Jeff packs a small hand luggage backpack and flies off to Stansted and on to West Essex for a 3 night glamping trip to discover epic forests, parks and cycling routes through the countryside.
Back to basics for 3 days exploring the local countryside close to Epping Forest in West Essex, just south of Waltham Abbey at Lee Valley Camp Site Sewardstone.
The idea of glamping in late October in the UK might bring to mind, wet weather, mud everywhere, sodden clothes and the cold. My first reaction what on earth is wrong with that. Sign me up!
Landing at Stansted Airport I took the shuttle bus to Drivalia Car Hire to pick up what turned out to be a brand new car, I put the destination into google maps and headed towards the M25 and over to Lee Valley Sewardstone Campsite only 30 minutes away. I checked in and headed towards my Peaky Pod, a tiny-living style pod which put the glam into glamping. Outside was a decking area with seating, inside was a kitchen, a shower room, double bed, sofa, table and chairs. It was much more than I expected, and I already knew this was going to be a fun experience.
Within minutes of checking out the camp site, filled with caravans, tourers, and a few campers, I was collecting my bike hire from reception and heading out onto the Lee Valley greenway. There was a security gate at the back of the campsite straight onto the greenway, so off I went on what turned out to be a 12 mile adventure past Gunpowder Woodland Trail (where a young buck jumped out of the forest just feet in front of me) towards Lee Valley Wildlife Discovery Centre.
The Discovery Centre is a free facility built in 2020 with a Bittern viewing gallery and a tower overlooking a beautiful Lakeland and nature reserve. The reed beds outside the viewing gallery are home to the very rare Bittern, the loudest bird in the UK and also a red listed protected bird.
Waltham Abbey, a unique and traditional market town with Royal connections, is a short distance away. King Harold, who died with an arrow in his eye in the 1066 Battle of Hastings, is reportedly buried in the grounds of the Abbey. Waltham Abbey Gardens are next door and are worth visiting in the summer months for its hundreds of acres of gardens and countryside.
Epping Forest District Museum tells the story of the people and events that shaped the local area. The Tudor grade II listed building dates from as early as 1485. It’s home to a number of key historical items from the area and is very much a community space with seasonal activities throughout the year for young families.
Also within cycling distance from Lee Valley Camp Site Sewardstone is the mighty Epping Forest. One and a half miles up a steep hill and along a country lane and you reach the corner of the forest. From here you can cycle (or walk) along the many trails taking in the sights of Chingford Plain, ancient trees, 2 visitor centres, Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge from the mid 1500’s and just across the road a whole section of forest with trees older than the hunting lodge.
The Forest is of national and international conservation importance and home to over 55000 veteran trees many of which are over 1000 years old, 100 lakes and ponds, 2 Iron Age forts set within 6185 acres of land.
Epping forest is easily accessible from London with the Chingford Visitor Centre only 10 minutes walk from Chingford Station which is less than 30 minutes by train from London Liverpool Street station.
The following day I made use of the car hire and headed further into Essex for more country parks and lunch in the historic Marygreen Manor.
Thorndon Country Park and Weald Country Park are both Essex County Council and Essex Wildlife Trust managed woodland and countryside centres. Thorndon is home to a Gruffalo Trail (similar to Colin Glen in Belfast) set amongst the towering trees in the 500 acre forest. There’s a bike hire business close to the visitor centre if you fancy a forest trail ride. Weald is home to a new Stick Man sculpture trail and the Fallow deer enclosure. Weald boasts spectacular views and space, covering over 520 acres of woodland, wildflower meadows and open grassland. Both country parks are within a couple of miles from Brentwood, and are beautiful places to escape to for a walk, run, adventure on your own or with the family.
Marygreen Manor is a historic hotel in Brentwood dating back to the mid 1500’s. After centuries as a private dwelling, it became a hotel in 1968. The hotel is minutes from my M25 turn-off and is a gorgeous building to arrive at. Inside is as you would expect for a Tudor building, oak beams in abundance. The hotel houses the beautiful 2AA Rosette Tudors restaurant which is a popular wedding venue. It reminded me of The Old Inn in Crawfordsburn and it has similar popularity as a wedding, birthday, anniversary and post funeral venue. Lunch was from their lunch menu in a beautiful old conservatory overlooking a central courtyard.
30 minutes drive and I was back at my cosy Peaky Pod at the camp site to relax for the evening. The next morning it was another 30 minutes drive back to Stansted to leave the hire car back and hop on the Stansted Express for an afternoon in London.
It was an epic three days of walking, cycling and solo adventures in Essex. There’s nothing better than time out to enjoy nature and open spaces, and the Essex countryside was a huge surprise, and so accessible to London.
Be genuinely inspired by Essex.
More details at https://www.visitessex.com
- Peaky Pod: A 4 night weekday booking was £429 mid October. Bedding and towels are provided.
- Car hire costs £130 for 3 days inc insurance
- Fuel Costs for the duration £25
- Bike hire £17.50 per day from the camp site
- Stansted Express runs every 30 minutes between London Liverpool Street and Stansted Airport, and every 15 minutes during the busiest peak. Book online in advance and pay from just £9.90 for a one-way ticket. For the cheapest tickets, book direct at www.stanstedexpress.com