London LOOP section 19: Chingford to Chigwell

With not too many sections of the London LOOP left to walk, it continues to be tempting to walk two – sometimes even three – in one day. The sections often seem to agree with this notion, and even promote it: certain shorter sections feel like a small hop from one place to another, bookended where they are simply by nature of the public transport connections at either end.

We had been tempted to lump section 19 onto section 20 and section 21, making a grand total of 25km or so. Not a short walk by any means, but very much doable in a day (while also bearing in mind the need to get from north West London to rural Essex and back to even start the walk).

But this walk was to take place in the days following a return from twelve days of camping and cycling in Cornwall – of which more in a separate post – and so we decided to keep it simple and do just section 19: a nice, friendly 7km tromp from Chingford to Chigwell.

Having made our way back to Chingford – a slightly easier ride this time as our return home from this point last time included a rail replacement bus service – we made for Epping Forest, at this point a large open expanse of green stretching up to hills in the distance. It’s reminiscent of Hampstead Heath, and not just because of the City of London Corporation signs denoting the owner and maintainer of this space.

A few hundred metres into the walk took us up a short rise to Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge, a Tudor timbered building – with walls oddly whitewashed to cover the exposed timbers as well.

We’d visited this part of Epping Forest before – the hunting lodge was closed today so I was glad we had already explored it on that previous occasion. I remember being caught by the imagination of what this hunting lodge must have overlooked in centuries past, with royalty leaving London way off in the distance to come out to open country and hunt deer and whatever else. I think it had been a misty winter’s day that time, and it all added to the romance of the images being conjured in my head. The plastic food on the exemplary dinner table and the Tudor costumes for kids to play dress-up definitely helped. But just being able to enter a building of that age and in that setting and climb the stairs to look out over land that really hasn’t changed much in 500 years is… Quite something.

On this day, of course, the lodge was closed. But with the sun shining and a summer breeze, the green spaces all around were full of picnicking families and children flying kites. The nearby carvery pub was doing a brisk trade, and in keeping with the laid-back attitude to this section of the London LOOP, it felt only fitting to pause less than a kilometre into the walk to have a pub lunch washed down with some real ale.

Suitably refreshed, we left the pub garden and it’s attendant child-scaring wasps behind and started out on the remainder of our walk.

Back along grass paths we followed a shallow rise in the land, first crossing a dip and small brook – the river Ching, apparently, marking the boundary where we crossed from the London Borough of Waltham Forest into Essex.

Ahead of us lay a pleasant section of grassy paths weaving in and out of mature woodland. This part took us up to a small collection of quite large houses at Buckhurst Hill, where we had to refer to an OS map a few times to truly understand where we were supposed to be heading.

The London LOOP is like this: you’ll often find yourself spat out from a lovely bit of parkland into a built-up area, having now to follow little green signs rather than your own intuition.

Here at Buckhurst Hill, however, signs were lacking. The path took us down a narrow driveway that served two or three houses, before snaking off to the left down the side of a house. Signs were nowhere to be found. It was the kind of footpath where, without the benefit of an OS map app which plots your exact GPS location on the map, you really wouldn’t be sure if you were simply trespassing. As usual, one suspects that any pre-existing ‘Public Footpath’ signs might have been quietly turned around or even removed entirely by locals.

Speaking of locals, the other reassurance we had been given just moments before came in the form of a well-meaning but slightly overbearing lady who had spotted us, pulled over her car, got out, walked over to us and suggested, “you seem to be lost, can I help?”

It was the kind of tone that, if you heard it in a remote bit of the countryside you would naturally take it to mean “believe me, you are lost, please be on your way, off my land.” But here in the cosy settlement of Buckhurst Hill, and its multi-bedroom houses with expensive cars on the driveway, I think this was just a well-meaning lady who isn’t used to seeing, well, walkers here trying to find the footpath.

Onwards from here we quickly left the houses behind and were back amongst fields, following a narrow path hemmed in on both sides by farmland that had apparently been saved and set aside to stop it being built upon.

We soon dropped down to a railway footbridge. An aroma of marijuana was detected and we passed two ne’er-do-wells loitering halfway up the steps. We descended the other side into another collection of houses rather more densely packed than those at Buckhurst Hill.

Passing through these we came to a decent-sized lake which the London LOOP guidebook describes as attractive – and it is, but our appreciation of it was marred slightly by the sudden downpour which sent us ferreting around in our backpacks for our waterproofs, and those who had until that point been enjoying a picnic – or a game of cricket – around the lake scurrying for shelter.

The suddenness of the rain was apparent not just from the cricketers in their whites manhandling a tarpaulin to cover the pitch, but also the amusement and bewilderment of the picnickers we passed who walk-ran, carrying open alcoholic drinks and commenting on the sudden realisation that a hastily packed Bluetooth speaker was still playing away in their bag.

Undeterred – we had, as I say, packed raincoats, and anyway the temperature was still relatively mild – we rounded the lake, joined for part of the way by two small, lean and wiry dogs, their shorthaired coats slick with rain, shivering and sheltering as they walked.

The rain abated a little, and I tried to enjoy the vaguely attractive horizon consisting of three distinct church spires or towers, but we carried on to the other side of the lake, suddenly dwarfed by the presence of a vast leisure centre.

Having rounded this, as the hum of the centre’s air conditioning softened, it was replaced by another low hum: the traffic of the M11, which we shortly had to cross over via an over ridge carrying a short access road.

From here it was a slightly dull trudge along a pavement adjoining a busy road into Chigwell, and we saw little of any interest besides more large and not entirely attractive houses. At the bottom of this road we turned right and onto one of Chigwell’s high streets.

With the Underground some 200m off in the distance and the welcome sight of a pub just over the road, we called an end to the little 7km Chingford to Chigwell section 19 of the London LOOP, such as it was, and headed inside for a drink and a place to warm up.