For the London-centric, Epping is the motherlode. While it remains on the London underground network, it’s marginally outside the M25 and feels a world away, and it’s therefore ideal for this sort of pursuit. Not only this, but it contains a concentrated batch of high-quality charity shops which make an afternoon in Essex well worth it.
Firstly, a note on the journey there. While you certainly can take the circuitous and lengthy tube ride to the farthest reach (part of the longest continual tube ride without changing, from West Ruislip, and going past these abandoned stations), my own preference is to drive or to go some other route from Chingford or Woodford, passing through Epping Forest. If you have the chance to mooch about the forest, do. It’s a haven of peace, and full of little nooks and corners, lakes and coppices. Very pleasant indeed.
Once you reach Epping, you have the added bonus of free Saturday parking (turn left behind the church). Which brings us to the town itself. ‘They’ say that the town of Meryton in Pride & Prejudice was based on Hertford, just up the road, but you can just as easily imagine the hat-buying, soldier-dancing shenanigans taking place on the pretty high street of Epping. The wobbly rooflines and olde pubs are testament to the age of these listed buildings and coaching inns, and it’s no stretch of the imagination to picture the Bennetts giggling their way around town.
But on to the charity shops. Our preferred route is to cross immediately from where we’ve parked and head for the Sue Ryder shop. This has a fairly sizeable furniture section and I’ve often been regaled with tales of the desk that got away from there. There’s also a pretty decent paperback selection as well as a wideranging non-fiction case. In the past I’ve stocked up on Stephen Kings and also finally got Cryptonomicon; this time I left with a fantastic dark-framed olde-worlde map, Zenyatta Mondatta and Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy: I think a second pressing, making it potentially 60 years old, a snip for a tenner.
In roving around this weekend, I also found The Threepenny Novel in Oxfam, and my not frock-obsessed companion found Thomas More’s Utopia, which looks just plain fascinating. Ah, and a skirt. The Oxfam is well-stocked, as are the two (count ’em) Cancer Research UK shops (I’ve found some interesting cd’s here before), and a decent, if not great local hospice shop.
Epping’s jewel in the crown was always HEAL – a vast, ranging shambles of a shop, with books piled high and clothes you had to dig through. It was a proper blow to find that it’s closed down (there’s another in South Woodford still there); I’m crossing my fingers that it’s a refurbishment not a new shop. But even with HEAL gone, it doesn’t take away from the excellent shops that are here, and the genteel country air which makes this such a lovely spot to spend an afternoon.
Find: Epping at Google Maps
Transport: Epping underground station, Central line
Consume with: a meat and cheese platter from Belgique, £7.50 (note to self: one is enough for two people at lunch)
Visit: High Beach, Epping Forest
Overall Rating: five Kathy Lette, Foetal Attraction‘s