It was a walk of great promise: brisk New Year weather, and a big turnout: 25 people assembled at Loughton Station, the most ever. There were Roadies, familiar faces, and new Ramblers altogether (one only five months old). And yet (in the slightly adjusted words of TS Eliot’s Epiphany poem Journey of the Magi) “It was not, (you may say) satisfactory”. As is often the case with Epping Forest, roaring roads and cars were never far away, even in the apparently wildest parts of the wood; the mud was at times cloying. And (worst of all) lunch was a signal failure of planning. See below.

Once out of Loughton’s expensive-looking commuterland, the Ramblers soon hit the Forest and managed to navigate a plethora of not-very-well-signposted tracks. The main feature of the walk was the big variety of woodland encountered on the way, interspersed with standing water, open views and the hurtle of cars. We took early advantage of a waterside jetty to provide a setting for the annual New Year photograph; all smiles at this stage:

Then deeper into the woods, protected by Robin Hood (in plain clothes).

The woodland soon became more picturesque:

..and more puzzling for the mapsters, with quite a lot of mud after a drenching December.

As we moved deeper into the Forest, the trees grew more and more Disney-fied: old-style hand-drawn cell-by-cell Disney as in Snow White, not Frozen’s computer graphics.  

Much of this deformation appears to be man-made, the result of coppicing: cutting off the lower branches of beech trees to use for furniture in the 19th century. They’re supposed to grow back. These obviously didn’t.

And maybe demand for the coppiced wood ran out. Fungus had overtaken this stockpile:

Suddenly the beechwoods ended with a wide view to the north:

But after that rural idyll, we had to cross the M25 on one of those peculiar pedestrian bridges in the middle of nowhere you always wonder about when dashing up the motorway:

And then, the welcoming sight of St Thomas’s in the curiously named village of Upshire, and the designated lunchtime pub, The Horsehoes

Except that (topically) There Was No Room For Them at the Inn. Well, there was if you hung about, and some of the party managed lunch (which was commended) and some did not and passed on (like the Magi, actually). And–casting a cloud over the whole excursion– this parting of the ways was not adequately explained (it sort of emerged rather than was planned) resulting in confusion and complaint, in spite of the sign inside The Horsehoes:   

This is only the third time in 43 Rambles that the designated pub has failed us: many years ago one had closed months before, and one landlord decided he would not could not handle a rather smaller party than this one. So there is no proper ORRA mechanism for dealing with abject failure, and we don’t do leadership, either, just a sort of flocking. Hence the confusion, and apologies for it.  

Those of the party who eschewed lunch and went on walking (and two of those who did lunch and went on walking) stumbled on an Epping Forest Crime Scene (dumped litter)

and/or depending on the route taken, the grand Epping Water Tower with a blue plaque memorialising Dr Joseph Clegg the Victorian sanitation planner.

There was also this WW2 bunker in case the Germans had tried to invade the Forest, and a splendid winter sky.

Ramblers went home by various ways. The Spring outing takes place on the last Saturday in April, the 25th. Let’s hope it is better organised.

Pictures by Annie, Stephen and Peter; words by Peter