London has grown and spread out over the centuries but at Chingford Plains it comes to a sudden halt. Houses are built on only one side of the road and overlook the open space – no construction is allowed to encroach the Green Belt which forms a secure barrier around East London to prevent the forward march of urban development.
This was once a royal hunting ground and Queen Elizabeth I’s hunting lodge stands proudly overlooking this wide open space, although at that time it would have seemed a very long way outside London.
The Tudor building is still there and visitors can go upstairs to see the view that she would have enjoyed – but it was another queen who gave ordinary people this opportunity.
Queen Victoria gifted this open space and all the land around here to her subjects and it became a very much loved destination for East Enders. The Queen came here in 1882 and dedicated “this beautiful forest to the enjoyment of my people forever”.
Her people came here from the slums to enjoy the fresh air in huge numbers – 100,000 people visited one summer, with trains arriving every five minutes at Chingford Station.
The noise and the big crowds have long gone. Now there are usually much smaller gatherings of people and cows grazing contentedly on the grasses and plants. They are longhorn cattle, owned by a local farmer. With their big, curled horns they are beautiful creatures and complete this rural scene.
They have been re-introduced as part of the forest management plan – to keep some species of flora under control and encourage bio diversity.
Chingford Plains is just inside an East London postcode – but this is the exact point where city meets country.
Walk from Pole Hill or from Chingford Station