London Loop – sections 20, 21

Ela and I squeezed in two more legs of the London Loop just before Season 2 of Lockdown started streaming across England. We had to limit our walk to two people because of the two-household rule. This walk started at Chigwell and went to Harold Wood via Havering-atte Bower. All were new to me.

It’s no longer surprising but Chigwell tube station quickly yielded to rolling fields and farmland. This was one of the most rural sections of the whole Loop. Hainault Forest, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, was especially beautiful.

As if the ancient woodland in the forest weren’t alluring enough, there was an adventure woodland trail. It consisted of a series of balancing ropes and bridges completing a circuit suspended between trees. It was a bit like Go Ape but about a metre off the ground with no harnesses required. This was too tempting to ignore and we spent some time completing the course, some of which was quite challenging.

Being mostly in open country, the walk served up a few ploughed fields. We managed to traverse one without any mishaps. However, a later narrow waterlogged path, flanked by bushes on one side and barbed wire on the other, turned out to be a bit trickier. The path was too deep for my customary trainers and I started skirting my way along the hedge. Ela was braver. She decided to “go for it”, alas, on the barbed wire side. A couple of footsteps later she was hanging off the barbed wire partly submerged in mud. I crossed to disentangle her and, having freed her, I slipped in the mud. As the muddy water rushed into my shoes, I reached out to Ela and she lost her footing again and had another dip! It was slapstick comedy. We were like kids splashing around in the mud but we were laughing.

Having composed ourselves and checked for damage (only a few scratches), we still had the 15-metre muddy path to cross. Our shoes and socks were soaked. So we walked gingerly down the middle of the path, making sure there would be no further falls and not caring about our feet being submerged in water.

We got across the path without any further damage, took some photos, and squelched on.

Growing in Havering Country Park are giant sequoia trees planted in the 19th century. These are minuscule compared to the ones in Sequoia National Park but are a fine sight in the rich and varied landscape. You also have some outstanding views of the woods and meadows in the Essex countryside.

The quintessentially English-named village Havering-atte-bower was “once the ancient seat of kings and the site of a vast Royal Palace, of which not a stone remains”, according to the TfL guide. The village green is located where the palace once stood.

Having spent far too long enjoying ourselves on the adventure course and in the mud, we wondered whether we could complete the next section to Harold Wood before the light failed us. We erred on the side of adventure and continued.

Fortunately, we made good time and arrived at Harold Wood with light to spare. (Harold Wood probably derives its name from Harold II, who was defeated by William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.)

Curiously, for the trainspotter, Harold Wood is connected by trains run by TfL Rail – an addition to the Underground and Overground. We had smooth journeys back. I’d be happy if TfL ran all our trains.

Now that we’re in lockdown again, I’m not sure when we’ll be able to continue the London Loop or whether we’ll be able to complete it before the end of the year, as we’d planned. Currently, only essential travel is allowed and I’m not sure travelling to hike counts as essential.

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