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Stage 10 - High Beach to Toot Hill  (9.9 miles)

 

The first half of the stage goes cross country through Epping Forest and Bell Common to Epping. At Epping Station we join the Essex Way for most of the way, passing through tiny village of Coopersale Street, and Gernon Bushes Nature Reserve at Coopersale, to the finish in the village of Toothill. Our route for the last half mile diverts from the Essex Way to take a more practical, yet no less interesting.

 

I first visited Epping Forest in 1995 when I ran this stage of a long distance relay around London. The stage started at Waltham Abbey and finished at Passingford Mill. A young Mike Hutchings (only in his late 70s at the time) said we could not run around London’s green belt without going through Epping Forest. He worked out a route and although. I had never been to the forest before I was amazed by the place. I had to keep consulting my map and somehow got through without getting lost. Maybe I concentrated on the map more than what was around me – we lost two runners in the forest that day and never found them for four hours. We learned a lot and I revisited the forest many times over the next 15 years (some of these with Mike Hutchings). We now have a great route through to take in more of this beautiful and ancient woodland.

 

Today Epping Forest covers 6,000 acres and is all is left of the Royal Forest of Waltham, which in 1641 was recorded as covering an area ten times as large. Two thirds of the forest is woodland the rest is grassland, heath, rivers, ponds and swamp. It is the largest open space in the London area and 4,000 acres is designated as a “Site of Special Scientific Interest” and a “European Special Area of Conservation”.

 

Epping Forest can trace its roots back to around 8000 BC, just after the receedance of the last ice age. It is situated on a ridge between the rivers Lee and Roding and stretches for 14 miles, from just above Manor Park in the south to past Epping town in the north. Due to redevelopment it is disjointed at times to the south, but from Chingford to Epping is continuous and about 2 miles wide.

 

Most of the history of the forest may have been lost with time. However, there is still evidence of “Iron Age” forts; stories of Iceni Warriors; Roman battles; Saxon saints; Norman invaders; Tudor hunting grounds; notorious highwaymen; a place to escape war and plague, and a retreat for famous artists and writers.

 

The forest was given its royal status by King Henry III in the 12th Century. This meant common people could use the forest as a place to gather wood and food and to graze their livestock. However, only royalty were allowed to hunt in the forest. This status continued through the years and during Tudor times the forest was a favourite hunting ground for Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge at Chingford is a splendid Tudor construction.  It was built by Henry VIII in 1543 and taken over by his daughter Elizabeth in 1589. Today it is a museum. A few hundred yards north east of the lodge is Connaught Water, one of many lakes within the forest and the largest. It is named after Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, and the first ranger of the forest. 

 

The Epping Forest Act of 1878 may not be particularly well known today, but this crucial piece of legislation turned a royal hunting ground into a public forest and ensured this priceless piece of woodland would remain accessible to Londoners for generations to come. Today the City of London Corporation (previously known as the Corporation of London), as the Forest's Conservators, still manage the woodland (mainly oak, hornbeam, birch and beech) plus its ponds, paths and heath.

 

“Under the terms of the Act, the purpose of the Forest is to provide an open space for the recreation and enjoyment of the public and this is to be achieved by conserving the Forest in all its vegetative forms and doing it in such a way that the Forest feels to the visitor to be a natural place. It is this natural aspect that distinguishes the Forest as an open space and gives to the Londoner visiting the Forest a taste of the wilderness and emoteness of the National Parks.” 

 

The quote above is taken from the City of London Corporation website and gives a basic outline of what was intended by the Act.

 

The Normans invaders were keen on hunting and in the late 11th Century imported fallow deer to England - the descendants of these still roam freely in many parts of the UK. Epping Forest was such an area and today there are still around 500 deer living in the forest.

 

One of the main tasks of the Forest Management Team is the conservation of the natural habitats in which the forest’s wildlife and plants can continue to flourish.

 

Although deer hunting is no longer allowed as a sport, there are still many other recreational activities taking place here. To list them all would probably not be possible, but some popular ones with local clubs in brackets after are: walking on your own or with a group (The Ramblers Association or The Friends of Epping Forest); cross-country running (Orion Harriers); horse riding (Epping Forest Riders Association); mountain biking (Epping Forest Mountain Biking); fishing, usually with a permit; orienteering (Chigwell & Epping Forest Orienteering Club); camping (Elms Caravan and Camping Park – now closed); scouting (Gilwell Park Scout Centre), and conservation volunteering (Epping Forest Conservation Volunteers).  There is no definitive list of all the activities going on here, but you can visit the City of London website to read more about recreation and events and activities in the forest.      

 

Beside the start of the leg at High Beach there is the Epping Forest Visitor’s Centre, The Kings Oak Hotel, a tea bar, a picnic area, public toilets, lots of car parking and a great view looking northwest to Waltham Abbey. 

 

Tennyson, the poet, lived at Beech Hill Park between 1837 and 1840. High Beach churchyard is where he wrote part of the poem "In Memoriam".  Admiral George Cockburn (1772 – 1853), who ferried Napoleon to his exile in St Helena, also lived in the village, ironically as did the emperor's nephew Prince Louis Lucien Bonaparte (1813 – 1891).

 

John Clare (1793 – 1864), the “peasant poet” was admitted to a mental asylum at High Beach in 1837 suffering from delusions. Whilst here he was allowed to walk freely around the forest, wrote some of his best works and most likely had a few encounters with Lord Tennyson. However, in July 1841 he decided to make his escape and walk 80 miles home to his birthplace of Helpston in Northamptonshire. The walk took three and a half days and he later wrote about it in his book “Journey Out of Essex”. His walk home to freedom, happiness, and to a long lost love would turn out to be a sad one and many years later was revisited by Iain Sinclair in his book “The Edge of Orison”. In December 1841 Clare was committed to a lunatic asylum in Northampton and continued to produce great works until his death in 1864. There is no one link which really sums up this great writer, so in 1981 the John Clare Society was founded “to promote a deeper knowledge of this remarkable poet”.

 

Edward Thomas (1878 – 1917), writer and poet, and Wilfred Owen (1893 – 1918), war poet, were both based at High Beach during World War I. They and both died during the war, whilst fighting in Europe. A house on the right just south of the King’s Oak has got two blue plaques on its front wall. One is to Frank R Clark (artist & goldsmith) and the other to Fred Speakman, 20th Century naturalist and author.

 

Dick Turpin (1705 – 1739), probably the world’s most notorious highwayman, as a fugitive lived for many years in a cave at High Beach. Previously he was a member of the notorious Essex Gang, but then went out on his own. According to an article from Britannia.com he wasn’t very successful until he made a major error in trying to rob the wrong person. The quote below is from the Britannia website.

 

“One day, on the road to Cambridge, he came across a dandified individual, riding a fine horse. On a whim, Turpin drew down on him with his pistol and demanded that he hand over his money. To his surprise the man laughed and, so legend has it, said 'What, dog eat dog? Come, Brother Turpin. If you don't know me, I know you and shall be glad of your company

The dandy was 'Captain' Tom King, one of the best-known highwaymen of the day and the kind of swashbuckling, devil-may-care character into which legend would later transform Turpin.”

 

The two highwaymen became friends and partners in crime. They would lay in wait in their cave hideaway at High Beach from where they had a good view of the road and rob almost anyone who passed. The phrase “Stand and Deliver” is associated with Turpin. There have been many book and songs written about him, and movies based on his exploits. Through time Turpin has been glorified into a hero, but on researching it’s a wholly different story as he appears to have been a real scoundrel.

 

On 4th May 1735 a local gamekeeper named Thomas Morris came across Turpin in the forest at Fairmead Bottom near Loughton. He recognised the highwayman and tried to apprehend him. Turpin drew his pistol and killed Morris. Shortly afterwards Turpin stole a distinctive black mare, at gunpoint, from a man called Major. Turpin named his new horse Black Bess. However, with Major wanting his prize mare back, this resulted in the capture of Tom King and almost that of Turpin. With things not going his way and now a huge bounty on his head, Turpin rode north on Black Bess at speed north to York, a place where he though he would not be known. He changed his name to John Palmer and became a horse dealer and breeder and bought properties in Yorkshire. He was naïve about his profession and, not making a success of it, turned to crime again, often going into Lincolnshire to steal horses and cattle and also committing the odd highway robbery. He was eventually arrested and on investigation his real identity became known. For his crimes, he was hanged at York Racecourse on 7th April 1739. On his way to the gallows, in an open cart, he wore new and expensive clothes. He bowed to the crowds as he passed them. He joked and talked to his executioners for half an hour before throwing himself off the platform to his death. He seemed to enjoy his final moments in the spotlight, even hiring his own mourners. Hundreds of years after his death, the legend of this notorious highwayman and his famous horse “Black Bess” still live on.

 

There are ghost stories about Epping Forest. Many of them feature highwaymen, mysterious horses, carriages and hangings. Most seem to involve Turpin. Hangman’s Hill at High Beach has stories of cars rolling uphill and strange images staring out of the woods. In December 2003 a television grew from Living TV’s “Most Haunted” programme visited the forest to see what they could find. They weren’t disappointed and the programme they produced proved one of the most popular ever for the television station. You can read about it on Ghosts-UK.net website.

 

In 1973 the rock band Genesis included a track on their album “Selling England by the Pound” entitled “The Battle of Epping Forest”. The song goes on for over 11 minutes and tells about a fight for territory between East End gangs. There are many stories of East End gangsters using the forest to dispose of bodies. The Kray Twins were the most notorious and feared of London’s East End gangsters, they were respected by their local community and to some people are still folk heroes today. I can’t find any crimes to connect them to the forest. However, both brothers are buried at Chingford Cemetery, just south of the main forest. Many of the suspected bodies which have been dumped and buried here over the years have never been found. You might see why this place can hide dark secrets as you travel through this isolated and dense woodland.

 

During Medieval Times and even before and later, people who lost everything would have no choice but to find refuge – there were no state benefits in those days and just staying alive was a feat. Many would relocate to dense forests where they could live off the land and hide. However, this was breaking laws as the Norman lords would hold claim to the ground they slept on and the wildlife and plants they lived off. These poor people were classified as outlaws as they were forced to live outside the law. They would have to compete with others who were forced into the same situation. They would often fight and kill for a meal – sometimes they had no choice. If caught by the landowners, they would be imprisoned or executed – prison was the less harsh of the two, but it still meant their death sentence. Prisoners didn’t get three meals a day, have their own cells and weren’t able to watch Sky TV in those days – they were piled on top of each other, diseases were rife and any food was a luxury.

 

Epping Forrest was a place (as mentioned above) where destitute people went to live and it must have many stories to tell of the poor people who were forced into crime and sought shelter here through thousands of years. You can read later in this stage how even before the Romans, ancient Celtic tribes used the forest to build forts to protect themselves and their livestock from enemies and how eventually these great forts became unoccupied because of the overpowering force of the Roman legions.

 

In Ken Follett’s epic book “The Pillars of the Earth” he gives a great insight into how during early Norman Times dense forests were places to be avoided. On reading the book the only woodland I could keep thinking about was Epping Forest. Those many hundreds of years ago there were lots of large, now ancient woodlands all over this island. Epping Forest, as I know, is probably the only one which still exists in the South- East of England in this form. On going through it on the paths and ancient tracks we follow on our route, I find it somewhat lonesome and sometimes worrying as you can travel for miles without seeing another human being. However, this is what makes this place wonderful, peaceful, enjoyable and yet so different and special. You can imagine the history, the ancient dwellers, the Celtic Tribes, the Roman Legions, the battles fought here, the Norman Conquerors, the outlaws, the highwaymen and the forest rangers who now look after the place.  

 

The path through the forest is pleasant, but can be very hilly in places. However, there are many things to distract your attention from these hills. Stay on course, enjoy the scenery passed yet still beware of riders on horseback and cyclists on their mountain bikes.

 

The stage starts at next to the large oak tree on High Beach Green and just across the road from the lane which leads to the Conservation Centre. Cross over the road and at the Corporation of London sign turn left onto a footpath. Follow the path north, away from the lane and parallel to the road for 150 yards, to a T-junction with a wide track/bridleway. Turn right along the bridleway and into the forest. Stay straight on for 400 yards, ignoring paths leading away on both sides. Immediately before the bridleway turns right, turn left onto a path heading north. The path is well defined and after 400 yards leads to the busy A104 (Epping New Road). Cross straight over onto another wide sandy bridleway with a car park and picnic area to the left. The road although busy and fast is very straight in both directions with good visibility, decide when to cross with care. Follow this wide and sandy bridleway as it goes slightly uphill, before descending gradually and eventually to a fork. Take the left fork, and after just a few yards, at a T-Junction of paths turn left. The route has now joined Centenary Walk and also Green Ride (at 0.9 miles into the stage).  

 

Loughton Camp is an ancient earthwork, an Iron-Age camp, dating back to around 500 BC. It is 300 yards south west of the T-junction of paths. To visit the camp turn right at the T-junction and after 450 yards turn right onto another path to reach the camp 200 yards later. This all may sound a bit contradictory, but the last path does go northwest to the southern side of the camp. The camp covers an area of 10 acres and is built on a hill. It is surrounded by high earth mounds and was originally defended by a wooden wall – only the earthworks still remain. The main enclosure is believed to have been used as a place to hold livestock for a local Celtic tribe (called the Trinovantes) whilst they fought off invaders from the boundaries of the fort. The last invaders were the Romans, but their huge legions were too much for the local tribe, thus the camp no longer proved much of a fortification and hence was abandoned.

 

The route is totally surrounded by trees and we are now very deep into the heart of the forest. It’s peaceful and beautiful and it remains like this for the next few miles. Our route along Centenary Walk crosses a few roads. These are mainly flat as they cut through the forest. However, unseen by the motorist our route follows a roller-coaster ride of steep climbs and descents through this ancient woodland.

 

Centenary Walk is one the main paths / tracks through the forest and stretches for 15 miles from Manor Park to Epping Station. It was founded in 1978 to celebrate the centenary of the Act of Parliament which saved the forest. It joins up many ancient tracks to form a continuous path. Each year in September there is an annual walk organised by the Friends of Epping Forest along the full distance of the path. We follow Centenary Walk for just over four miles to Epping Station. Three miles of this is in the forest and for this distance the “Walk” also joins up with another major path called “Green Ride” which was opened 100 years earlier by Queen Victoria, who rode along it in an open top carriage. At points along the path there are benches to rest on and even some well-maintained “coal posts” where many years ago merchants were taxed for transporting their commodities along this route.

 

By reading a map when travelling through this area of the forest some place names passed give us a clue to its history. Names like “Little Monk Wood”, “Bellringers Bay”, “Pig Corner”, “Lost Pond”, “Great Monk Wood” and “Hangboy Slade” must have some stories to tell. A book by Ken Hoy, entitled “Getting to Know Epping Forest”, can be bought at the Epping Forest Information Centre and provides lots of information of the different areas of the forest and where some of the place names originate from.

 

Follow this main track (Centenary Walk) through the forest for 0.8 miles to then cross over another main road (A121) at a picnic area called the “Broadstrood”, where once again the road is straight with good visibility in both directions. Cross straight over and follow the main path as it first goes right of the picnic area then turns left and behind the picnic area. After another 0.4 miles, at a T-junction of paths, keep left and staying with Centenary Walk. In a further 0.4 miles the track reaches a third road (B172) at “The Ditches” and “Jack’s Hill” – now at 2.5 miles into the stage. This time take a lot more care crossing as there is a blind bend. However, once safely across it’s easy to keep straight on along the main path ignoring a track off to the right. After another 350 yards go straight on avoiding a wide track to the left.

 

By now if you think you have seen enough hills, I have to apologies as it does not get any better. Also, at some points along the route you maybe tempted to divert onto a path off to the right or left, please don’t.      

 

Over half a mile after crossing the B172 and just off the path in the woods to the left is Ambresbury Banks, an Iron Age encampment and now signposted as an ancient monument. This is where Boudicca, the Iceni warrior queen, is sometimes said to have made her last stand against the Romans in AD 61. In defeat she poisoned her two daughters and herself so as not to be captured. There is nothing left of the wooden fort, but the high banks on which it stood and the ditch around it are both still very visible. To walk around the ditch will take a while as it encloses and area 4.5 hectares. The link to the source above also suggests it may have been re-used by King Arthur in his fight against the Danes.

 

From Ambresbury Banks continue straight on along the main path for almost a mile to where the path turns right. Here go straight on through the trees onto an open area called Bell Common. Once through the trees turn right along the worn grassy path and to a road (Theydon Road) (now 4 miles into the stage). Turn left along the road, staying on the LHS. After 150 yards and just before the road turns left, cross over to the RHS, staying right in front of the Forest Gate Inn and into a narrow road called Bell Common. Take care crossing as it is a blind bend and can be busy.

 

Bell Common is where the route appears to leave the forest. The inviting looking 17th century Forest Gate Inn, set back from the road and fronting onto the green, also helps to endorse this. However, officially the route continues through the forest for over another half a mile to the eastern edge of Bell Common where it enters Epping Town. The common is also quite unique in that the M25 goes under it. The grassy area we have just come through and the Epping Foresters Cricket Club immediately west of it both sit above the motorway. The cricket club was established in 1865, at which time it would have cost very little to lay out the pitch. However, when this section of the M25 was constructed (1982 – 84), to keep the cricketers happy and abide with the Epping Forest Act of 1878, the builders of the motorway cut a 470 meters long tunnel at Bell Common. They then covered it and laid 18 inches of topsoil above it so a new cricket ground and pavilion could be built on the roof of the motorway. The cost must have run into millions of pounds and this probably makes it the most expensive cricket pitch in the country. However, it was worth it as the motorway is no where to be seen or heard. At the time of writing this in 2008 I come across a news article where the Highways Agency have awarded a £90.4 million contract to refurbish the Bell Common Tunnel. According to the article 120,000 vehicles go through the tunnel each day.

 

Bell Common is believed to have been the site of an ancient beacon and is now a designated Conservation Area. Following the narrow road after the pub, the open area of the common is to the left and to the right is lined with interesting old houses dating from the 16th Century to the 20th Century, many of which are listed buildings.

 

Follow the road through Bell Common for 400 yards and stay with it as it turns right then left. After passing the last house go straight on, onto a common and follow the path veers right, to across a lane and through a gap in some trees. Follow the path straight on southwards for 100 yards. On reaching an opening in a line of some trees turn left on a path between the trees (which for some reason is named Western Road on maps). Follow the path straight on between trees for 350 yards, and then out onto a residential road called Western Avenue – the avenue is a road whereas the road is really an avenue. Turn left along the road, which gradually veers right and to a T-junction with another road, Centre Drive. Turn left along Centre Drive, cross over as soon as possible and follow the footpath for 400 yards to just past “Woodland Grove”. Here take a signed footpath cutting through the houses to the right and leading downhill (now 5 miles into stage) soon around a large car park, and eventually to Epping Station.

 

On approaching the station the entrance is to the right. However, go straight on across the road to a footbridge and cross it into Hill Crescent Way. At the other end of Hill Crescent Way at the T-junction with Bowers Hill turn right along the pavement crossing over a.s.a.p. Continue along Bowers Hill for 50 yards to just past Bowers Court.

 

On the front wall of Epping Station is a plaque which commemorates the opening of the Essex Way in 1972. This is a long distance path which stretches for 82 miles across the county and finishes by the coast at Harwich. Each year in early September a 10 stage relay race “The Essex Way Relay” is held along the length of the path. It starts at Epping Station and finishes at the Old Lighthouse at Harwich. The Tim Bertuchi website has an informative and pictorial guide to the Essex Way and is well worth a visit.

 

Epping as a town has been important for many centuries. It is 17 miles north of Central London and sits over 300 feet above sea level on a ridge. The name Epping is derived from Saxon origins, meaning “up” or “upland settlement”. There is history back to before Romans Times. The Saxons are thought to have used it as a look-out area to watch for Danish invaders. In 1253 King Henry III granted the town a royal charter to hold a weekly market.

 

Through the years Epping was a place where important roads ran through. It became a staging point on the way to East Anglia and in the early 17th Century when horse racing became popular in Newmarket it also proved to be a stopping off point for Londoners on their way to the races. By the late 18th Century there were up to 16 coaching inns in the town. This may explain why the routes to and from Epping were popular with the notorious highwaymen who held up the coaches and robbed their wealthy inhabitants. 

 

The railway reached Epping in 1865 when the Eastern Counties Railway Company extended the London to Loughton line as far as Ongar. The line converted from steam to electric in 1949, but in 1994 London Transport closed the line from Epping to Ongar. Today Epping station sits at the north east end of the London Underground Central Line. In 2004 the Epping Ongar Railway Volunteer Society reopened a six mile stretch of the closed line from Ongar which now stops a mile from Epping Station. At present the volunteers are working on extending the line for this extra mile to Epping, but they have lots of obstacles to overcome.

 

At Epping Station the route joins the Essex Way at its start and follows it (in the most) for about 8 miles to just after the town of Chipping Ongar.

 

Immediately after Bowers Court turn left onto a footpath signed “Essex Way”. This for a short distance follows an enclosed path and soon comes out into and across an open field. Follow the path as it goes through a gap in the hedgerow into another field and turns left. Continue gently downhill along the edge of the field and eventually to a road (Stewards Green Road). Turn left along the road for just a few yards and past the first two houses. Then turn left between houses and onto a lane which soon turns into a wide enclosed track.

 

These few isolated houses form a tiny hamlet called Stewards Green. A few hundred yards further along the road past Stewards Green is one of my favourite place names, Fiddlers Hamlet. It’s basically a crossroads with a few houses and a 19th Century pub named “The Merry Fiddlers”. The pub has its own campsite and apparently has connections with Morris Dancers and people playing music on violins (or fiddles) whilst enjoying a few beers – hence the name.

 

The track past the houses from Stewards Green is pleasant and enclosed on both sides with banks and trees and on maps is called Stewards Green Lane. The lane acts as a bridleway and is part of an ancient road from Newmarket to London. It is narrow and sometimes overgrown. Recently it was used by the Epping Forest District Council in a team-building exercise where they cleared the lane of bramble, scrub and overgrown trees. I enjoy seeing local councils out doing hands-on work like this – they most probably enjoyed it too.

 

After 0.6 miles the track leads to the tiny village of Coopersale Street. At the junction turn right along Stonards Hill and past the Theydon Oak Pub.

 

To the left just before the pub, on the LHS, is the entrance to Houblons Hill. This road climbs up to the village of Coopersale; on the way it passes Coopersale House (17th Century) to its LHS, which has some interesting history. The name of the road has connections to Sir John Houblon, Lord Mayor of London in 1695 and first Governor of the Bank of England from 1694 to 1697. He currently appears on the £50 note - this was issued to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the founding of the bank.

 

Coopersale Street is a small hamlet and conservation area consists of several old houses, the oldest being Coopersale Lodge which dates from the mid 15th Century. There are a few from the 16th Century and the inviting Theydon Oak Pub is 18th Century. As you can see from photos on the pub website one of the locals is singer, Rod Stewart. The website also suggests the pub maybe haunted by a quiet and non-interrupting ghost. Directly opposite the pub is “The Old Barn”, 16th Century and now completely restored and converted to a private dwelling. Coopersale Lodge is the last house, on the right and just before where the road turns right. It is hidden behind trees but visible from the entrance to its drive. The house has a very interesting tree growth forming its front porch.

 

Coopersale Street, Coopersale and Fiddlers Hamlet do seem to have lots of history to them, but there are only a few references on the Internet. The best I have found is a book written by Fred Brown (1918 – 2005) which is available at the Hudgell Family website.

 

200 yards after the Theydon Oak Pub, and immediately before the road turns right, turn left onto a footpath next to a drive, signed Essex Way.

 

The house to the right of our path at this point was a former lodge of Gaynes Park. The drive leads over the M11 to Gaynes Park mansion. Gaynes Park is a large 19th Century gothic building and once a stately home. It sits on the site of the ancient manor house of Gaynes Park Hall. The mansion has recently been converted to flats and some of the outhouses are now used for functions.

 

Follow this fenced path for 120 yards to and through a gap into a large field. Veer left and follow the path along the LHS of the field and for 250 yards into an even larger field. On entering the second field, turn left along the edge to its corner then right to follow the path along the LHS of the field. Follow the path straight on through a wide gap and into a third field – again very large. Stay straight on keeping along the left hand edge of the field and at the far corner enter a wood (now at 7 miles).

 

The path along the edge of the above fields is elevated with the fields dropping away gently to the right. However, because of their size there are good views to the right across the M11 motorway and into the distance.

 

Follow the path into the wood and then left through the wood and over a footbridge. The path eventually leads to a wooden kissing gate and through the gate is the car park of a small school at Coopersale. Do not go through the gate, instead turn sharp right onto another path along the edge of the wood.    

 

The woods form part of the Gernon Bushes Nature Reserve. It takes its name from Robert Gernon, Duke of Boulogne, who came over with Norman the Conqueror in 1066, and is all that remains of the old Coopersale Common which linked Epping Forest to Ongar Park. The nature reserve is managed by the Essex Wildlife Trust and a nearby notice board shows a map of the reserve and gives more information on the area.

 

Just outside the kissing gate a path leads through the car park of the small school to the road at the village Coopersale. Across the road the Old Rectory (now private) and just left of this is St Albans Church (you may find the church link a bit strange, but Paula Harris has two good photos of the church and has done her research very well). The church was built in 1852 with lands and funds donated by Harriet Archer-Houblon who lived nearby at Coopersale House. She also funded the vicarage and provided the village with a school.

 

Within a short distance there is a choice of paths, follow the left one past a larger school and along the edge of a cricket ground then through a gate and down some steps back into the woods. The path leads to a T-junction with another path. Here turn right and follow a wide path to a footbridge over the M11 motorway. Cross the bridge and continue straight on, along a wide track with fields to the left and woods to the right. After 250 yards, and as the main track turns right, continue straight on along a path with fields still to the left. Within a short distance the path leads into a wood and continues straight through for 0.8 miles – do not be tempted to turn away from this path onto any other.

 

On leaving the wood, the path continues straight on through open fields, parts of which can be very muddy at times. One section of the path through here has been artificially elevated to keep it above the mud. After 0.7 miles the Essex Way goes off to the right. At this point stay with the main path as it veers left and climbs gradually uphill towards a water tower in the distance. Immediately before reaching the water tower, turn right past the tower keeping it to the LHS and onto a lane and past a house. This is Mill Lane and the finish of the stage is a quarter of a mile ahead at the T-junction at Toot Hill Village. 

 

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