Like many others, in recent weeks Crispin Acton has spent more time than usual walking around Wanstead. Here, the secretary of Redbridge Liberal Democrats reveals the discoveries from his lockdown rambles
The London Encyclopaedia (2008 edition) notes: “Unlike most suburbs, Wanstead is still clearly identified. Separated from Walthamstow, Leytonstone, Forest Gate and Manor Park by continuous portions of Epping Forest and from Ilford by golf links and Wanstead Park, it is only to the north, where Wanstead meets Woodford, that building straddles the boundary.”
I discovered during lockdown that it is possible to walk through the continuous fragments of Epping Forest. A near three-quarter circle can be made around Wanstead by walking from Eagle Lane onto Leyton Flats, across the Green Man roundabout to Bushwood, walking due south to Wanstead Heath and then heading east to Wanstead Flats. You return to Wanstead by aiming for the spire of St Gabriel’s, Aldersbrook and walking up Park Road to Wanstead Park, then along the Heronry Pond, leaving the park by Warren Road. Altogether, it takes me about an hour and a half.
The Ordnance Survey map reveals a Centenary Walk through the length of the Forest, from Manor Park to Epping, 15 miles in total from south to north. I walked one afternoon about five miles from Snaresbrook to Whitehall Plain, near Buckhurst Hill. Most of the walk is through tree cover, with occasional open spaces. The Forest is truly that, full of ancient and mature native trees. You have to make road crossings, but these are easy, with some footbridges, including one over the North Circular. I nearly reached Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge at Chingford but was put off by knowing it would be closed.
It seemed odd to me that there were no signs at all for the Centenary Walk. In fact, there are no signs of any kind for walkers in the Forest south of the North Circular. The Centenary Walk was created in 1978 to commemorate the Epping Forest Act, 1878, which ensured conservation of the Forest we now have. Surely, it is something to celebrate?
The City of London has been the conservator of Epping Forest since 1878 and has done well to prevent encroachment. Perhaps, though, it could help us to enjoy the Forest better. Its own Forest map does not mark footpaths clearly and does not mention the walk.
One of the benefits of lockdown for many has been enjoyment of the natural world. We are fortunate to live near a wonderful, historic forest. We have heard a lot about statistical modelling helping the government to decide its next steps on Covid-19. Similar kinds of modelling work by public health researchers have shown access to plentiful green spaces can really make a difference to both quality and length of life. The way that humanity treats – or mistreats – nature was at the root of the Covid crisis. A better relationship with nature could help us in many ways.