It’s been a while since Mr Techno and I have both had a full day off at the same time. Which means we hadn’t been on a family day out since our visit to Winterville before Christmas. Fortunately, we both had Wednesday off, so it was time to address this terrible situation!
Our first thought was a visit to Brooks Farm in Leyton – we haven’t been yet and it is only a half-hour walk from our flat. But, just as we were about to leave, I checked the website for the opening times and found that it was closed due to staff sickness. So I guess we will have to save that for another day.
Instead, we piled into the car and headed for Epping Forest, which is a bit too far for us to walk. There are a number of visitor centres for the Forest – the one we headed to is our closest one, which is called the View. Not only is it the closest, but it is also right next to Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge, which I really wanted to look round.
There was a very fine drizzle when we arrived and parked the car, but we could see from the clouds that it was likely to get worse, so we decided to start our visit with a wander around part of the Forest. Being an ancient oak forest, Epping is perfect for little people – the trees are widely spaced and leave lots of room for exploring, without getting tripped up by undergrowth. We enjoyed a lovely, if rather muddy, walk through the trees. Tom handled the walking really well – he’s always been pretty confident outdoors but I’ve really noticed his balance and speed improving in the last two weeks. He did trip twice, but bearing in mind the uneven ground and the scattered leaves and sticks, that was pretty good going. He had a great time, especially when Mr Techno and I took his hands and swung him between us, which led to lots of giggling.
We came to the end of our short loop, and the rain was getting heavier, so we headed for the Hunting Lodge. Before we went in, we had to admire the view and make friends with the wooden deer statues outside.
A staff member from the View came over to let us into the Lodge and told us a bit about its history. It was actually built for Henry VIII – in his later years, Henry was too fat to easily ride, so he had a number of lodges built in his game parks. The gamekeepers would drive deer to the clear area in front of the Lodge, and Henry and his nobles would shoot at them with crossbows – all the bloodletting with none of the risk or exercise involved! However, the original Lodge was fairly basic. It was done up for Elizabeth I, which is probably how it got its name. The Lodge was then used as a farmhouse until the 19th Century, which likely helped it survive in a fairly unaltered state. A Victorian extension was built, but was torn down later so that the building could be more easily presented as a Tudor Lodge (I’m not going to get into it here, but for reasons relating to good conservation philosophy, that was a choice I don’t totally agree with).
The Lodge has been very much ‘dressed’ to highlight its Tudor origins, so is a fun visit for kids. The first room we went into had a mocked-up Tudor feast laid out, complete with rather creepy figure of a Tudor beggar.
Upstairs, there was a dress-up room on the first floor. The clothes were on the large side for our little man, but he was interested in poking the ‘tapestries’.
On the second floor, as well as an incredible view, there was a table display about how traditional timber framed buildings were built, along with a dendrochronology activity (that’s tree ring dating, for those who don’t speak archaeologist). The part of me that works in building conservation was very pleased with this part, as well as the handout we were given that explained how to ‘read’ the building, pointing out taper burns, carpenters’ marks, and apotropaic marks (to ward off evil). When Mr Techno mentioned to the staff member that I work for the SPAB, he pointed out that the Lodge also has links with William Morris, our founder, who was apparently inspired by the Tudor tapestries that used to hang in the Lodge when he was a child growing up in nearby Woodford.
After thoroughly exploring the Lodge, we headed back over to the View, which had a lovely little display about the various seasons in the forest, including sound effects. Tom was very keen to press the buttons and hear the birdsong.
By this time we were all getting hungry for our lunch. Options were fairly limited – there was a pricey coffee shop or a Brewer’s Fayre attached to the Premier Inn (which has somehow landed planning permission to be right next to the View). Needing somewhere kid-friendly, we headed to the Brewer’s Fayre to join a host of other families also in need of sustenance.
Despite the less than stellar weather, we had a lovely day out. I definitely intend to spend a lot more time in Epping Forest as it gets warmer – the View maybe our closest visitor centre but there are places to get into the Forest much closer to us. And as Tom starts sleeping less, we will have more time to explore! We’ll be back to the Hunting Lodge too when he is old enough to appreciate it.