Gate No.84

The date on the photo is 21 August 2022. It was a Sunday. We started out at Gate No.84, Earl’s Path north, and headed down the Green Ride into the forest. It’s a steep hill but always steeper coming back.

At the bottom we left the main path and walked the meanders of Loughton Brook. It winds through a natural arena beneath the trees, and always seems to echo with children’s voices and barking dogs, even when there are none to be seen.

We follow the valley northwards alongside countless ancient hornbeams, most of them hollow, some split in two and falling apart laughing like slapstick comedians, some with just a ribbon of bark joining branches to roots. I imagined a painting by Chaïm Soutine, an eviserated tree carcass, its empty trunk tied with cobwebs but its branches burgeoning and full of life.

Its a valley of stoic survivors, brookside guardians all the way beneath the green canopy until we emerge at Baldwin’s Pond.

At Baldwin’s Pond we turn left along the Clay Road but then almost immediately take a diagonal right into the trees. I’m looking for the Lost Pond. I know it’s in here somewhere, but I’m more used to coming to it from above not below. We wander here and there looking for a path but the beauty of this place is that there are none. We surrender and let it take us, and after much longer than I expected we finally arrive.

It’s a pool of green light.

I go looking for my favourite tree – the Coppard. It’s an ancient beech that was long ago coppiced, then later its new growth was pollarded, so now it’s one tree become many. It’s a winding tree to spin the yarn of centuries. It’s the heart of the forest.

On the far side of the pond we discover a path we’ve never seen before. We follow it and find ourselves walking another stretch of Loughton Brook…

then climbing Baldwin’s Hill to the Forester’s Arms and a couple of pints of Neck Oil on the terrace overlooking the trees.

Over the road we pass the house where Ken Campbell, actor/writer/director, once lived, then the house with a plaque for Jacob Epstein, sculptor, and then Baldwin’s Hill Cottage, a former forest-keeper’s residence, now holiday-home rental.

We retrace our steps back to the Lost Pond then over the Green Ride and follow the yellow arrow into Loughton Camp.

“Loughton Camp is an Iron Age hill fort in Epping Forest. The camp’s earthworks cover an area of approximately 10 acres and are visible today as a low bank and ditch encircling the main camp… The camp lies on one of the highest points in the surrounding area, on a ridge of high ground, likely to have once been strategic… Its elevation suggests that the camp was possibly once a lookout post.”

Nowadays the camp is covered with trees. Once they were pollarded but now they have lapsed. On their high ridge they’ve grown tall and spectacular, like the crest of a green wave. To the south and west there is nothing to overshadow them and so the light comes flooding in. It’s a performance space for trees. The ground rises and falls, the trees swim and the leaves float in their green light till dusk. It’s an arcade of dreams.

This is a place to wander dizzily, bouncing from one tree to the next, mapping the maze, working the room.

Then it’s but a few steps down Debden Slade and a measured climb back up the Green Ride to Gate No.84 where we started from.

It’s one of those walks that’s become imprinted. I replay it as I lie in bed waiting for sleep, one step after the other, counting trees instead of sheep.

I first posted this walk on Instagram – here and here and here – and then I discovered Gate No.84 at the wonderful Epping Forest Gates. Lots more here.

Frames of reference

2 thoughts on “Gate No.84”

  1. Looks like Graham Sutherland had been at work sculpting many of the tree people who live in the forest.

  2. I was most taken by the “Coppard “. Once coppiced trees have developed wonderful shapes in this area of the forest.

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