As a “live-in tourist”, I like to spend my weekends in London exploring its landmarks, cuisine, and activities. But when Carlie or Siobhan suggested we spend a day on a “hike” I was a little wary about what that would entail. I said yes because after recent trips to Japan, Berlin, Copenhagen, and Oslo I felt I needed to reaquaint myself with London – and I’m so glad I did!
The best way to escape the city is to go on a country walk
Did you know that 47% of London is green space? Scenic green spaces such as royal parks, sports fields, cemeteries, community gardens, city farms and local commons provide opportunities to escape the urban sprawl and busy city life that Londoners normally lead.
While I’ve often enjoyed summer picnics and relaxed days in the royal and local parks near central London, I didn’t know how close and easy it was to ramble through the countryside and a forest on a Saturday afternoon.
Venturing to the end of the line (almost)
I know. It’s scary. Leaving central London and adventuring out past zone 3. But trust me; it’s totally worth it!
Epping is only 20km (13 miles) north of central London and is the very last station on the eastbound Central Line of the London Underground (tube). But to complete The Oak Trail, you need to start and end your walk at Theydon Bois station. It’s still in zone 6, but it’s one stop before the end of the line.
You can get on the Central Line from many central London Underground (tube) stations including Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road, Bank and Liverpool Street Station. From Bank, it will take you approximately 40 minutes to reach Theydon Bois. There are several eastbound Central Line trains, so make sure you get on one that says it’s going to Epping (approximately every ten minutes).
How to find The Oak Trail
Right, you’ve made it to Theydon Bois. Its quaint little high street, cosy-looking pubs and fresh air make it seem much less scary and a lot like you’re not in London anymore. But, don’t stop here yet! We’ll be back to check out the pubs after we’ve earned it.
Now you have to find the start of The Oak Trail. Exit the station and turn right onto Forest Drive. Then walk to the very end of the street. On your left you will find a small opening and narrow path between a wooden fence and a little creek – that’s it!
(We only found it because a walking group arrived at the same time we did. But surprisingly, it was the only time we saw them on the entire walk.)
The Oak Trail
We followed the narrow overgrown path along the fence line for a little bit, trying to pull ahead of the walking group and avoid being stung by some prickly plants. Somewhere along the narrow path, we crossed the little creek and made our way across the paddocks.
We could see horses in the distance and had to watch out for poo along the trail. At some points it was not clear if we were on the right path or not, but we eventually found the way markers and went on our way.
We rambled through the paddocks, across the M25, across a couple of local streets, up a hill, past a cricket ground and eventually strolled into the enormous Epping Forest.
Shannon was in charge of the pre-downloaded Oak Trail map and (I’m pretty sure) he did a good job of directing us. The paths were easy to walk along and were only uneven in some places, so it was a peaceful walk that we could enjoy as we chatted.
Since only the banks and ditch remain, I think we unwittingly strolled past (or through) Ambresbury Banks, an Iron Age plateau fort in Epping Forest that covers an area of 4.5 hectares.
And we stopped to gawk at the deer in the Deer Sanctuary, but sadly we could only see them in the distance through the fence.
However, we did spot some rabbits hopping through the shrubbery along the track and some squirrels jumping through the canopy, which was pretty exciting for us four Aussies. (Don’t laugh – it’s like seeing a kangaroo in the wild!)
At the end, before we got back on the tube into central London, we rewarded ourselves with a late pub lunch and a drink in the sun at The Bull Pub near Theydon Bois station.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable day and has given me a taste of what lies beyond the bustling streets of London town. Look out for more day trips from London on the blog as we explore beyond zone 2!
The Oak Trail, Epping Forest: what to know before you go
Start and finish: Theydon Bois tube station (Central Line)
Follow: the public path markers (yellow arrow) and Oak Trail way markers (green oak tree or green) and then the path through Epping Forest
Distance: 10.6km (6.6 miles)
Duration: 2 – 3 hours
What to wear: anything you would feel comfortable walking a long distance in outdoors. We all wore “active wear” and decent sandshoes/sneakers/joggers/runners. Though our feet did get a little damp in the dewy grass and we did feel some prickly bushes through our thin leggings.