It was my birthday this past weekend and given my company is kind enough to grant a “free day off” in our birth month, I thought I would oblige them. This served two purposes: firstly it allowed me to get out of London and head into the countryside again; secondly “recovery Monday” is fast becoming a necessity after I consume even the slightest bit of alcohol, which I definitely did this past weekend.
A friend had decided to take the day off as well, so I let him take charge on our destination; he opted for the Epping Forest and the Oak Trail, a 6.4 mile walk through the Essex woodland. As I had been down to Surrey a number of times in recent weeks, I was glad to mix it up a little, and the walk seemed nice enough. It was a mistake, however, to give him full autonomy over the logistics. He had downloaded this map for directions. Now, this map is not detailed, and doesn’t seem completely accurate in scale nor proportion. Its main use is as a (very) rough guide, and you will likely rely on both the trail markers (which are themselves very sporadically placed with varying degrees of distance between them) and your phone’s GPS.
Broadly, you should definitely note that the Oak Trail isn’t an obvious nor easy to follow route. My main gripe, however, is probably the amount of pavement and roads you need to navigate across or walk adjacent to. There are relatively large sections at both the beginning and the middle where you will be side by side to traffic, and you also cross one of Britain’s largest motorways, the M25, twice.
That isn’t to say the walk isn’t pleasant, it mostly is, and it is definitely nice that you can have a woodland trail only a short train ride’s distance from London. The large sections where you are walking through the wooded areas definitely feel secluded and, as with most forests, the trees serve to mute the chaos of the roads nearby. The trail also skirts the perimeter of a dear sanctuary, so you may be able to see a bit of wildlife, albeit from behind a fence and, very likely, from a substantial distance.
We also got lucky with the weather and were gifted an unseasonably warm and bright day. The sun shone brightly and its rays danced off the trees and strained to breathe life back into woodland still showing the effects of winter. I definitely think it will be a much more bright and vibrant place in the depths of the summer season, and I will likely try and head back there once the winter is firmly behind us.
While this write-up probably seems a little negative on the whole experience it really shouldn’t put you off, particularly if you are close by. While the amount of roads and cars were frustrating, the Epping Forest is a beautiful area, and has a lot to offer. Not least because the dampening effect the trees have on the outside world do allow you to get lost in your own thoughts and just appreciate your surroundings. Broadly, if you are happy meandering through a very nice woodland setting, aren’t pushed for time and don’t have a huge urge to follow a trail to the letter then I would recommend it as a destination; particularly if you’re willing to just cut your own path through the forest, exploring and taking in the sights on your own terms.