AtoZ letter EEpping Forest is a most amazing space, completely wild in places, and close enough to London to get there by TfL.  It’s a remnant of Henry VIII’s hunting forests, and given in perpetuity to the people of London by Queen Victoria in 1882.  That’s how it comes to be administered by the City of London.  It straddles the borders of Greater London and Essex, and led to a bit of a furore when they wanted to build the M25 through it, hence the Epping tunnel close to the M11 junction, which has the Epping Foresters Cricket Club on top of it.

Epping Forest’s historic past

iron age fort epping forestThe forest lies along a ridge, keeping it high above the surrounding countryside and giving great views, especially towards the west, over the Lea valley and as far as St Albans on a good day.  This is glacial deposit, which is why it’s so stony, and probably why it wasn’t cleared for farming.  There are ancient gravel workings near the ‘Wake Arms’ roundabout (the Wake Arms pub was demolished in the 1990s).  It has two iron age hill fort, Loughton Camp and Ambresbury Banks.  As a resource for the peasants, it was beyond price – unless of course a price had to be paid for poaching.

The Tudors used it for hunting, and part of Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge still stands (exhibitions and nice cafe there) on the plain at Chingford.

Dick Turpin was reputed to use the forest as a hangout (Epping was a major coaching stop, the first night stop outside London).  His cave is supposed to be in a dell opposite the Robin Hood pub, but I’ve never found it (I’ve looked!).

During World War 2 it was a good place to receive bombs that missed the Blitz, or that hadn’t been used by bombers returning to base.  There are plenty of groups of impact craters, and one set in particular trace a neat line from the direction of the east London docks.

There is even a memorial to Churchill in the southern part.  I suppose it’s not surprising, since he was MP for Epping Forest and Woodford at one stage of his career.

The forest’s inspiration

Pollarded hornbeams and beech epping forestMy theme for the A to Z being ‘inspiration’, you might ask why I’m blogging about it.

The forest is very close to my heart.  I had twenty-five years of using it; for walks, training, and for orienteering competitions. I planned courses for numerous events on it, and produced the new map of Epping East (as we called it), based on John Pearce’s previous version.  When you plan or map an area, you get to know it intimately.  It means you go for long walks, checking out routes, areas, lines of craters (see above), and marshy and brambly areas.

It’s a mature forest full of high hornbeams with deep leaf litter underneath, making trackless cathedrals that are a joy at any time of year, but especially spring and autumn sunshine. It has pollarded beech and hornbeams making strange fantasy creatures that I love to draw (and have sold as paintings). There are secret valleys with springs of horsetail along the line of the stream; horsetail is one of the oldest plants—it’s known from the fossil record.  There are sudden clearings with lawns that look like they’ve been mown.  They probably have, by deer and rabbits, and by the cattle that are still allowed to roam freely.  The birdlife is extraordinary, but often hard to pick out in the high trees—finding nuthatches by call is one talent I learnt.

Epping Forest in my writing

Unfortunately I’m short of pictures of the Forest; all of mine are from the pre-digital age.  But the memory has the best bits stored in it, and I use them for descriptive passages of forests in my writing.  This passage is from the Princelings and the Lost City. Fred, George and Kira spend the night in a clearing (complete with nightjar [a nocturnal bird], which have not been known in Epping Forest for nearly a century, but do inhabit Thetford Forest about 50 miles north), then go along the track which looks most promising.

[George] followed the tracks across the clearing. There seemed to be a sort of crossroads at an angle, … and the track he was on continued west until he got to the edge of the clearing. The road wound down a small slope and crossed what looked like a very small stream, then it wound up the other side on a slant to the right, turned a corner, and was swallowed up by the trees. The trees were mainly tall and knobbly, with brambles and saplings growing beneath them, but over on the north side they gave way to thinner straight fir trees, which stood like an army, looking dark and gloomy the further you went in.  The Princelings and the Lost City, Chapter 3.

That describes a part on the main track going south from the Loughton Rd/Wake Arms Rd crossing towards Monks Wood.

I suspect Epping Forest’s trees also inspire my tree-aliens in my Viridian Series as well.

majestic epping forest tree

What places inspire you?  Let me know in the comments!

E is for Epping Forest #AtoZChallenge2018

17 thoughts on “E is for Epping Forest #AtoZChallenge2018

  • 5 April, 2018 at 12:38 pm

    One of those places I have heard about a lot, but never been. Corlinda Lee, Gypsy Queen, came from Epping but is buried in Glasgow Necropolis.

    • 5 April, 2018 at 6:38 pm

      I believe I’ve heard of her. It’s worth a day trip if you’re staying in London – but get off the Central Line at Loughton (pronounced to rhyme with cow) to see the best of the forest.

    • 5 April, 2018 at 6:39 pm

      I’m going to have to go back with my digital camera sometime and give you a virtual tour.

  • 5 April, 2018 at 5:29 pm

    Wild. I actually wrote some about the various forests in England in my dissertation, but never visited one (on reflection, that was a bit of cheek!). Fascinating trees.
    Rebecca who is NOT doing A to Z

    • 5 April, 2018 at 6:40 pm

      Well, there’s still time to visit them. Which ones did you feature?

      • 8 April, 2018 at 1:01 am

        I don’t remember. I’m not sure I was particular, really just talking about the ways forests were managed in the Middle Ages vs. the wild and dangerous places they were depicted in the stories.

    • 9 April, 2018 at 8:22 am

      Well, it was for an orienteering event – and I really updated the old version, rather than doing it from scratch 🙂

  • 6 April, 2018 at 4:25 am

    Hi Jemima – what a delightful post about the forest and its origins … and great to learn a little more about you and your life before now!! Excellent … and really I should remember to come back to read it again – yes another post once you’ve visited would be lovely. I always miss the Cornish granite, gorse, wind and bent/stunted trees … cheers Hilary

    • 9 April, 2018 at 8:22 am

      especially the bent and stunted trees, and the lanes that turn into tunnels 🙂

  • 6 April, 2018 at 1:36 pm

    What a fascinating, historical place to stir the imagination! A perfect ‘E.’

  • 15 April, 2018 at 11:05 pm

    Have spent some time kcatching up with your posts for the #Challenge, all of which I love. I’m now following and look forward to keeping up with your blog world. If you have time or interest, mmy theme this year is BOOKSTORES, their architecture, location and the good folks who sell books. I know we share a world of books and writing. I also appreciate all the effort you have taken to present your theme this year. It’s been worth it, it is a great example of how blogging should be done.

  • 3 June, 2018 at 8:38 pm

    Hi, Jemima – I too am lucky to live in an area surrounded by forests. They are always a delight, and as you wisely say, inspiration is everywhere! Epping Forest sounds absolutely amazing. I would love to visit there.
    #AtoZChallenge Road Trip

  • 8 July, 2018 at 2:26 pm

    Stopping by from the #AtoZChallenge Road Trip! What an interesting bit of history! I loved how one place could inspire so many different types of writing!

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