50 Walks in Essex

Through Epping Forest

Try this sample walk from the latest edition of 50 Walks in Essex.

About 50 Walks in Essex

Walking is one of Britain's favourite leisure activities, and this guide to Essex features 50 mapped walks from 2 to 10 miles, to suit all abilities.

The book features all the practical detail you need, including:

  • fascinating background reading on the history and wildlife of the area,
  • clear OS-based mapping for ease of use,
  • every route has been colour coded according to difficulty,
  • annotations for local points of interest and places to stop for refreshments,
  • summary of distance, time, gradient, level of difficulty, type of surface and access, landscape, dog friendliness, parking and public toilets.

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Sample walk: Through Epping Forest

  • Distance: 7.25 miles (11.7km)
  • Minimum Time: 3hrs 30min
  • Ascent: 227 feet (70m)
  • Gradient: 2
  • Difficulty: 2
  • Paths: Woodland paths and bridleways, some road
  • Landscape: Ponds, ancient woodland and open heathland
  • Suggested Map: OS Explorer 174 Epping Forest & Lee Valley
  • Start Grid Reference: TQ404950
  • Dog Friendliness: Great fun, though a bit muddy; keep on lead around horses
  • Parking: Free car park on A1069 at Connaught Water
  • Public Toilet: Epping Forest Conservation Centre and Epping Forest Visitor Centre
Background reading

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 northeast London to the M25. Despite 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 not only a popular recreational retreat, but one of the few places where you can still see the effects of medieval forest management.

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.

Prior to this, the forest was a hunting ground reserved for royalty. 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 the pathways and into deep, shaded glades and you might spot fallow or muntjac deer, descendants of the dark fallow deer introduced by James I in 1612. You can also enjoy the landscape near The Kings Oak pub, where Henry VIII breakfasted on 19 May, 1536, as he waited to hear 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. If left unfenced, the new shoots made easy fodder for animals. To save the trees from further damage 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.

  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 after the boardwalk and continue along the path with high trees towards Fairmead Bottom. (This low-lying area may flood after rain.)
  2. After 400yds (366m) turn left onto the tarmac road, and after a few paces cross Palmer's Bridge and bear right onto the grassy track, which continues ahead close to the A104 on your right. The path crosses meadows to Fairmead Pond on your left. After this bear left and join the bridleway track. Continue uphill, to pass to the right of 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 onto the wide hoggin bridleway, which undulates through high woods and pollarded beech trees. Maintain direction for 0.5 miles (800m) and at a crossing of paths 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 Oak pub. After 300yds (274m), with a pair of cottages 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 Beach Church. With the church behind you turn left downhill, and after 300yds (274m) turn right onto the path between high pollarded trees.
  5. After a short way it joins a sandy track. This is the Centenary Walk, which maintains direction through thick woodland for 0.5 miles (800m) to the deep cutting of the small brook. Cross the earth bridge and follow the Centenary Walk as it curves right. Reach the wide, grassy cross-path and bear left.
  6. After 300yds (274m), at a triangular area of trees, keep ahead to turn right onto the Green Ride bridleway. This popular horse trail bisects North Long Hills and Whitehouse Plain. At the confluence of paths maintain your direction through Bury Wood, and at a crossing of paths take the next path on the right which leads to open heath. Take the path half right, and ahead notice the wooden frames of Royal Forest and Butlers Retreat, popular watering holes. Turn left downhill by the A1069 and return to the car park.
While you're there

Visit the Epping Forest Visitor Centre for leaflets, books, guides and souvenirs. At Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge, see displays about the lodge.

Where to eat and drink

Try the Royal Forest or Butlers Retreat, which 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 cake there are the green tea huts inside the forest.

What to look out for

There are more than 50 species of tree including oak, hornbeam, beech and birch, pollarded and coppiced trees, near The Kings Oak.

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