The pride of [Epping] Forest is its hornbeams. There is no larger forest of hornbeams in England, nor perhaps in the world.
Nikolaus Pevsner: The Buildings of England
Difficult to imagine now, where I am in little India, Forest Gate, was once the entrance to Epping Forest, and where I run each morning, Wanstead Flats, was the southern end of the forest, now a flat grass expanse made into a series of football pitches with a good track to run round, which I did this morning a full 6 k. Such a good start to a day – if nothing else this is accomplished and even dogs endorphin was awakened. But the day gave more.
In search of Grimston’s Oak, an oak pollard reckoned to be about 350 years old, and mentioned by Oliver Rackham (I read half his book last night) we motored to Bury Wood, the Chingford end of Epping. The wood was immediately breathtaking. Old hornbeam pollards along with oaks, gnarled and bulbous, full of character and history, some leaning, some twisted. Very photographic and anthropomorphic, limb like, face like, veined.
Using GPS on my phone, the dogs and I found Grimston’s Oak.
‘That direction’, local people were helpful, and mostly knew of it. Blinded by looking down at the phone, with the oak right in front of my nose, I asked some cyclists, who, it transpired knew this wood for 15 years. They checked on their phone – yes, this was the right shape – while their two young boys played stick under the oak with the two dogs. Children love obedient dogs, for they can give commands rather than receive them, and the dogs obey. It is a child’s first taste of power.
Back to the tree. Grimston’s Oak stands in a clearing at the junction of several rides between Fairmead Bottom and Connaught Water, majestic, with four major pollards from the main stem. Some old wounds healed over the leather weathered corked bark. A brutal scar of a lost lower limb but at the end it was still alive. I forgot to measure the girth with my scarf.
Alternate names for this Quercus robur are Cuckoo Oak (it is near Cuckoo Pits) Bedford’s Oak and Grimston’s Oak. Grimston’s Oak is the one most frequently used and named after a 19th Century cricketer Robert Grimeston who died in 1894 . J. T. Bedford was involved in the battle to save Epping Forest from destruction in the 1870s. (His grave is in City of London, Manner Park – on our run route).
With a bit of co-ordination, I met Barry at Connaught Water and we motored on to the Woodbine, which I’d found in someone’s blog. The name attracted plus Free-hold. It was a good find, a balance for Barry who’s physical ailments challenged, who found good company at the bar with the publican Rob Chapman who took over the 6% beer that Barry had asked for before discovering its strength, and then gave us his story. He’d always loved food, he said, particularly oriental. He ended up living in China for a couple of years, working as a DJ in Bejing for a wealthy manufacturer of mining equipment, who loved everything foreign, like a German beer fest, an English Bar and French whatever. Somehow after that Rob got a Burger van and parked in the car park of the Woodbine, then owned by a pub chain and going nowhere, unlike Rob’s Burger business – in fact high class food – which flourished, allowing him to buy out the Woodbine when it inevitably came on the market 5 years ago. He’d never run a pub before. He was attentive to us as to others. We ate an unexpected sunday roast – good veg – washed down with local Rhubarb then apple cider and ended on home made ice-cream. Unexpected and warm hearted. Too late to find the visitors centre or Jacks Hill. These links for next time: