As hard as it is to believe, sometimes, on very rare occasions, it doesn’t rain. The dark foreboding clouds turn a slightly less threatening shade of grey, and if we are really lucky, blue sky will fleetingly reveal its self. When the ancient weather gods smile upon us and keep the rain away for a few hours, us mere mortals have to make the most of it. We prepare our selves to go out in to the British Summer, we take all the essentials with us such as T-Shirts, Jumpers, rain coats, sun cream and umbrellas. With knotted handkerchiefs at the ready, we venture out in to the newly freshened air and enjoy the summer whilst we can. I really like being out just after the rain, when the air is full of the smell of wet tarmac. Shimmering puddles cover the pavement, each one showing reflected snapshots of our brick built streets. There is one place, not a million miles away from Walthamstow, that is particularly magical after a downpour. The forest, that mysterious wall of green that sits at the top of our valley, full of tales and shadows, the ancient burial ground for murdered East Enders Characters.
A visit to the forest is like taking your brain out for a nice dinner, feeding your imagination with the things you can’t see, the things that might be lurking in amongst the trees. I always make a point of getting the train up to Chingford when I’m going on a wander in the woods, I like the journey from St James Street. I like listening to the creaking springs of the train as it creeps past the concrete curves of the Sainsburys car park, passes through central station and then meanders through the roof tops of Wood Street. The line comes to a end in Chingford, it’s like the railway builders, when confronted with the darkness of the ancient forest, decided not to go any further. Turn back, they thought, only mystery lies ahead.
The forest rises from Chingford Plain like the impenetrable ranks of an army of giants, waiting silently to be given the order to march on London. A sign tells those who approach to to beware of cattle, this is a thinly veiled threat, what it actually means is Beware the Forest, the haunter of dreams, the maker of nightmares. A blood red arrow on a marker post acts as a welcome and a warning, pointing the way in to the woods. The trees lure unsuspecting visitors in with the promise of dappled sunlight, but that promise is soon broken and the musky dark pushes away the light.
Things are not always as they seem in this ancient place. What appears to be the knotted mess of roots of an upturned tree, is actually a shelter. Someone dragged these pieces of dead wood across the forest floor and laid them here. It looks empty, but who can be sure? Is there something looking back at you from within the tangled wood, or did you imagine it. If you crawled inside to take a look, would you ever crawl back out again? In a clearing not far away are more shelters. There is no mistaking these for tree roots, they have been built with clear purpose. You can try and tell your self they have been built by scouts, but is that true? Are they really shelters or are they cages, traps waiting to snare passing ramblers. Long dead trees stand near by as memorials to those the forest has already taken.
In amongst the dank branches of the post rain fall forest, your brain will play tricks on you. It will tell you that the feeling you have, the feeling you are being watched, is not real. But don’t be fooled, the forest is always watching you. The petrified head of an ancient eagle keeps a constant look out, its hollow eyes surveying all who pass. Out the corner of your eye you think you see faces in the trees, but they vanish as you turn to look. It wasn’t a trick of the light, the faces are there, watching, waiting for you to leave, ready to act if you overstay your welcome.
Rain brings the forest to life, it fills the air with the smell of wet leaf litter and awakens its ancient mysteries. Damp clings to the trees and makes the air heavy. Walking along the dark, snaking paths, our most ancient fears begin to surface. Emerging back out in to the daylight is almost a relief. Of course there was nothing watching, of course there was nothing waiting. You reassure your self, then a branch cracks behind you. You freeze, best not to turn around, best not to see what’s really there, in the dark.