A real forest in London
History: 5,900 acres of ancient woodland in London, yes, that's right, London!! Epping Forest borders the county Essex. A former royal park and previously part of the larger Waltham Forest dates back to neolithic times.
During Saxon times, the forest was dramatically altered by selective felling of trees and now it is dominated by beech, birch and oak hornbeam. Henry II made it a Royal forest in the 12th century. He allowed peasants to collect wood, food, graze livestock but only the king was allowed to hunt.
It is thought that Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I possibly hunted in Epping. A building which was originally built in 1543 and renovated 1589 is known today as Queen Elizabeth's Hunting lodge.
The lodge is open to the public and the visitors centre can be found next door. A few minutes walk away is Butlers Retreat a cafe and food store. I unfortunately didn't get a chance to pop in but it looked like a lovely place for a rest, a drink or something to eat - or perhaps a bit of each.
The weather had been pretty damp with very heavy rains overnight. Luckily the day was dry and slightly overcast. Following an early morning frost, it was actually a relatively mild day. Given the size of the forest, I hadn't actually done any research on where to go and thought I would just rock up and figure something out.
Luckily, the car park that I was stopping at had a visitor centre which whilst small, sold a range of lovely books, forest council information sheets as well as cards. They had a several maps and a book of short walks which I purchased (knowing that I will definitely be back again). My walk started late in the day so I edited the walk in the book to make it slightly shorter to ensure I got back before dark.
Starting at Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge
I took my beautiful pink binoculars out with me to see what I could see on my journey. Being a Friday, it was lovely and peaceful.
Given the 6,000 acres of open space, there is more than enough land to explore and to feel at peace which is a very rare and beautiful thing in London. I mainly saw dog walkers but for most of the time, I was walking alone. The forest was filled with beautiful colours even thought it is late autumn.
The light at the time of day was beautiful and the rain clouds weren't quite ready to burst which made for a really beautiful scene.
I'm used to walking relatively quickly when out in the countryside, but I am learning to walk more slowly which I am learning pays dividends as for the first time ever, I spotted some winter thrushes (I think they were redwings), beautiful flocks of blue and great tits and the absolute highlight was spotting a great spotted woodpecker. Learning to slow down not only calms us internally, but really allows us to be more attuned with our senses. The forest was a wonderful place to discover this but I'm quickly learning that I just need to start to learn to pay attention more.