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Wanstead Flats in Epping Forest

Forest Gate is a built up area in East London, the site of the gate that hundreds of years ago marked the entrance to this land where commoners had the ‘rights of turbary’ – the entitlement to dig for peat for fuel.

The gate is long gone but the name is still the most appropriate description for this locality.

From here it is possible to join a pathway that stretches across miles of East London’s countryside and continues for many more out of the capital and to the rural county of Essex.

The ground here feels spongy underfoot like a crumpled warm carpet with its patches of purple and brown - land that is quite distinctive for its low growing shrubs, heather and gorse, scrub and bare ground.

This is a great stretch of heathland and these plants thrive in its acid soil which is low in nutrients and free draining, providing the perfect territory for meadow pipits which can be spotted here and perhaps a sky lark above in the vast open sky.

There are thickets of gorse and broom, small woods and copses and 35 species of trees with many hawthorns. A flowering cherry tree is an unexpected sight but may have been planted in one of the gardens here when this expanse of land was used to house people.

With the desperate shortage of accommodation after the Second World War, the need for housing had to be balanced against the promise to keep this as open land. And so a compromise was reached with temporary prefabricated houses built here, now long gone with few signs that a whole community who once lived here.

At the far end, some distance from Forest Gate, there is an avenue of sweet chestnuts, planted in the seventeenth century, and Bush Wood.

Trees clump together here and bright green grass grows. The leaves on the bushes are soft and bright with nettles swaying gently in the wind and dock leaves spreading out.

They always grow side by side, the dock leaves ready to be picked to sooth stings from nettles – a quirk of nature.

Walk from Hollow Ponds or from Wanstead Station or from Forest Gate Station


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