Epping Forest is an ancient deciduous woodland (circa 8000 BC) that runs north east out of London on a high gravel ridge. It covers an area of about 6,000 acres and is about 12 miles long and 2.5 miles wide and is the largest public open space near London.
It had been the hunting ground of the Kings and Queens of England since Norman times, although commoners had always had the right to graze livestock and collect timber for building and firewood. Queen Elizabeth I's Hunting Lodge still stands at Chingford. Royal interest gradually declined and following attempts by landowners to enclose the forest, in 1878 the Epping Forest Act of Parliament was passed, stipulating that:
The Conservators shall at all times keep Epping Forest unenclosed and unbuilt on as an open space for the recreation and enjoyment of the people.
Since 1878, the forest has been owned and managed by the Corporation of London.
Over 4000 acres of the forest is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a European Special Area of Conservation. This offers some protection under the law to its large number of ancient trees which support a vast variety of flora and fauna, including all three native species of woodpeckers, wood-boring beetles and fungi, not to mention its old commons and heaths, and 150 ponds and lakes. The fallow deer imported by the Normans still roam the forest.
Things to See and Do
Amesbury Banks and Loughton Camp
The remains of two Iron Age (c650 BC - 43 AD) hill forts can still be seen in Upshire and Loughton, but don't expect to see castles; Iron age forts were made from wood and were surrounded by banks and ditches - the earthworks are all that remain.
Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge
Built for King Henry VIII in 1543 to observe the Royal Hunt, it was repaired and renovated for Queen Elizabeth in 1589. It now houses a small display which is open for limited hours to the public and charges a small admission fee. The Lodge is in Ranger's Road, Chingford, Essex.
Bert's Tea Hut, High Beech
The Mecca for bikers from all over. Summer Sunday afternoons get very, very busy. Make sure you get the right tea hut! From the Robin Hood Pub roundabout head towards High Beech; Bert's is on your left.
Pole Hill and The Meridian
Reputed to be the highest point in Essex (although this Researcher remains unconvinced) Pole hill has a superb view right across London. The Greenwich Meridian runs through this spot and a plaque shows the location.
The Epping Forest Information Centre
This is a good place to start if you're new to the area. It carries a wide range of leaflets and books, as well as local OS maps1. They also arrange a regular, year-round programme of guided walks and talks, some of which are free. The Epping Forest Information Centre can be found at High Beach, Loughton, Essex IG10 4AF:
|Opening Hours (Easter - 31 October)|
|Monday - Saturday: 10.00am - 5.00pm|
|Opening Hours (Winter)|
|Weekdays: 11.00am - 3.00pm|
|Saturdays: 10.00am - 5.00pm (or dusk)|
|Sundays: 11.00am - 5.00pm (or dusk)|
Walking, Cycling and Horse Riding
The area is very popular locally for all sorts of outdoor recreational activities but if you go beyond the car parking areas the forest gets quieter. It's crisscrossed with numerous footpaths and bridle paths and there are also wide, gravelled 'rides', suitable for those who prefer their walking a little less muddy or just a little gentler. Epping Forest, unlike the majority of Essex, is hilly. Most of the hills are comparatively small, but some can be steep and slippery in bad weather. Mountain bike clubs meet by Carl's Tea Hut (the one near the Kings Oak Pub at High Beech) at weekends for rides. Horse-riding is very well catered for, there are numerous stables all over the Epping Forest area.
Fishing is free in some of the smaller ponds; most of the well-stocked lakes are controlled by local angling clubs, some of which have day tickets available. Check with the information centre or on notice boards by the lakes. Connaught Water is popular locally, day tickets are available and it's located in Ranger's Road, Chingford.
Epping Forest Mountain Bike Club meet each Sunday at 9.30am by Carl's Tea Hut at High Beech. Look out for their distinctive yellow and black striped jerseys.
Chigwell and Epping Forest Orienteering Club hold regular events both within the forest and in the surrounding areas.
Epping Cricket Club have the most expensive cricket pitch in the country. It's 18" of soil over the M25 tunnel.
Golf courses abound in this area. Try Epping Golf Club, the Royal Epping Forest public Golf Course, the West Essex Golf Course or the Theydon Bois Golf Club Tel: 01992 813054.
How To Get There
By Road:Turn off at the M25's Junction 26, or the M11's Junctions 4 or 5.
By Rail:Trains run from London, Liverpool Street to Chingford.
By Tube:Central Line, stations between Woodford Green and Epping, but don't expect to step out of the station directly into forest. At some stations you may have to walk a fair way, or take a bus.
Where to Stay
There are numerous hotels and B&B's throughout the area, but remember, these charge London prices, so ensure your pockets are suitably deep. In addition there's the Youth Hostel not far from Loughton centre and can be found at:
Gilwell Park Scouting Centre
Bury Lane, Chingford.
Although primarily intended for Scout Association use, Guides, Schools and Youth Groups are welcome.
Lea Valley Campsite
Sewardstone Road, Chingford
The Elms Caravan and Camping Park
Lippitts Hill, High Beech,
Loughton, IGlO 4AW
The Elms offers a free pickup service from Loughton Underground station for Backpackers.