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Saturday, February 02, 2013

Today Stonecot and I walk from Chingford via a village called Upshire, to Epping. We set off at a brisk pace (set by me: we're meant to be taking exercise after all) up the hill to Queen Elizabeth's hunting lodge (ref previous blogs by both of us) and turn left on to the common.

Lovely day. Blue sky, fleecy whites, soggy path, soggier in places than last time, dryer than others. No obvious signs of spring yet but the temperature is like the baby bear's porridge: just right. We stride out. After a while we see a woman with her young daughter coming towards us. The woman stops and says 'I'm sorry to bother you, but can you tell me where this is please?'

Oh, I've been there. How I've been there. We explain that if they keep on in a straight line for 20 minutes and turn right when they get to the road, they will get to Chingford. She more or less hugs my arm and I've never seen relief writ so large on anyone's face. This bit of the forest is fairly open and untreed but there are paths all over the shop and it's very easy to pick the wrong one.

In fact we almost do this. Just in time I say 'whoah. When we came the other way three weeks ago, we came that way there didn't we?' Rather than the path we were just about to sake. Disaster averted. We might still be circling Loughton even now.

We trudge on, gratified to recognise all kinds of things (the sandy quagmire, the streams etc). Up a hill and we are at the first road. Down the hill on the right is a tea hut but it's not OUR tea hut, it's a different one. We cross the road and get to the very pretty and very hilly section that I last did in this direction about a month ago, when I ended up back where I'd just started from and went home in a snit (I did walk about six miles though). I stop to take a photo of a little stream

and a small dog of the terrier type bounces up behind us. It's an exceptionally cute dog - I prefer large and bouncy but this one has enough zip for an Irish wolfhound. I warn Stonecot not to step back suddenly. The dog's owner calls it off and it sort of barrels on ahead, up the hill.

We follow. Just before we get to the tea hut we see the same small dog. It has met up with two others and there's a lot of doggy excitement going on. Dogs are never cuter than when they're out enjoying themselves.

We arrive at the p hut (so nice to have a loo provided halfway, even if it is a bit noisome) and then go over to the t hut. It's a day for nostalgia. I'm not only in the process of walking the furthest I've walked since I was 21, I have the first piece of batternburg cake I've eaten since I was 12. The tea hut is wonderful, proof that Starbucks doesn't really exist. You say how much milk and sugar you want and they put it in the tea for you and stir (I don't take either myself but that's not the point). No miserable little packets. As always there's a queue.

I still can't get over this tea hut. It's in what to me is the middle of nowhere but everyone who's out in the forest stops there for tea and buns. There are a couple of dozen people sitting out with their tea and cake or whatever, chatting, enjoying the view, the sun, the fresh air. I just hope to goodness nobody ever decides that what is needed there is a Starbucks or similar with skinny lattes and blueberry-cranberry oat muffins.

We sit down on 'our' bench (that is, the same one we sat on last time) and spend ten minutes reflecting on the excellence of simple things. I unfold the map and show Stonecot where I'm planning to take us. I was originally intending to take a right turn so that we would walk along the very familiar path to Epping but I was talking to someone last week who told me that the very muddy path I wanted to avoid that goes to Upshire is not the only one and that there's a perfectly good stony track. This inspired me to find a footpath from Upshire to Epping that I haven't tried before.

I'm getting ahead of us.

We set off along the forest track, and Stonecot comments that it's interesting how she is starting to recognise individual trees from previous walks. This amuses me greatly because as I point out to her, she's never been this way before. And it's mean of me to put it in the blog, but I'm a Mean Person, so what can you do? We go past the tree with the woodelf clinging to it and come at length to the fabulous view of the M25.

The view is viewable today, it's very clear. We get to yet another road, cross it, walk down the side of the place where the horses usually are but aren't today, spend five minutes trying to identify some small birds that are sitting in a bush laughing at us (possibly goldcrests, they are tiddly) nearly (in my case) tread in some poo left by an animal that is definitely not horse, cow, sheep, dog, fox or rabbit but we know not what.

We cross the bridge over the M25 noting that many sheep have crossed before us as we can see their hoofprints which is odd because we've seen no sheep today and take the new path to Upshire. This turns out to be exactly as described to me, except at one point there's a very deep puddle. I wade across in some trepidation. I mean, you never know.

But anyway, it's ok. We reach the road and I sit on a concrete bollard thing to take off a boot I've been whingeing about - there's something in it apart from my sock-covered foot and it will give me a blister if I don't shake it out. Put boot back on and bend over to do up the lace and my back says 'PING' and I say 'oh bollards'. It's ten years since I pinged my back and I thought it was beyond the pinging stage.

Continue, gingerly. The thing about a pinged back is you don't know how bad it's going to be till it has had the chance to seize up. (I can report that it is currently about 3.5 out of 10 on the agonising pinged back scale, in other words I've had much worse but standing up makes me wince a lot). And also, I've lost about 50lb in weight, I'm tons fitter than I was this time last year, why is my back pinging at all?


We walk along a little road then another little road and try with difficulty to match up the houses and farms we see with the houses and farms on the map. There's a clearly marked footpath and that is what we are on we thing, but we have left the Three Forests Way which we have been on up till now, because it's continuing up off the edge of the map, and looks as though it could go on forever. WE can't go on forever - we're feeling our age a bit. Stiff muscles, aching hamstrings etc. As we trundle along, Stonecot comments 'dear dear' and when I don't respond repeats with with more emphasis, 'deer deer'. There is as she quaintly puts it a whole flock of them in the middle distance, lying in a field. Just one is standing. Here's the pic. Yes, you will have to take our word for it. So it was small deer hoofprints not sheep we saw earlier, we think.

We're not sure what kind of deer, not red deer (the great big ones), something smaller: roe, muntjac, Pere David's. I've just googled deer poo and spent five minutes looking at photos of it which is more deer poo than any normal person wants to look at photos of and am still no wiser.

So we keep on up the path and I'm taking pix of the views and we cross a muddy field and are gratified to find a stile at the other side of it and it's all looking lovely but we are cream crackered.

We come to Griffin Wood and walk through it instead of taking the path round it (but I don't realise this is a mistake till later) and keep up the road and after a bit more come to a large gate and for an awful moment I think we're going to have to backtrack half a mile but there's a little side gate and it's open and we sneak through and out on to the main road, on the outskirts of Epping. I lead us back to the station via Tescos where I buy a sarnie and we get on to the train 20 minutes later and devour our lunches. The problem with walking in the UK is it can be hard to find something dry let alone comfortable to sit on to eat.

But anyway, there you are. Four and a half hours' hiking, 11 miles, and we are very proud of ourselves.

I get home and make apple crumble and eat the whole thing. With custard.

Less proud of that, but at least it was two freggies.

PS Battenberg cake for the poor deprived people who don't know what it is:
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