I love beer. It’s so liberating. It makes ideas that you’d never otherwise voice come to the fore and be shared with the world.
I hate beer. It gets one into scrapes that one didn’t intend. And makes one look a wally when you backpedal on what you’d said you’d do.
An impromptu couple of swift pints after what had been an intense week at work, led in a chain of consequences to a conversation about Pokémon on the train with strangers (I loathe the bloody thing with a fervour unmatched outside of religious fundamentalism, but still seemed to know more than them), and some ill-advised tweeting in which some inner desires to get out wherever and whenever were expressed. At one point fearing I’d signed my own death warrant with a suggested wild camp in Trafalgar Square, it was a bit of a relief to see that the words “technically” and “London” had appeared in the same sentence.
With this being the last weekend before an unenviable 19 day continuous work stint, most of which is away in a foreign land (okay,maybe that’s stretching it a bit as it’s only Scotland), the need to get out was overwhelming; the need for a night in my favourite place (my tent) even more so. All seemed well – I’d head out late Saturday morning, walk a dozen or so miles, find somewhere for a stealthy camp, and finish off the walk early the next morning before anyone was any the wiser.
The plan fell apart under a combined assault from (a) a lie-in, (b) not being arsed having got back from the weekly food shop and (c) Mrs Hillplodder’s incredulity that I was even considering such a plan. Saturday afternoon came and went and annoyed with myself, I made a new plan: I’d simply head out really early Sunday and do it in a day.
The sun was rising as I sallied forth on part 2 of the London Loop, picking up where I left off in Upminster. A troll through the streets and the first navigational challenge courtesy of the intermittent London Loop waymarkers. Knowing I had to turn right just after Upminster Bridge, I felt I’d walked too far, and the map seemed to suggest so. A road called “The Walk” seemed to offer a clue, if only coincidentally. I picked up the waymarkers again at the end of the road and made my way out of the houses and into fields.
I crossed the first field and felt I’d gone wrong – a look at the map and the school a couple of fields further on confirmed it – so I traversed the field in an attempt to pick up the route alongside the River Ingrebourne again. Back on my route I followed the Ingrebourne for another couple of fields before crossing and heading through a brief wooded area to the fringe of civilisation again. A bit of road walking brought me to Pages Woods which I ambled through with the early dog walkers. This eventually brought me out to the local park where a couple of wrong turns delayed me slightly.
I escaped from the park, made my way through the streets and past Harold Wood station. A few more near misses with directions and I entered a series of chunks of parkland alongside the Ingrebourne that would take me the next few miles. A coffee stop in Central Park broke the monotony slightly.
I eventually escaped on a track leading to Paternoster Row and here the countryside opened out. Open expanses of fields and clumps of trees contrasting starkly with much of the walk so far which had seemed like a desperate attempt to cling to anything green as the route snaked between commuter housing estates.
In front of me the grass of the field shone a bright lime colour and in the distance a turret rose behind the trees. More route-finding shenanigans as the paths and markers on the ground didn’t quite match-up with the map, and I found I’d taken a slightly different route the other side of a patch of scrubby grass. Not that it mattered – all there is to see out here is trees and fields.
I neared the tower, and all fantasies about it being straight out of a fairytale vanished with the awareness that below it were some pretty ordinary farm buildings.
Havering-atte-Bower provided a bit of a quaint village interlude and the bagging of the County Top of the London Borough of Havering and then the first of today’s country parks came up – Havering Country Park. I ploughed along the forest trails to the other side of the wood, yet again, the waymarked route seeming to lead me to a place that was off the waymarked route. Up ahead a glimpse of open country through the tunnel of trees told me it was nearly over.
I emerged from the trees onto a dusty track that ran north-south along the edge of the wood. I was sure I was on the right track, but with no sign of waymarkers I wanted to know if I’d actually been on the right path or had strayed. A diversion north confirmed it – somehow I’d gone off-piste. Nevermind, it was time for a rest and a look at the view. Before me in the distance I could see the metropolis, the spikes of the tall buildings in Canary Wharf and the City barely piercing the big sky overhead. With a bit of effort, I could make out the London Eye too. I tried, but nothing I could do with my camera or my smartphone could get me a better zoomed-in shot.
A muddy path led me to the crossing of the mighty River Rom.
I negotiated my way past Lower Park Farm and the “You will be shot” notices dotted around the fields between there and Park Farm.
Across the yellowing fields a barrier of trees showed I was approaching the most anticipated part of today’s walk – Hainault Forest. Anticipated because I remember liking the look of the place when I was here orienteering last year, but also because I’d identified it as my best bet for a sneaky doss down. At least, that was until the plan changed.
I passed through the trees and crossed the golf course, wending my way along a wooded path at the side as I gradually climbed up onto Cabin Hill, the second London Borough Summit of the day (Redbridge). More confusing paths on the ground versus waymarking but sense of direction took me to an indistinct slight rise in the middle of the woods that at a supposed elevation of 104m per my altimeter was enough for me to adjudicate the bag in my favour. Since my watch reset itself on the previous walk, it seems to overestimate altitude by around 10m, so this was good enough to claim the lofty 94m summit of Cabin Hill. My usual practice of seeing if Social Hiking awarded the bag also came into play.
I headed down from the summit to pick up the Loop again, looking for the right place to turn off to cut across the park. Again I got it wrong, taking an early right onto a rough grassy ride between the trees. In a sense this wasn’t a problem – it was pleasant strolling down this way off piste and seeing no one else.
I picked up the waymarking again, crossed through yet more trees and found before me a wide expanse of open grass that I remember expending the last remnants of my feeble lung capacity running across last time I was here in a forlorn attempt to shave the last few seconds off my orienteering time.
In the corner of the few I spied the lake, and cut across to it.
The path now headed away from the lake, clearly waymarked to start with, but a path that became less and less obvious the further in I got. I came to a wooden circle and spent a few moments admiring this clearly ancient monument.
Now I lost my way more firmly. The path petered out and then met a proper on crossing right to left, neither of which directions accorded with the way the map said to go, which was straight ahead. I went right and attempted to recover my course with the next left. Various twists and turns and “follow my nose” situations later I came to the main road. Clearly not at the crossing point I was supposed to me, I followed the edge of the wood a bit further north west until I came to it, then had difficulty overcoming the barriers that had been put in place to close off the park (while it underwent a tree safety assessment following last week’s storm), and which everyone else was ignoring too. I crossed the road, passed through a pretty manky bit of woodland and came to the delights of Chigwell Row. A narrow, overgrown path between some scratchy and spiky trees and the fence around the waterworks made for a memorable bit of walking. Not.
After fighting my way along this, a break in the trees showed the way across a succession of muddy and desolate fields towards Chigwell proper. A lunch stop in a wooded sunken hollow was quite pleasant under the circumstances. I reached Chigwell and after most of the day alone in the fields, wasn’t liking the hustle and bustle. Half tempted to call it a day here, reason told me not to. I knew the tube was out, so bailing here meant a succession of buses, and I just couldn’t be doing with that. And so I committed myself to adding another 5 or so miles to the 15 already under my belt.
I headed out along the B road towards Buckhurst Hill, crossed the M11 and slipped down a lane beside an old school. Soon I was in Roding Valley Nature Reserve and crossing the Roding itself.
The lake was shimmering under the mid-afternoon sun, and I paused a while for a brief snack break. The walk had now become a bit of a slog, and there was no convenient bail out without a lot of faffing about, so continuing was the only practical thing to do.
I crossed the Central Line in Buckhurst Hill, stepping gingerly over the discarded Special Brew cans. Up through a field, across a main road and I was in Epping Forest. As the light started to fade, I got on with the job, regretting that I didn’t have time, or energy for that matter, to begin exploring the Forest more. The first glimpses of sunset shone through the trees as I pulled into Chingford.
I collapsed into a seat on the train at the end of nearly 23 miles walking. Much more than I like to do in a day. It was done and there’d been good bits, but they’d have been a hell of a lot better as the climaxes to a walk split over two days. As I’d originally planned. I really need to get my act together.