So I get it, you’re just like me. Right? You wake up on a bank holiday Monday and go “I know what I want to do today. I want to drag an overhyped, overtired girl two miles through a forest before I get any lunch”. Right? That was your plan too, yeah? No?
Well, it wasn’t exactly mine either. We were meeting some church friends at Chingford station with the intention to have a play in the forest and some lunch. I figured we’d wander up to Warren Pond, muck around in the hollow tree, have some lunch near the station but no…our friends, despite being urban Dalstonites, are clearly way harder than us and were up for a two mile trek from Chingford station to The Owl pub at High Beach. Eva had slept over at Bunny’s the night before, on top on birthday parties on Saturday and Sunday, one of those being hers…so she wasn’t quite so up for it. But our friends promised to carry her if the going got tough and here come the spoilers, gentle reader, they did have to. Quite a lot. She’s flaky at the best of times.
But if we can make it under those circumstances, you probably can too. The route is fairly straightforward and maybe even buggyable for the most part as long as you don’t go off-piste and take a creative “short cut”. I’m going to attempt to talk you through it.
So, from Chingford station you head down Station Road towards that big expanse of green. That’s the easy bit. From there, we picked a path across Chingford Plain – you sort of go a bit down Bury Road and there’s a path to your right just before the golf club. We passed the circus on our left but that’s not going to be super helpful most of the year round. There’s a brook to your left, which is probably more of a helpful landmark. Anyway, you follow this path for ages until you reach a path that crosses it and goes over the brook on your left. Take that left. It looks like this:
This path is another hugely long stretch of foresty stuff. Yeah, I’m still not a countryside person. There were some trees on the way that the kids enjoyed climbing and this logpile:
By the power of Google Maps, I reckon it’s about a 0.7 miles of straight path, until you get to a left turn. Not the first left turn. No No. A different one. I’m aceing this.
At that point I was distracted from taking photos of the turns by an invisible and imperious voice coming through the bushes telling us to stop making so much noise. Let’s not go into the details of that encounter but suffice to say, the kids were quietened afterwards. And busy trying not to step in giant steaming piles of fresh animal poo.
Anyway, next turn came about 0.3 miles down the track and this I did get a photo of:
We took the left and this brought us out onto a road for the final push towards The Owl. I was a bit worried about the narrowness of the road and the lack of pavements but we managed to balance the kids on the verge and we spotted the car park of the pub just a few minutes after hitting the road. This is the bit that would be tricky with a buggy and has a few blind corners but it is literally 200m or so…much closer than I’d expected.
After all that walking, we definitely deserved a sit down and a pub lunch. Unfortunately, we’d only planned this as far ahead as halfway-through-the-forest and when we rang to book a table we’d been told they were fully booked. Ah. But there was a beer garden we could sit in, and it was only a tiny bit stormy. So, we got a large table under a tree and were only rained occasionally.
The good thing about the garden area was that there was an outdoor BBQ stall to order food at. It probably wasn’t as fancy as the main pub menu and it only took cash, but we got meals for 11 of us within about ten minutes of sitting down, which I don’t think we could have if we’d been ordering from the main kitchen of a fully-booked pub on a bank holiday. It also wasn’t super cheap, with adult burgers at £10 and kids’ burgers/hot dogs at £5 but we were starving and in no position to haggle.And my pulled pork burger was pretty tasty and filling. There was a play are there too, with swings, a climbing frame and a seesaw so I’m guessing the kids would want to be outside even if we were seated inside.
Plus, we’re British. What’s more British than sitting in a beer garden in the rain on a bank holiday?
Err, maybe playing cricket in the rain on a bank holiday? As that’s the first thing we did as soon as we got back into the forest. I haven’t picked up a cricket bat since 1991 but managed to hit the ball once or twice and managed to avoid getting hit *by* the ball by running away and cowering. Eva was similarly cowering from the rain and exhorting the rest of us to build a shelter like she had cunningly constructed:
Though she later went for a Daddy-shelter instead:
At this point, some of the more adventurous of our party decided that, instead of taking the wide smooth path back, we’d veer off onto a smaller path into the woods “to keep out of the rain”. Then the path went off at the wrong angle so we took that “creative shortcut” I mentioned earlier. The kids, who are too young to watch the Blair Witch Project, thought it was an adventure. I was glad to see a discarded coffee cup as it reassured me that we would eventually, one day, see civilisation again. Or at least the path. And we did, after struggling through a holly bush and constructing a makeshift bridge over a ditch that would have supported the caterpillar we later found…but didn’t support the weight of any actual children. It came with a disclaimer, absolving the engineer of any blame in the case of injury so that’s OK.
As you can guess, Eva was very tired by now. They all were. We kept them going with haribo and marching songs but I think we were all glad to see the turning back towards Chingford Plain. For on top of that hill lay Butler’s Retreat and the coffee opportunities within. It was 4:30 and it closed at 5 so we abandoned the children in a tree, loosely supervised by the menfolk, and ran up the slope towards those welcoming white walls and even more welcoming flat whites.
More meltdowns were inevitable after that but hey, we made it there and back against the odds. I would recommend packing all the water and chocolate you can carry, along with thick socks and plasters for blisters but why not try it? Here’s our rough route: