London Walks: Meandering in a forest maze: Michael Leapman finds his way round the paths of Epping

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Indy Lifestyle Online
What could be nicer on a hot and sunny summer day than a stroll through shady woodlands and beside a lake? Yet although Epping is the most extensive forest in the London area, it is not totally walker-friendly.

There are scarcely any signposts and few landmarks, so it is easy to get lost in the maze of tempting paths. This route, therefore, is a com-promise: not necessarily the most attractive walk but one that is quite easy to find and to describe.

From Loughton station walk up Old Station Road and turn right at the Crown into High Road, crossing it on the zebra.

Fork left at the police station into Forest Road, passing three pubs that you might want to explore later. Where the road reaches the edge of the forest, fork right on to a footpath.

Go straight across a minor road and through a clearing, with Loughton Brook (in parts dried out) on your right.

The path crosses the brook twice, over narrow wooden bridges. Where the brook begins to meander away on your right, climb on to a wider, straight path and turn right uphill.

Follow this path for about half a mile until you reach a junction by a bench. Turn left on a narrower track through trees, keeping straight ahead where another path joins from the right.

Reaching Epping New Road (A104), go straight across into the trees and climb up to a hard-surfaced forest path.

Here our eventual route turns left, but first you will probably want to visit Epping Forest Conservation Centre at High Beech with its little shop and displays about the local flora and fauna.

To do so go straight across the forest road and turn left when you get to a wooden fence. Follow the fence around until you reach the gate that leads into the centre.

Returning to the surfaced forest path, turn right and follow it for nearly two miles, through woods and across clearings, ignoring several cross-paths.

Eventually you will come to a junction with three broad paths, two close together on the right and one on the left.

Ignore all three, but very soon afterwards take a narrower track into the trees, which brings you to the north bank of Connaught Water, a broad and pleasant lake.

Turn right and, more than half way along the west bank, take a path to the right opposite a sign about fishing rights.

This leads to a wide grassy path over Chingford plain, affording good views of Chingford itself.

When you get to Ranger's Road turn right and you will soon see an old Tudor lodge on your right.

Although known as Queen Elizabeth's hunting lodge, it was built in 1543 for her father, the hard-riding Henry VIII, who hunted in the forest regularly.

Elizabeth also used it, though: there is an account of her hunting there in 1602, when she was 69. Today the lodge houses a small museum. Beside it is Butler's Retreat, a 19th-century weatherboarded barn that is now a cafe.

Cross Ranger's Road and turn left, staying parallel to the road, on a path that soon narrows as it goes through trees. Just past a bridge over a stream, divert left from the main path to stay close to the road, past a sign announcing 'ride closed.

At a crossing keep straight ahead, but soon you will have to veer right, away from the path, to avoid an impassable marshy area.

Rejoining the path past the swamp, turn left at a wooden stake. After about a quarter of a mile you will be back on Ranger's Road: cross it and turn right on the pavement.

Turn left on reaching the junction with the A104, and after 30 yards turn right on a footpath through the trees. Keep right to join a broader track, then, at a large oak tree, bear left on to a gravel path.

This leads to Manor Road, where you turn right at the entrance to the Warren, past a post box, and soon reach the High Road.

Go left, passing Bullshead Pond, to get back to the Crown and Loughton station.

FACT FILE

Distance: Six miles

Time: Three hours

Public Transport: Loughton (Central Line)

Car Parks: At Loughton Tube station and off the High Road

(Photographs and map omitted)

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