We started at the Epping Forest Visitor Centre, set off vaguely northwards, and immediately got lost. Epping Forest is not well endowed with signposts and the OS map for this area does not have a great deal of detail. But the lovely thing about Epping Forest is that it doesn't matter - there are always paths, and there is always something to see.
When we found ourselves back at the Visitor Centre five minutes after we left it, we started again and managed much better second time around. We headed north-east, towards Theydon Bois, and found plenty of hills, mud puddles, tall nettles and piles of horse poo to navigate our way around.
At this time of year Epping Forest is gloriously lush, with waist-high drifts of ferns, winding brambles and general greenery everywhere.
I love all the old mutant-style beech and oak trees dotted around the forest. They are this weird shape because many, many years ago they used to be pollarded to obtain a crop of wood. The City of London, who manage Epping Forest, describe pollarding like this:
Pollarding is a traditional tree management technique that was common place in England and regularly carried out in Epping Forest until around 200 years ago. A crop of wood was obtained from the trees by removing branches but not felling the tree, but animals were able to graze underneath without damaging the branches. One consequence was that the trees cut regularly live longer than normal and it is their great age that makes them so important for biodiversity and heritage. Pollarding stopped when other fuels became more widely available but these ‘lapsed’ pollards, those not cut for many years, have many problems because the branches are now very heavy and the trees are splitting and falling over.
Some of these old trees look like they should have a starring role in a Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter film.
I love them, and whenever I walk amongst them I can't help but pat their fat trunks as I go past. For centuries before us, other friends will have walked here, chatting amiably and enjoying the quiet sounds of the forest.