Wednesday, 20 October 2010
You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)
Our mission was to do what we singularly failed to do about 18 months ago. That is: walk from Chingford, on the edge of North East London and Epping Forest to the smallish town of Epping just on the northern edge of the Forest.
What we have today of the forest is a smiggin compared to the woodlands that covered the south of England up until the Anglo Saxons cleared extensive parts of the old forest for grazing and crops. In the medieval period it was the play ground of kings and the nobility, where much hunting and hawking took place. In the 18th and 19th centuries the forest land was enclosed and by the 1860's the forest was in danger of disappearing. Since the 1870's it has been protected and managed by the City of London. It is a slither of green, the largest area of woodland near London.
There are many roads crossing the forest and the M25 - London's orbital motorway touches its northern tips. A low continuous rumble of the motor way can be heard almost anywhere in the forest. The forest itself is criss crossed with bridle paths and tracks.Many minor routes branching off the more substantial pathways. None are adequately signed posted.
This fact explains the failure of our earlier trek 18 months earlier. We were adequately provisioned. Mobile phone, wallet and cheque and credit cards along with some loose change, well fitting boots, jackets and a map and compass. We took the local train from Walthamstow to Chingford and walking at a brisk pace breasted the hill that was the start of our endeavour in a matter of minutes. A last look at a sadly closed hostelry - it was only 10 am - we struck out with hope and good intentions in our hearts.
I began to feel somewhat disappointed as we walked along the Green Ride, the major thoroughfare of the forest. It was like a Bank Holiday at the seaside! People everywhere, on horse, bicycle, foot with dogs, children and kites. Where was the blasted heath and mysterious greenwood I ached for?
I needn't have fretted. A stop to look at the map, agreement on the direction to follow and in no time we were lost in the depths of the forbidding woods. The paths we stumbled down grew narrower and narrower: the tree cover lower and ominously we began to recognise places we'd passed an hour or so earlier. We'd been following our tails. The map was no use since we had no idea where we were; the compass less than helpful.
Then a flash of light and another; and the unmistakeable sound of traffic. Breaking through the thicket we came onto a narrow country lane. All was silence now, not a vehicle, horse drawn or motorised, was in view. On the opposite side of the road loomed a large Edwardian house; its gables decorated with fiendish gargoyles. With trembling heart we approached the gate to the drive way. "Christian Prayer Centre" - closed: Dashed were our hopes of discovering what land we had hit upon.
"People" Greg shouted with joy. There in the distance walking towards us were two creatures - their heads illuminated as if by some dank light of Hades. "Excuse us, could you tell us where this road leads?" we questioned the nymphs. "Sure" , they uttered, "See that tower - that's Chingford fire station, in the other direction after a time you'll come to High Beech".
It was with a damnable mixture of relief and horror that we realised we were about 400 yards from where we had started 2 hours before. The hopelessness of our position dawned on us. We would not reach Epping - we had more chance of flying to the Moon. We cut our losses. Knowing now where we were we were able to locate our position on the map and head for High Beech: a pub; a lunch,a pint and a slow journey home.
Today, this morning we set off to face down our greatest failure. But this time we were prepared. With power walking sticks, cash, cheque book - just in case the natives don't have EPTs and our nuclear solution, a GPS enabled mobile with an Ordnance Survey (OS) map stored in its memory and very clever software.
For the first half hour or so the GPS didn't work; but we didn't get lost. After a while I turned to Greg and in a cheering voice exclaimed "This is hopeful Greg, I don't recognise anything here - we can't be on the old route." And we arrived, approximately where we thought we should. We were encouraged. More so when the GPS sparked into life and we saw our position as a red circle on the OS map. With confidence we headed across the road, down a path and sure enough the little circle followed us. We couldn't get lost - and even if we did we'd know where we were.
The rest of the tale is quickly told. Heading unerringly, we arrived at our destination just as the GPS and mobile signal died. A quick pint and snack in a pub with a doubly incontinent dog could not dampen our joy.
We had walked 14 km in 2 3/4 hrs and hadn't got lost once. Some kind of record!