Yesterday (3 /5/17), thinking it was Tuesday, I ran away to Enfield Lock and walked with the forest rarely out of eye shot, to Epping town. I had that pleasurable buzz of playing hooky all morning – until I realized it was in fact Wednesday and I should have been walking anyway. But it was a good wheeze whilst it lasted. Free from the constraint of thinking I had to generate words for my shepherd & dog, I found little vignettes of nature’s delights dropping on my head like plum-coloured bird lime.
I heard cuckoos and not just one but four or five in and around Cornmill Meadows, where the monks of Waltham Abbey farmed fish and the government researched mass murder next door at the Royal Gunpowder Mills. The Lawson cyprus tree avenue I walked up was planted as a green blast protector. I saw a group of fallow deer through the perimeter fence and wondered about the length of police tape dangling from the wire. I suppose the decimation of our enemies might be considered by some as a kind of a crime. I didn’t want to think too hard about it. For some reason I was reminded of finding the hind legs of a fallow deer on Berkhamsted common. It had been shot with a cross bow and the legs removed because it was easier to fit into the boot.
Well, I was depressed. But it’s funny how one thing (today it was the cuckoo) somehow is presented to you like a plank in an empty ocean. You grab it and find some breathing space to look around you: suddenly you begin to see all sorts of things in the gloom: a floating tin of salmon maybe or a dry flare and a box of matches. In my case it was the vagrant beauty of the comfrey lining the old green lane (Clapgate Lane) winding around Holyfield hill.
I ate lunch studying the map rather than the view and just as I was leaving the hill noticed, tucked into the edge of the wood, the remains of an old cottage. I was, if you’ll pardon the horrible pun, “back in the room.” Here was just a tiny fragment of a place, a chink in the humdrum, where I could tap into the good stuff: ponder the mysteries of deep time quite as effectively as gawping at Stonehenge or the pyramids. When I looked at an old OS map (1923) the penny dropped. This was the remains of a lodge at the eastern entrance to Monkham’s Hall estate. It’s equivalent at the bottom of Clapgate Lane is still there, and Grade II listed.
I’m not going to spoil the walk by describing all of it. It had its bits of egregiousness as well – mainly the B181, the tarmac equivalent of a non-negotiable wave to continue the ocean analogy. Even small chunks linking footpaths could sink a pedestrian so I found myself having to loop back not once but twice to avoid the road. On the path I eventually followed into Epping the wooden footbridge had been lifted out and thrown into a thicket by retreating Iceni.
On the plus side a light rain had turned all the pebbles to precious gems and when you walk unfrequented paths you are more likely to see stuff. I startled a hare near Cobbin’s Brook. I don’t remember the last time I saw one this close to London. Larks were a constant companion. A group of buzzards, a single red kite, several kestrels.
Local folklore has Boudica taking hemlock from Cobbin’s Brook – all she’d have to do today is try and cross the road bridge on foot. The hare seemed to suggest local folklore might be on to something: only a magical creature can outrun a weaponized 5-series BMW especially one driven by an Essex estate agent.
I’m still not sure why I got a cheery wave from the road as I padded up the field on my own path. I couldn’t work out whether it was mistaken identity or the farmer being ironic.
And I got home far too tired to beat myself up. I had been driven out of the house by the noise of a wall being demolished next door. When I returned the new wheelie bins stood proudly to attention as if they had forced their own way through the earth.