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A Scout Round Gilwell Park

A fairly challenging walk combining superb London views and the wooded parkland of the headquarters of the Scout Association.

Distance 6 miles (9.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 231ft (70m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Grassy paths, forest tracks, green lanes, some stretches of road, 9 stiles

Landscape Forest, park, reservoir, waterways and rolling countryside

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 174 Epping Forest & Lee Valley

Start/finish TQ 387963

Dog friendliness Great open spaces and forest to sniff about in, but watch for horses and packs of cub scouts

Parking Free car park in Gilwell Lane

Public toilets None on route

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1 From the car park turn right and pass through the gates of Gilwell Park following the yellow waymark. Keep to the wide grassy path between trees and the Scout Association buildings. At the top of the hill there are panoramic views of the reservoir. Follow the steep downhill path with the wood and the pond on your right and go over the stile to emerge beside the village hall at Sewardstone.

2 Turn left into Dawes Hill and left again into Sewardstone Road. Turn right into Mill Lane passing houses and maintain your direction on the downhill track towards King George's Reservoir. Turn right and follow the track, with the reservoir and Horsemill Stream on your left, to the footbridge over the stream.

3 Do not cross the bridge. Go straight through the kissing gate and turn right on to the waymarked London Loop path, walking east to Sewardstone Road. Turn right and after 100yds (91m), turn left over the stile and ignore the London Loop path right. Walk up the steep north flank of Barn Hill, stopping to look around occasionally at tremendous views over reservoirs, Epping Forest and Waltham Abbey.

4 After crossing the gravel path and the seventh stile, turn right on to the wide Green Lane. Maintain direction and turn left at the second fingerpost marked 'Lippitts Hill'. Bear left past the police firearms training camp fence on your right and don't be alarmed if it sounds as though there's a war going on. The marksmen are well away from you.

5 At Lippitts Hill, turn right passing the training camp and the Owl pub, the gardens of which afford lovely views across Epping Forest. Fifty yards (46m) after the pub turn right at the fingerpost, go up wooden steps and on to the steep grassy downhill path. Maintain your direction between horse paddocks and cross the stile, followed by the footbridge and another stile. Follow the path over undulating meadow across the flank of the hill, then downhill to houses on your left. At the double fingerpost, ignore the direction to Hornbeam Lane, but turn right to Sewardstonebury, following the line of oak trees across West Essex Golf Course. Maintain direction across fairways and past houses to emerge into Bury Road. Turn right and then first left to return to the car park.

Every scout has heard of Gilwell Park, the international training and camp centre for the Scout Association. Set on a plateau and flanked by King George's Reservoir in the west and Epping Forest in the east, the 108 acre (43.7ha) wooded estate was bought for the Scout Association in 1919 by a wealthy Scottish publisher, William F de Bois Maclaren.

A public footpath passes through the estate giving views of the monuments, statues, camp fire circles, scout huts and in the distance, the White House, now Gilwell Park Hotel and Conference Centre, before descending towards the reservoir. The White House dates back to the 15th century but was nothing like the grand building you see today. In the mid-18th century it was rebuilt and over the years extended, and renamed, by various owners.

Perhaps the most dynamic occupants were William and Margaret Chinnery, who lived here from 1792 to 1812 and brought new life to the area. They were patrons of the arts, threw lavish parties and were seen in all the right places. But tragedy struck; two of their children died, one aged 12 and the other 21, and shortly afterwards William was dismissed from his Civil Service post when he was accused of fraud. He fled to Gothenburg and never returned. Margaret moved to Paris but never forgot the 'earthly paradise' that was Gilwell Hall.

In 1858 William Alfred Gibbs, better known as the inventor of Gibbs Dentifrice toothpaste, became the new owner but he couldn't afford the upkeep of the house, which was in ruins by the time it was sold to the Scout Association for £7,000. In 1994 the White House was completely renovated but if you visit today take care; they say that some parts are haunted and that a female ghost walks late at night lamenting the loss of her children. Some have even heard strange rattling chains and clanking footsteps and others swear they have spotted the figure of Dick Turpin astride Black Bess.

Scouting round Gilwell Park involves some sharp climbs and slippery descents especially after rain, but the views of north London from the top of Barn Hill are well worth the effort. This walk also takes in the forest paths around Lippitts Hill where you may hear close range gunfire and helicopters hovering above a set of army-like buildings. You could be forgiven for thinking that you have accidentally strayed in to an SAS training camp but the truth is that you are adjacent to the firearms training camp and helicopter base of the Metropolitan Police. Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell, founder of the Scout Movement, no doubt would have warned his protégés to watch out and, if anything, to 'Be Prepared.'

What to look for

Big Mac, nothing to do with a hamburger, is a clock tower in Camp Square named after camp warden, Alfred Macintosh, who advocated that a clock should be placed high enough so that it could be seen right across the main camping field of Gilwell Park. Scouts from Bermondsey raised the cash for Big Mac, which is clearly visible from the footpath at the start of the walk.

While you're there

Depending on the weather and availability of staff you may be able to join a guided tour of Gilwell Park, which includes the campsite, the White House and the training centre. Visitors should report to the Warden in Camp Square or telephone 0208 498 5300 in advance. You can also buy a range of booklets, souvenirs and maps from the shop on the site.

Where to eat and drink

The 18th-century White House is a conference and training centre for the Scout Association but also doubles as a hotel with a very pleasant restaurant. Combine lunch with an informal tour of the public rooms, which are decorated with scouting memorabilia and paintings, including one used on the set of ITV's Coronation Street. Pub grub can be had at the Owl at Lippitts Hill opposite the police firearms training camp.

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