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Epping Forest Retreat

Follow Queen Victoria's path to the opening of the forest to Londoners.

Distance 7.3 miles (11.7km)

Minimum time 3hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 227ft (70m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Woodland paths and bridleways, some road

Landscape Ponds, ancient woodland and open heathland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 174 Epping Forest & Lee Valley

Start/finish TQ 404950

Dog friendliness Great fun, though a bit muddy. Keep on lead around horses

Parking Free car park on A1069 at Connaught Water

Public toilets Epping Forest Conservation Centre


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1 From the car park walk between wooden posts and bear left on the gravel path which hugs Connaught Water. Walk around the lake for 800yds (732m), turn left over the footbridge and along the path with high trees to Fairmead Bottom. This low-lying area may flood after heavy rain.

2 After 400yds (366m), turn left on to the disused tarmac road and after a few paces cross Palmer's Bridge and bear right on to the grassy track, which continues ahead close to the A104 on your right. The path crosses meadows to Fairmead Pond on your left and after 750yds (686m), turn left on to the road uphill and into the car park where there is a tea hut.

3 Continue up the tarmac road for 100yds (91m) and turn right by the metal gate on to the wide hoggin bridleway, which undulates through high woods and pollarded beech trees. Maintain direction for ½ mile (800m) and take the path left, which leads into the wooden fenced enclosure of Epping Forest Conservation Centre.

4 Leave the Conservation Centre by the front path, turn left and walk past the Kings Head public house. After 300yds (274m), with Paul's Nursery on your left, take the path right. Walk under high trees for 250yds (229m) to reach the tarmac road and the secluded location of High Beech church. With the church behind you, turn left downhill and after 300yds (274m), turn right on to the path between high pollarded trees.

5 This is the Centenary Walk, which maintains direction through thick woodland for ½ mile (800m) to the deep cutting of the small brook. Walk downhill south west, keeping the brook on your right and after 400yds (366m), at the wide grassy cross path, turn left.

6 After 300yds (274m), turn right on to the Green Ride bridleway. This popular horse ride bisects North Long Hills and White House Plain. At the confluence of paths maintain your direction through Bury Wood and at cross paths walk half right taking the uphill track. Ahead notice the wooden frame of Butlers Retreat, a popular watering hole next to the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge. Turn left downhill by the A1069 and return to the car park.

Shaped like a crescent and extending 12 miles (19.3km) south from Epping to Wanstead Flats, Epping Forest is divided by the Epping New Road which gives access from north east London to the M25. But for all the traffic, you need step back only a little to discover tranquil tracks and pathways meandering through 6,000 acres (2,430ha) of ancient woodland. For Epping Forest is one of the few places where you can still see the effects of medieval forest management and today is a popular recreational retreat attracting all those yearning to escape city life.

You can follow Queen Victoria's route from Connaught Water, near Chingford Station where she arrived in 1882 to declare, 'It gives me the greatest satisfaction to dedicate this beautiful forest to the use and enjoyment of my people for all time'. She rode in an open carriage along Fairmead Bottom to High Beach to the cheers of the crowds of Cockneys, mostly hell-bent on having a good day out.

Prior to this, the forest was a hunting ground reserved for royals. Queen Elizabeth I used to hunt from the lodge named after her, now the Epping Forest Museum, and probably galloped over an early Roman settlement, Loughton Camp, a few miles to the east. Stray off pathways and into deep shaded glades and you might be lucky enough to spot fallow or mutjac deer, descendants of the dark fallow deer introduced by James I in 1612. You can also enjoy the gently rolling landscape near the Kings Oak pub where Henry VIII breakfasted on 19 May 1536 as he waited to hear the news that Anne Boleyn had been executed.

At the Epping Forest Conservation Centre, a trail leads you through an ancient landscape of coppiced and pollarded trees. In medieval times cattle and deer were free to graze and woodsmen harvested wood for domestic purposes, a practice which ceased in 1878. Trees were coppiced, or cut to ground level, allowing new shoots to grow from the stump, but if left unfenced made easy fodder for animals. To save the trees from further damage and to keep them out of the reach of peckish livestock, the branches were cut above head height every 12 to 15 years, a system known as pollarding. Explore the forest today and you'll find several thousand of these pollarded trees, identifiable by their massive crowns.

Where to eat and drink

Butler's Retreat provides excellent snacks and meals. For pub fare try the Kings Oak or tuck into a salt beef sandwich at the adjacent snack bar. For hot drinks and a slice of fruit cake you can't go wrong at the green tea huts inside the forest.

While you're there

Visit Epping Forest Conservation Centre for leaflets, books, guides and souvenirs. At Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge, now the Epping Forest Museum, see the displays explaining the construction of the lodge and its former uses.

What to look for

There are over 50 species of tree including oak, hornbeam, beech and birch, pollarded and coppiced trees, near Kings Oak pub. Motor cycle aficionados might like the atmosphere and display of powerful machines with their leather-clad riders who gather near the tea hut on Sunday mornings.


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