As anyone who has walked in a forest knows, every time is different. It depends on the weather, the time of year. The paths can be different, the trees, the birds, the ground, the sky, the traffic in the background, the planes flying overhead.

This time the leaves were just coming out – that special springtime green. The birds were singing to each other. It hadn’t rained for ages so the ground was cracked and baked hard like concrete and the beech leaves looked less colourful than in autumn. We paused in Loughton Camp, the dip in the crest of the hill where the Romans, medieval farmers and even, allegedly, Dick Turpin had, in their time, camped and kept their animals rounded up  or hidden from the law! The trees can’t have been as impressively tall then as they are now! The birds were more in evidence than in the autumn chirping to each other, not that we spotted any of them. There were fewer planes flying overhead because of the coronavirus lockdown, perhaps a helicopter from the nearby police depot going out on patrol. Blue sky, not even a breeze to rustle the leaves. And no people came by to disturb the peace! We stood and soaked up the atmosphere. Refreshed, we walked on, over the Epping New Road, with caution and speed, and made our way off the path, amongst the trees, kicking through the carpet of last autumn’s leaves, to High Beach, where there were more people, cars, facilities and hurly-burly. We found some large logs on the green in front of the King’s Oak where we could sit and eat our picnic lunch, observing the socially distanced queues at the pub and take-away cafe, the families and scouts going about their Sunday activities, picnicking, walking their new dogs, packing up their camping gear, getting back on their lambrettas or Harley Davidsons, speeding past, making as much noise as possible.

Rested and restored, we set off again back into the peace and quiet of the forest. We didn’t see many other walkers all day, considering it was a Sunday. Then the promised rain started to fall, first of all a few drops and more and more. It wasn’t torrential but it brought out the forest aromas, the beech leaves sprang to life, the birds sang more enthusiastically. We crossed a forest road near the bikers’ tea hut, thronged with leather, shiny metal and petrol fumes, into a part of the forest where the trees are not as tall and imposing. More grassy open spaces. More cyclists powering past. No horned cows munching the grass this time. We stopped at a pond with several colourful friendly  mandarin ducks and a grumpy, outshone mallard.  And so back to Loughton High Street and the Wagon Boulangerie where we were given a warm welcome and two tables under the awning, in case the rain came back, so that we could round off the afternoon with tea and delicious cakes! The ideal way to complete a walk!