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The River Lea

River Lea

The River Lee Country Park is a maze of lakes, water courses, streams, inlets and marshland, created by the River Lee as it approaches the north eastern edge of London.

River Lea 

The name Lee – also known as Lea, both spellings are used interchangeably – comes from the old English word ‘lug’, meaning ‘bright or light’. This means that the names of the towns of Luton and Leyton have the same meaning – ‘farmstead on the river Lea’.

The distance between the two places is over 30 miles, and the river is even longer – starting in the Chiltern Hills and flowing into the Thames.

River Lee River Lee

The River Lea’s most important contribution to history was during the Anglo-Saxon times. In the late 800s Alfred the Great draw up an agreement with Guthrum, the leader of the invading Vikings, dividing England between them. The East and the North became Danelaw, and the rest was controlled by Alfred. The border between the two territories in part run along the course of the River Lea.

Viking Border post Viking border

In 894 the Danes sailed up the river to Hertford and built a fortified camp around there. Alfred dug up a channel to divert some water from the river, the water level dropped and the Danes could not sail back.

To commemorate the role of the river in this ancient history, the park now has two wooden sculptures – a post showing the director of Mercia and Danelaw, in case a stranded Viking loses his way. Further in the park there is a representation of a Viking ship – certainly not going anywhere now!

Viking Ship

The park has many routes to explore – we only went along the shortest one, with the wooden sculptures. Properly paved paths make a much more civilised walk than any of the parks we’ve visited far this winter!

The Shrine, carved out of the trunk of a cedar tree, has the face of the Green Man and a seat behind it, with a couple of benches opposite, also beautifully carved.

Shrine River Lea

The sculpture trail

Scuplture Trail, River Lee Park

The Beetles in the park

Beetles in the Park

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Epping Forest

Epping Forest pollard

Epping Forest was a royal hunting forest since the times of Henry II in the 12th century. With the Norman conquest the word ‘forest’ came to mean the land where only the king and/or aristocracy had the right to hunt, while common people were still allowed to collect firewood and food and graze animals. It did not necessarily mean ‘wooded area’, as it does today, so could be open spaces, marshland, etc.  After the heyday of royal hunts during the Tudors, the land became more important, and enclosures by the landowners threatened Epping Forest. In 1878 an act of Parliament passed Epping Forest to the care of the Corporation of London for the ‘recreation and enjoyment of the people’. It continues to be looked after by the Corporation of London today.

  Pollard Trees Epping Forest

The ancient woodland is full of oaks, hornbeam and beech, and is full of spectacular pollard trees. Pollarding means cutting the top of the tree to promoted the fresh young growth, to be used for firewood or fodder for livestock.

Pollarding is different from coppicing – which is cutting the tree down to the stump, from which new shoots appear.

Coppicing Epping Forest
Coppicing

Only some species are suitable for pollarding and coppicing, – such as oak, hornbeam or beech, which grow in abundance in Epping Forest.

New pollard – probably because of branches overhanging the path

When it stopped being ‘royal’, pollarding was no longer allowed. This means that the trees were last pollarded over 100 years ago, and now look like works of art!

Loughton Camp was an Iron Age Hill fort from around 500 BC. It is a hill in the middle of Epping Forest. Did the Romans use it as a marching camp during Julius Caeser’s invasion in 54 BC? Was it a Celtic lookout post for Boudica? Was it Dick Turpin’s hideout – Epping Forest was his regular haunt, and, apparently, his ghost still roams around, if you are unlucky enough to meet him… Despite many local legends and some archaeological investigations, Loughton Camp has never been thoroughly excavated, so it still hides its real story underneath the spectacular pollard trees.

Loughton Camp, Epping Forest
Loughton Camp, Epping Forest