A walk in the Thames Chase Community Forest.

On Saturday 16th February - on what turned out to be the least nice day of the weekend and the previous week - we met at Harold Wood station. The idea was to cater for those travelling by public transport but it turned out that we all arrived by car*. Off we went to Wyvale garden centre for a cup of tea then back down the road, still in our cars, to a car park in nearby Hall Lane from which we could start our walk. We just fitted in the car park.

efog harold wood mud 190216 buOff we went, all 13 of us, and we immediately noticed that there were a lot of stiles. This slowed us considerably and the mud slowed us even more. Luckily it hadn’t rained recently or we would have had difficulty as horses were able to share the track. The picture shows how difficult it was. We walked in an area bounded by the Southend Arterial Road and the M25 and were therefore never far from traffic noise but it was possible to have a quiet time, apart from our laboured breathing as we struggled up yet another muddy slope. The stiles eventually reduced in quantity and we stepped out, crossing the M25 and walking through Foxburrow Wood, mindful of the fact that we had booked the Thatchers Arms for lunch.

efog harold wood snowdrops 190216 buA pleasant lunch (and a pint) which everyone enjoyed and we plunged into Warley Place Nature Reserve, managed by the Essex Wildlife Trust. The snowdrops were out – see photo – as were some crocuses. Time was ticking on and we had a way to go so we cut short our visit and walked down Dark Lane, marvelling at the girders holding up the bank erected to retain the view for the landowner. We then headed back West to cross over the M25 again. Through Tylers Common and then a long boring walk down Hall Lane to our cars. It seemed so short when we drove to the car park.

Total distance walked was 11km according to the member of our party who measured it. Lots of mud on our boots was distributed around the interiors of the cars as they made their way home.

Brian Unwin, 17th February 2019

* not quite - see below.


Some notes and thoughts about the walk...

In fact, I arrived by train. It is an easy and quick journey between my home (near Manor Park station) and Harold Wood station - and indeed only a few minutes more from Stratford. Since I have relinquished my car I have made even more use of public transport, and in many instances it is cheaper and easier - and certainly often less stressful - than car journeys. I suspect this was a case in point, as the confusion about where to temporarily park to avoid paying car-parking fees at Harold Wood probably led to more time and more fuel being consumed than was warrented.

harold stile 190216 150009767artThat long boring walk down Hall Lane mentioned by Brian - and the lack of space we encountered in the car park there - could have been avoided by using fewer cars, and those that were required parking in Harold Court car park instead. It is only one mile from the station - walking distance for those that came by train, and only half a mile from Wyvale Garden Centre which itself is only a short distance from part of the loop that we walked. That was the way I came back after the others trudged down back to the cars. And it was an easy walk along the driest and easiest track/path that we'd encountered, and through another part of the country park - Harold Court Woods - rather than down that fairly busy Hall Lane. Also, it was only a short distance from the loop that we'd walked anyway... I think that the fact that I met Karen on Harold Wood station - me having walked, she having trudged and got a lift in a car - proves the point!

And maybe the point is, that we as an outdoor group should try to reduce our use of cars in these pursuits where possible. I am all for accepting a lift where necessary (my extensive hitch-hiking days taught me that) but sometimes, with just a little extra planning, it would probably be advantageous to mitigate our car-useage in favour of public transport, a slightly different route, or at least more car-sharing.

harold wood 190216 155817842 artHowever, the walk was excellent, and thanks to Ann for organising and leading it. (Closed cafes and eating places are out of walk-leaders' control, by the way!) The eating place Ann chose and booked for our lunch -The Thatchers Arms - did us well, with plentiful food. Also out of the leader's control are mud and stiles. Bridleways - those "...trails originally created for use by horses." - are often the bane of the other permitted users: cyclists and walkers. And we sloughed through a few of those, or their close-relatives, farm-tracks-used-by-cattle. These can be hard and dirty work, but to me come nowhere near the restrictions enforced on me - and no doubt many others - by the second-worse invention made by man: the stile. These are described as "...a structure which provides people a passage through or over a fence or boundary via steps, ladders, or narrow gaps" That description would seem to give a lot of scope to the designers and builders of such portals, but the ones we encountered were all of the first of those styles of stile - the traditional wooden one. These seem to me to have been carefully designed to offer a requisite hindrance to as many slightly less-than-mobile or getting-on potential walkers as possible. For somebody like myself that can cope with a reasonable distance over a variety of terrains (not scree, mind you, or Irish rhododendron), just one of these could put an end to a 6 mile walk right at the beginning. And doubtless would have, if I'd not had others with me to offer a hand. There are now wonderful inventions such as kissing gates and rambler gates - much more user-friendly, in my opinion. What is the first-worse invention made by man? Well, that depends on how I am feeling at any one particular time, but the second is definitely stiles.

Thanks to Ann for the walk, and thanks to all for the company (and the help over the stiles).

Paul Ferris, 17th February 2019

Photos by Brian Unwin and Paul Ferris