We all like a bit of a challenge, don't we? The important thing is to quantify the word 'bit', before you get started.
So . . . a few blogs ago I remarked that one day I wanted to join up some of the walks I have done, because the ones up the Lee river valley and the ones in Epping Forest are on the same Ordnance Survey map. I had observed that the Three Forests Way does the joining up bit nicely. The next step (pun!) was to work out how far.
Well, a long way. Using the SparkPeople link to the thingy that you can map your walk on, I came up with more than 12 miles and I know from past experience that this underreports by about 20-25 per cent because you plot your route in straight line segments but you don't walk that way: when walking you potter along and hop from one side of the path to the next to avoid puddles etc.
Right, today I get the train to Roydon station which is in Hertfordshire. Get out, cross the track and discover that Roydon itself is in Essex. I am looking to pick up the Three Forests Way but first I'm on the Stort Valley Way. Start walking, walk up a lane by a church and it turns out the path goes through the graveyard and indeed right around it in places. Bit weird this.
Here's some blurb about the church. I thought it looked old. www.roydonstpeter
Ask a lad on a tractor if I'm going the right way and he waves happily and doesn't run me down so it looks as though I am. You never know with teenagers driving tractors. Walk along a track, come to a wood and I'm going to skip this bit because it's tedious, I mislay the path and go round almost in a circle and in the end walk down to the canal (which I walked along in the other direction last time I came to Roydon) in order to be sure of picking up the right path again, and do so. See a pheasant galloping along the field in front of me. My father used to try to get photos of pheasants and it may be of interest to you to know that a pheasant can outrun a 40-year old man with ease, faster and for longer. He never got his photo. Shortly after this a lady pheasant erupts RIGHT under my feet, ageing me a couple of years in a few seconds. The hens lie still till you are about to tread on them then they explode making you die of fright.
It's not a sunny day but the views are fab, as always. It hasn't rained much for a couple of weeks and the ground has had time to dry out, a plus. Take a left turn up a hill steep enough that I'm making whoofy noises and turn to take more pix of the view.
Emerge on to a road by a building called Didgemere Hall which I thought would be interesting as the name is fab but it's not, it's been built with new money. This is the issue with Essex: loads of people who make their pile move out here and build a pile and it has to be said money doesn't buy you taste, and nothing will create a brick-built Jacobean mini stately home in the 21st century. You have to buy one that was built in the 17th century. You get a lot of houses with gateposts like these:
OK, OK, I'll stop being a snob. I'm just envious because I haven't got any money at all and I would know what to do with it if I had it.
Sooo . . . walk along the road a few metres, up a precipitous bank and over a stile. Cross a serious of small hedged fields (pasture) and pass a bonfire that looks picturesque and smells utterly vile. I was hoping for woodsmoke but this is more old knickers.
There is much evidence of deer: hoofprints, little piles. Come to a small and muddy field with two horses in. Oh, just what I wanted.
In fact, they are fine, mildly curious although one of them whinnies and makes me jump out of my skin. Once I'm safely at the other side of the fence, I stroke their noses.
Walk past some rather scruffy allotments with caged guinea fowl (I think) and go temporarily into orbit when a large dog lurches round a corner, flings itself to the end of its chain and bellows blue murder at me.
I am grateful there's a fence between me and the dog as well as the chain.
This is Roydon Hamlet. Keep on, along a little path. Note a discarded horseshoe that must have been put there by a human as you wouldn't get a horse along this path. Turn it the right way up to stop the luck from running out.
Get to another small and lovely church that has apparently been done up nicely by some bad boys.
This church is even older:
Observe a clump of snowdrops.
Walk up the road past a phone box that can't get a lot of use these days, come after a while to the main road with a convenient seat and before someone suggests otherwise I wish to make it clear the seat was in a state of disrepair BEFORE I sat on it.
Eat lunch: peanut butter sarnie, lentil soup, bottle of water, tangerine. Examine map. There is more than one way to get where I want to be and neither is very direct. Decide to cut across Nazeing Common. This is a nice clearly defined track across farmland. I'm a bit surprised because I wasn't expecting it to be ploughed, as it's common land and marked as such on the map, but it is.
There's a farmhouse halfway across, a beautiful building. I would have taken a photo but it's in the middle of nowhere and I felt a bit awkward so I didn't. It's whitewashed with buttresses and I would guess 18th century. A solid English vernacular house, typical of the area, and now I wish I HAD taken a photo of it. I've googled and there isn't one.
Notice a sign up saying 'Respectful notice: this is not a footpath' I would hope to stop people going the wrong way. As this land is common land, it is open to the public to walk on. As it's been ploughed, this is impossible. I wonder how long since it was first ploughed. Common land is mostly pasture. The fields look gorgeous though and there's a tractor up ahead doing the ploughing.
Keep on, walking steadily up a hill. There's a man in a red jacket up ahead of me and I think he came out of the farmhouse, I've no idea where else he could have come from. Reach the village of Epping Green and sit on a rustic bench to take a photo of one of three pubs I can see from the bench, plus pond.
I could kill a pint but I wouldn't get served, not with these boots on.
Get out the map, look around for the path and find it, with a signpost telling me I've got to the edge of Epping Forest. Walk up a broad green lane that has more of these irritating humps along it, I assume for drainage but they are murder to walk on as you really have to concentrate on your walking because they are so uneven. This is the only unpleasantly muddy bit I come across today, quite an improvement.
Turn left up a nice little track and meet the first people of the day, four hours in. Walk up a track along a field and there's a signpost into a hedgerow which is impossible. Backtrack a bit and walk up the other side of the hedgerow and there's a corresponding sign telling people to walk through a thick hedge over a deep ditch. What has happened of course is the path is so difficult here people have taken a way around it and it's completely overgrown.
Walk down the track and see two dogs in the field in front of me. Whistle to them but they are not interested, they are clearly farm dogs, off on a toot. Get to a farm, cross the farmyard and pick up the path again. Farmyards are a bit of an issue, it's like walking through someone's front garden but of course the footpaths are there because they were originally the means of getting to the farm and without the farm, no footpath.
Get to a series of zigzags where I am walking along the edge of a field. There are footpath signposts but they have been uprooted, I would guess by a naughty farmer who knocked them over with a tractor. There's a babbling brook that would be nice to paddle in on a hot day and I sit down at length for five minutes to check I'm in the right place and look at the nice lecky pylon.
And realise that there is a herd of deer on the hill opposite. In fact they must be the same deer that Stonecot and I saw the other week, because I realise I am only half a mile from where we were.
A couple of the deer bound along and they've clearly noticed me, a good quarter mile away, because they start moving off. I put on a spurt and find myself out on a metalled road with a few desirable residences along it, and come to the junction where Stonecot and I turned off for Epping the other week.
Now, I haven't at this point decided where I am going to finish this walk. I would LIKE to walk to Chingford but Epping or Loughton are nearer. If I turn off for Epping now, I don't get tea and buns at the tea 'ut. So I keep on, to Upshire, cross the bridge over the M25, go up the track, and I'm in the forest proper.
I'm starting to feel really tired, but the prospect of tea and a loo keeps me going. Take a pic of the spectacular view
and get to the tea hut where I have a ham roll, a piece of cake, some chocolate you don't need to see, and tea.
The whole lot comes to £3.70. You can get tea at the Ritz for £38 if you want to spend silly money, and the Ritz doesn't provide a forest to consume it in. Finish tea, visit the loo, set off for the final stretch.
By now I'm shattered. The restoratives helped but not as much as I'd hoped. Plod down the track towards Loughton. I can hear children screaming and catcalling in the woods but can't see them, it's weird. I find them eventually, galloping along the brook. This is the same brook where I got horribly lost last summer because with the trees in leaf you can't see where you're going.
The light's fading as I get to Loughton. No, I didn't go to Chingford, it would have been about three miles further and I wanted to be back before dark.
And the tally for the day? Just under 40,000 steps, 16 miles.
My left knee is killing me but hey! I've only once walked further than this in a day, and I was 18 at the time.
For all the people who were asking, here are some Welsh cakes www.bbcgoodfood.c