'm fairly relaxed about the possibility of being lost again. Indeed it's starting to feel a normal way to be for me.
Notice that there's a man on his own, also glaring at the map. Hope to heaven he won't ask me for directions because I'm really not the best person . . . then wonder why he isn't asking me directions as we pass each other a couple of times over the next quarter mile. Then realise he probably feels awkward about accosting me when I'm in the middle of nowhere on my own, which is nice of him. (Hope he found his way in the end, lost sight of him after a bit.)
Keep going and soon realise I recognise this path. It is very definitely and distinctly the path I was on last week, coming the other way. Even the patch of Viper's Bugloss I saw is still there. At this point dance a non-dragon-related jig (they've all gone by the way, didn't see any today). PIck up speed and stop halfway up a hill, winded. Identify the place where I emerged scratched and screaming from the undergrowth last week (there is actually a path, just not a very clear one). Keep going and come finally to the place in middle, Broadstrood.
Identify the start of the path I've just come off. In other words, if I come back again walking from the other direction, I won't get lost. Honest!
So which of these three would you choose as the main path from here?
It's actually the first. It leads sharply off left from the signpost, through a glade that makes it impossible to realise this is where the main path is. To add to the confusion all the maps show a little wiggle going the OTHER direction at the start of the path. No wonder I got it wrong the first time. The second time was just bloody-mindedness.
Stop, sit on usual log (yes, I'm now that familiar with this path) eat sarnie, drink drink, feel pleased. Five minutes' break and I'm off again, across the road, back along a path I've walked 2.5 times, looking for the right turn to Waltham Abbey. This arrives sooner than I expected.
Keep on, get to the pond where the dragonfly inspected me.
There are a lot of people riding horses on this bit, when I get to the mobile cafe in the middle there are loads, I'm wondering if it's some sort of event.
Although it's only a few weeks since I was here, there are so many different paths I am not sure I'm taking the same route so I'm glad to see that view again, also this tree with the bear/woodelf attached to it.
Keep on another half mile or so to the place with the wonderful view and take photos.
Let me tell you, no photo can begin to do justice to that view.
Keep going and reach and cross a road.
Get out map to check it and step into something that is not as firm as it looks. Left foot ankle-deep in mud. Oh bloomin' bloomin'. Still there's a lot to be said for Gore-Tex trainers. Only the top of my ankle, the bit not covered by the trainer, gets wet. And the leg of my jogging pants, too.
On the whole, you could look at me for some time before thinking of the sort of person who takes tea at Claridges.
Pass the posh riding school and see that the sky is looking grumpy.
There's rain on them thar hills. I have no waterproof, no umbrella with me and I'm a good 45 minutes from the nearest shelter. Cross the bridge over the M25, turn left along the path, and it's a quagmire.
No kidding. Like walking on thick porridge. This is because it's clearly ridden along a lot and the horses have churned it up.
Sigh and start to slither my way down the hill and up the other side. Going down is a bit faster than you'd necessarily choose, going up is two steps forward, slither one back. A nice metaphor for sparking.
Last time I walked this way, the final 20 feet was really awkward because very very wet although it had not rained for two weeks. I do not want to have to cross that bit again. I might easily step into it and not be seen again for some time. So instead I cross through this little wood and come out the other side and go down a little path and I'm at the road.
Walk along the road and realise with delight I'm a matter of 100 metres from the bus stop where I got the bus last time. Come round a bend and there's the bus. Practically gallop along the grass verge, get on the bus, collapse in a seat.
I walked for four hours 15 minutes today, with one five minute break for lunch. 22,000 steps.
Three months ago, two hours of walking was my absolute limit.
I've come a long way since then. And my next walk in Epping Forest is going to have to involve branching out on new paths.
But I won't get lost.
Me, lost? Never.