The following article was written in March, 1991

by

Mike Tomlins,
a former Editor of Orion Gazette, and still an active member
of both Orion Harriers and Friends of Epping Forest

It is possibly MORE relevant to ALL Orion runners today than it was when Mike first wrote it.

READ!!!

OUR BELOVED FOREST

I suppose the principal common factor that unites members of Orion Harriers is their love of running, but what surely links us just as closely is the absolute joy of being able to practice our sport and recreation amid the splendour of Epping Forest. I have no idea just how many races and training runs I have taken part in over the past thirty years or so in Epping Forest, and yet I know I shall never tire of it, each run being as different and as fresh as the first.

Some of our opponents are wary of coming to race in Epping Forest, thinking only of the winter mud. But that is not even half the story. The different seasons produce wondrous changes in the appearance and character of the forest, and the amiable Saturday afternoon pack-runs in summer through some of the more distant sections around Broadstrood, Debden Green, the deer sanctuary near Theydon and Ambresbury Banks are, to me, a constant delight, and quite the most enjoyable way I know to work up a thirst for a pint or two of Marstons "Pedigree" at the "Warren Wood" afterwards.

Perhaps some of us may envy Blackheath Harriers their sumptuous clubhouse facilities at Hayes, but what wouldn’t they give to be able to take a single stride outside their HQ and, like us, step straight onto the "country" and just a few yards from the start line. South London Harriers, too, have a trek of well over half a mile to their course from Comrades Hall, which again highlights just how fortunate we are in Orion to have our clubhouse situated actually ON Epping Forest land, and thus have unrestricted access to over 6,000 acres of forest directly from our doorstep.

The lease on our HQ runs out next year (1992), but your Committee has long been in negotiation with the City of London Corporation (who administer Epping Forest) with regard to our continued occupancy. We have reason to feel optimistic about the outcome, although members may have to dig deeper into their pockets to finance certain essential improvements to HQ and what will almost certainly be a steep increase in our rent. Whatever it takes to stay where we are, it will be well worth it!

The City of London Corporation do a fine job in maintaining the "natural aspect" of Epping Forest, whilst endeavouring to cater for the many categories of users - including cross-country runners! Some of Orion’s newer members, however, may be unaware of another organisation which does a tremendous amount of good work in safeguarding the interests of all these groups who enjoy using the Forest’s unrivalled amenities - its name is "THE FRIENDS OF EPPING FOREST".

The legendary Harold Lee, former Captain and latterly Secretary of Orion, was a founder member of the "Friends" and served on their early committees. The FOEF was originally set up twenty-odd years ago, initially to voice concern about the rapid and uncontrolled growth of horse riding in the forest. Their membership grew rapidly a few years later when it vigorously opposed the plans to build the M25 motorway through the northern confines of Epping Forest. This turned out to be more an exercise in damage limitation, but it was largely due to the efforts of FOEF and other pressure groups, that the "cut and cover" tunnel was built just south of Epping and the proposed M25 interchange at Bell Common was scrapped. Since then the FOEF have kept a watchful eye on all developments, including successfully fighting the proposal to extend the local Chingford golf course, which, had it gone ahead, would have adversely affected the area on Chingford Plain just below HQ where we start and finish our races.

The FOEF are currently directing their energies towards the proposed development of Copped Hall and the surrounding Estate, which forms part of our "15" course. The derelict house and some 30 acres is owned by a Cambridge man, who wishes to build a luxury hotel and leisure centre. The remainder of the Estate, comprising some 500 acres of mainly farmland, is owned by a Trust, which is apparently to seek permission to build two golf courses, clubhouses etc on the land. The FOEF is active with other local conservation and amenity groups in opposing such a large scale development in this "green belt" area. A strong lobby, which now includes certain "rural" elements of Essex County Council, have registered their disagreement with the development plans produced by Epping Forest District Council, and seeks to persuade the City of London Corporation to acquire the land for the benefit and continued use of the public.

When Harold Lee was alive, most Orion members who ran in the forest on a regular basis joined "The Friends of Epping Forest" - not solely because Harold asked us to (although that did have some bearing on the matter), but also because the aims and objectives of the FOEF are very much in line with our own. The annual membership fee is still little more than a pint of "Pedigree", and I would urge all Orion members who, like me, value the right to run unfettered around our beloved Epping Forest, to consider becoming "Friends". I have some membership forms, which I will gladly pass out to those who are interested.

Orion is 80 years old this year, and we must all endeavour to ensure that when we celebrate our "centenary" in 2011, we are still able to run freely around Epping Forest and do all the enjoyable things we do today.

 

Addendum by Mike Tomlins. March 2007

The above article was written for the "Orion Gazette" in March 1991, and many developments have taken place since that time - firstly, and most importantly, Orion’s negotiations with the City of London Corporation about our HQ were successful and we were granted a lease on the clubhouse in 1992, which has subsequently been extended on a three year basis since then. The rent we pay them, although understandably higher than when we rented from owners of the Royal Forest Hotel, still represents excellent value.

The City of London Corporation were indeed persuaded to buy the land at Copped Hall as "buffer land" to safeguard the large area to the north of Epping Forest from development. The Copped Hall Trust own the house and drive linking it to the gates at Crown Hill, but the remainder of the land is now opened up for the benefit and use of the public - unfortunately traffic constraints at Woodridden Hill mean that we no longer use Copped Hall as part of the "15" course, but Orion members can now run and walk unrestricted all over the Estate - it is an area that commands truly wonderful views and where you wouldn’t believe you were within a dozen or so miles of London. Go there and find out for yourself!

Finally, the fee to join the Friends of Epping Forest is still little more than a pint of beer, and it really is a commendable organisation. Those interested in joining should now contact Roddy (rather than me), who in addition to running the excellent Orion website, also does the same for FOEF!

Or simply (BETTER!) go directly to www.friendsofeppingforest.org.uk to find out more, print out the JOINING form, fill it in and return it with the appropriate minuscule fee to the Friends.

Orion is now approaching a century of existence – and that existence made more joyful, pleasurable and sustainable simply due to the sheer delights of running - unlimited and untramelled - through one of the best unspoilt pieces of POTENTIAL Real Estate in all of England! Do we at Orion appreciate how hard it is to maintain such a place, to fight off all the nibbling round its edges, and the grasps at its heart!???

"We run because we like it, through the broad, bright land!"

And we can run in that way, partially due the sterling efforts of the Friends.
This organisation, the Friends of Epping Forest, has worked tirelessly to maintain Our Beloved Forest in a way that we all cherish as runners – unspoilt, uncommercialised and… relatively wild. There are constant pressures to develop it or turn it into a tame Country Park. None of us would want that - the more people the Friends represent - the stronger its views! The joining fee for the Friends of Epping Forest seems a small price to pay to help maintain one of the best aspects of local life – wonderful Epping Forest. JOIN!