Londoners often get it in the neck for being soft. We decided to prove the naysayers wrong, by spending an entire day in the ferocious wilds of Epping Forest. Bear Grylls, eat your heart out.
A final fling with civilisation
Here we are then.
The first thing to do is to get past all those people at Loughton tube station trying to flog gym memberships. Can't they tell that we live 24 miles away? Besides, where we're going, we don't need no gym.
Loughton appears nice, but more than a bit dear. On the way up Forest Road, we decide to look into some estate agent windows and ponder how anyone manages to pay their mortgage around here. Good job our plans are to go and live in the forest, where the rent is free, the air is fresh, and the spaces wide…
A straight walk down Forest Road from Loughton station, and here we are. Seems legit.
We follow the Earl's Path deeper into the forest. It's not exactly as quiet as we were hoping for. Who are all these other people? Are they going to complicate our living arrangements?
Water we going to do now?
We decide to head off the beaten path and try and find some quiet, and some water — priority one.
Prospects are bleak. Thanks to the recent heatwave, all the streams have dried up into grim stagnant puddles. And a nearby pond appears to have turned green (algae?). There can't be a handheld water filter in the world that could sift through this muck. How the hell did our ancestors do it?
Oh well, we've got a Camelbak that'll do for a day while we come up with a better idea (…or not).
Time to fashion some natural weaponry, y'know — to survive.
Theoretically we could make a slingshot with this, but we've forgotten how to fashion the elastic part. There's so many pointy sticks, but we decide not to try to make a spear out of one of them. To be frank, we're just too lazy and don't want to wear our knife down any more than needed. Oh hang on — we've got a knife. Sorted.
How about shelter? Looks like it might rain later. Our shelter looks structurally secure (…mostly) , but we're not sure how to make a watertight roof with what we have available. Maybe the trees above us will be kind enough to absorb the deluge. Maybe not. Either way, we have a waterproof tarp — so we can afford to be a little blasé.
Speaking of blasé — fish are a delicious, wonderful source of protein and calories, and apparently you can go fishing here. Unfortunately we’ve forgotten our fishing rod (and license). All that aside, how could any fish survive these murky green depths? Scratch that.
Besides from the fish that may or may not be in residence, the only animals we see that aren’t dogs (…and we can't go eating those) are these little ducks. They are very interested in us indeed. A particularly brave one leads the pack, tentatively exploring around our bag. We can only assume they’ve been fed by humans before as we can't imagine they are attracted by our 'winning' personality or fashion ‘sense'.
Their curiosity would make them easy prey, but they’re much to cute and friendly to actually eat. Even if duck pancakes are delicious. Maybe we just don't have the killer instinct. Maybe we’re not hungry enough yet. The ducks lose interest when two men and a dog walk by. Maybe they'll come back later and we can tame the brave one. We've always wanted a pet duck (OK, that's not true, but it would be fun).
So, instead of 'free meat', we go for 'meat-free'. As always, blackberries aren't bad — some sweeter than others. They're also not something that you could really live off. No luck finding any other varieties — not a single blueberry or strawberry to be found here. Maybe they're out of season. No idea.
We must consider alternate food sources.
Not mushroom for error
How's the mushroom kingdom looking, you may ask? Lively, as you might expect. Also very dodgy. We'd be the first to admit that we're not exactly mycology experts. After all, Deathcap mushrooms look very friendly until you digest one (…or so we're told).
What the hell are these? You look like you’d either get high or shit yourself to death if you tried one. Maybe both.
Maybe we'll skip the mushrooms then.
It's at some point during the futile search for calories that we have a stark realisation. Sheer boredom is another thing you'd need to survive here.
Once you’ve seen some trees, ducks and dried up rivers, awkwardly said hello to some people with dogs, and then awkwardly said hello to some other people on bikes (…and their kids, also on bikes). Then read the newspaper (boring), piled up some wood, kicked some leaves around, built a dodgy shelter, played chicken with a dodgy bridge and skimmed some stones onto chartreuse coloured waters... then what?
There's always the mobile phone. Oddly enough, there’s great phone signal in much of the forest — which means entertainment and answers to all your pressing bushcraft problems. Well, almost all of them. Mushroom identification via Google is not conclusive. We manage to keep up with eBay and WhatsApp for a while, but as the battery starts to run down, Post-Smartphone Existential Dread begins to set in.
It's around this point that we start to second guess the whole thing.
Is it really worth it? What about duck pancakes? What happens when our phone runs out? Is it really worth giving up the internet for all this? Probably not.
Reduced Sainsbury's sandwiches
With what we have left of our battery we realise that, if we leave soon, we can pick up some food from Sainsbury’s before it closes — and get the tube home.
Back we go then.
Since it's late, Sainsbury's has some end of the day bargains. We decide to skip the 55p tuna sandwich (tempting) in favour of a 37p sausage roll (such choice… such luxury). We survive the sausage roll, which is cold, slightly soggy and sad — a similar state to which we’d eventually find ourselves in the woods.
The sausage could do with 40 seconds on high and maybe some HP sauce, both civilised things that, sadly, that cannot be found in the wilds of Epping Forest. But we devour it anyway. Hungry work, this survival stuff.