Well, new year, best to start the way I mean to go forward I reckon. So instead of a lie in this morning, I'm off to Loughton to go for a walk in Epping forest (for a change).
But worry not, for I have a plan. This is going to be a different walk, because I'm heading off toward Beach at which point I normally turn right and walk to Upshire. Today I'm going to turn left, and pick up the path to Chingford. This path ultimately takes me to Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge, and would (if I wanted and trust me I don't) allow me to take the very very muddy walk I did the other week from Leytonstone to Chingford in the other direction. I love the fact that the walks I've done in Epping Forest are sort of linking up now.
I'm feeling intrepid. Instead of stomping up the road to meet the nice gravel track, I dive into the wood by Loughton Brook and start slithering along a track that has fiendishly situated tree-roots in the mud, just so you can slide your boot under them and stagger winningly into the next squelchy bit. The track quickly becomes a series of glades. It being winter, you can see a long way as there's very little undergrowth.
Over in the distance, I can see Staple Hill, where I ended up the second time I walked in the forest. That's some time ago now.
I come to various fallen trees across the path and am about to turn back when I realise that in fact the path seems to continue so I do what everyone else must have done and climb over them.
Emerge, far sooner than I expected, on the main path and note a trifle smugly that I have cut off an uphill walk on the road, a boring bit with a car park and a downhill bit and replaced it with a nice foresty ramble. Just what I wanted.
Stride out briskly. I am keen to up my speed on hikes to about 3mph - it's all too easy to saunter along at a snail's pace taking photos and the purpose is, after all, exercise. It's a beautiful day and there aren't many people about yet, so I'm enjoying the peace and stillness and the views between the trees.
Turn off for High Beach, keep striding, seeing increasing numbers of other people, cross one road, bear left, heading for the forest visitor/information centre.
Get to the pool that is near it, where I was once accosted by a dragon. The dragons are all dead, but there's a family, mum, dad, small boy and smaller girl out for a walk. The girl is fine, she wearing wellies. The boy has trainers on and he is testing their waterproof qualities in a puddle. Dad shouts at him to 'get aht!' Small boy ignores this. There is a free and frank exchange of views and Dad hauls him out of the puddle by one arm. Howls of rage rent the air.
Suspect the trainers were a Christmas present . . .
There's a fab view from the car park, so I walk over to the edge and take a photo of it. I've taken photos of this view from further along the path in the past, but I'm not going that way today.
Hunt for a bench that is not sopping wet and find one. Sit down and consume sandwich (goat cheese since you ask and a bit nasty as warm from being against my back) and drink. There's a trailer selling drinks and butties and I have a shufty at the prices which are impressive . . . 70p for a cup of tea? 60p for a cake? Think I'll plan to eat here next time.
Get out map, looking for new trail. Up until now, I've known the way without looking. I've got a few problems, firstly, I'm on the fold in the middle of the map which is an annoying place to be as it means to look at where I am properly I have to open the map right out. Second, there are loads and loads of trails. Third, I am not entirely certain that I am looking at the right place. The first time I came this way, I got very very lucky and found the route I wanted partly by chance. Now that I want to go the other way, I need to be certain of the path.
Get up and walk round in circles a couple of times looking at road signs, the noticeboard and the map again. Finally decide on a route then decide on a different route and start walking along a road that seems to be the right one.
I don't like walking along roads much so when I observe a path through the woods on the other side of the road, but running parallel to the road, I make for it. This means crossing a boggy bit that goes just over the top of my right boot.
Bleugh. It's cold.
Ten steps later my left foot goes into a second boggy bit and doesn't hit bottom. Mud and water ooze merrily into the top of the boot, making a squidge effect as I heave said boot out of aforementioned second boggy bit.
'Oh dearie me,' I say. 'Goodness gracious.'
Decide to walk along the road anyway. I'm looking for a junction beyond which the trail I want crosses the road. Get to a junction and there's the trail.
Yippee. There's a car park a bit further along that looks to have something going on and I'm tempted to investigate before I realise it's a biker convention. Having two feet rather than a motorbike, I give it a miss. Turn along the trail, which has loads of people on it, and start striding along, enjoying the new scenery, nice gravelly path, etc etc. I can see a road to my right through the trees, and this corresponds with what's on my map. The track is very up and down, short steep climbs and descents.
So, I'm in top gear, stepping out etc etc when I come to a pond on my left.
It is the pond I was at an hour ago. The dragonfly (in season) pond. No mistaking it.
This is not where I am supposed to be, at all. Examine my options.
The most attractive, that of throwing myself on the ground drumming it with hands and feet and wailing loudly isn't really suitable because the ground's so wet. Else I would, believe me.
Or I can go back and see if there was a path I should have taken.
Or I can simply walk back to Loughton.
Given that I have been walking two hours already and it will take me another hour to get back to Loughton, this is what I decide on. So, 40 minutes later I am getting near the end of the trail when I encounter an exceptionally noisy family with small children, making an awful din. In a fit of rebellion, I leave the trail and enter the forest on the path I started on earlier.
It's not a clear path at all, and I'm quickly using CC radar but believe it or not, after 10 minutes I emerge by Loughton brook, in other words exactly where I want to be. Manage to avoid the muddy bit this time as well.
Am now going to sit down and ask some serious questions of the map.
Weather permitting, I'll be back to do the walk I intended to do today on Saturday.
I didn't get where I am today by not getting lost.