This 15-mile walk traverses Epping Forest from its southern almost to its northern extremity, and makes a fine excursion: from the open spaces at the edge of the inner city to the great trees of the high forest.

The walk starts at Manor Park station and first crosses Wanstead Flats, now a mix of rough grazing and football pitches interspersed with a few copses. After crossing Leyton Flats, the North Circular Road makes an unlovely gash but the bridge across gives surprising views over the Lea valley. Halfway you come to Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge, in fact built for her father Henry VIII; recently restored, its upper storey then as now gives excellent views over the forest. There’s a pub and café here too.

It’s easy to break the walk at the Hunting Lodge, for Chingford station is not far downhill.

Forest rides take you towards High Beach, for a pub, tea huts and even an oyster bar! Don’t miss another view westwards, more rural this time. Many of the last miles to Epping are on the Green Ride, cut for Queen Victoria’s visit in 1882 but alas never used by her on account of the weather. The ride passes the Iron Age hill fort of Ambresbury Banks, before heading past the very good Forest Gate Inn (B&B available) into Epping.

For a full route description, please see my Cicerone guide Walking in Essex.

Wanstead Flats

Wanstead Flats near Manor Park

Bush Wood, Epping Forest

Bush Wood in winter

Gilbert's Slade

Gilbert’s Slade, Walthamstow

Epping Forest and the struggle for access

If you’re thinking of walking the Essex Way, it makes sense to walk Epping Forest first. The forest is fully situated within the historic county of Essex, even though a large part of it has been within the boundaries of Greater London since 1965. The forest is a magnificent landscape in itself, and a relic of the Great Forest of Essex which once covered much of the county.

However its survival was a close-run thing. As the railway reached out to Loughton in the 1850s, speculators – among them local vicar and Lord of the Manor Rev Maitland – saw opportunities to enclose the historically-unenclosed forest and enable, amongst other things, house-building.

But the enclosures breached the rights of local commoners, such as to lop the coppiced trees and to forage. One local, Thomas Willingale, openly continued this lopping and was soon arrested. He was fined, and indeed some of his family were imprisoned.

The case attracted important support. When a few years later locals in the south of the Forest, at Forest Gate, started pulling down enclosure fences, the momentum became unstoppable. The City of London sponsored a bill to protect the forest, and it still stands as statute as the Epping Forest Act of 1878, guaranteeing the open aspect of the forest and access thereto.

Highams Park Lake

Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge

Ambresbury Banks

Not quite the Centenary Walk

To celebrate the centenary of the Act, those indefatigable Essex Walkers Fred Matthews and Harry Bittern developed the Epping Forest Centenary Walk, crossing the Forest from Manor Park to Epping. That’s what my ‘Epping Forest Traverse’ does too, but the routes aren’t quite the same. I don’t claim my variant is better, though it is certainly easier to follow (the Walk has never been waymarked).

Here are my Traverse’s principal variations from the Centenary Walk as mapped on OS Explorer maps in 2015 and/or Matthews and Bitten’s original guidebook. Note that there are no variations after High Beach.

  1. On Wanstead Flats, the Walk runs slightly to the north of my Traverse. However, my Traverse crosses the busy A114 at a pedestrian refuge.
  2. The OS mapped route (but not M&B’s guidebook) skirts Bush Wood whereas my Traverse goes through it.
  3. On Leyton Flats, the Walk has a tiny dog-leg towards Snaresbrook Crown Court, which my Traverse does not take.
  4. Beyond Eagle Road, my Traverse goes through Gilbert’s Slade and uses the pedestrian underpasses at Waterworks Corner. The Walk turns left to Bulrush Pond, very nice but there’s a nasty crossing of the A104.
  5. The OS mapped route shows a dog-leg to the west of a rectangular feature on Woodford golf course which my Traverse does not take (nor does the original guidebook).
  6. The Walk diverts to the east bank of Connaught Water whereas my Traverse stays on the ride to its west.
  7. The mapped Walk goes towards the Suntrap outdoor centre on Church Road whereas both my Traverse and M&B’s guidebook stay on the main ride.
  8. Matthews and Bitten’s guide book enters High Beach by the Field Study Centre, while the OS and my Traverse avoid this by turning left just before reaching it.