Bike Ride: Epping Forest, Essex

Once visited by kings and queens, Epping’s woodlands, grasslands, heaths, rivers, bogs and ponds form one of London’s finest and largest open spaces

Epping Forest, London, England

Epping Forest is only a short Overground journey from the centre of London and offers more than 50 miles of off-road bike trails.

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There are over 2,400 hectares of historic woodland in this former royal hunting forest, as well as more than 100 bodies of water, some of which have formed in the remains of Second World War bomb craters.

Cycling on a path in Epping Forest in autumn
Cycling on a path in Epping Forest in autumn
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At the southern end of Epping Forest is Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge. Built in 1543, the timber-framed building has historical links with Henry II, Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I, and is a good place to begin your exploration of the forest. 

The woodland, managed by the City of London Corporation, was pollarded in the 19th century, resulting in some interestingly shaped trees. Look out for beech, oak, hornbeam, silver birch and holly, as well as fallow and muntjac deer, European adders, rare plants and fungi. 

Forest in dappled light
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Freedom to ride

Access to Epping Forest on the Underground and Overground is available at Chingford, Loughton and Epping; bikes are allowed on the Central line from Stratford onwards. Or, if you’re looking to hire, head to Go Further Cycling – which offers guided rides – (gofurthercycling.co.uk) near Chingford station, or Lee Valley Canoe Cycle near Broxbourne (lvcc.biz).

Heronry Pond in Wanstead, Epping Forest
Heronry Pond in Wanstead is part of Epping Forest
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Cyclists are welcome on the multi-use trails throughout the forest (apart from the areas around the Iron Age Camps of Ambresbury Bank and Loughton Camp, as well as Loughton Brook) but be courteous to other users, and expect mud. 

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Many of the trails are waymarked and it’s difficult to get lost as the forest is only 2.5 miles at its widest point and 12 miles at its longest. A short yet pretty ride leaves Chingford on the Holly and Willow trails around Bury Wood and Connaught Water, taking you close to the Hunting Lodge, the adjacent visitor centre and Butler’s Retreat Café, which serves brunch, light lunches and cakes.