In Waltham Forest is London’s largest open space – Epping Forest, a haven for walking, cycling, horse riding, fishing and sports.
In the forest you can find The View, the forest’s educational information centre, with interactive displays and art and history exhibitions, as well as being the starting point for two walking trails.
Next to The View, is Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge, located in a medieval royal hunting forest. The lodge was built under Henry VIII’s orders in 1543 - originally named Great Standing - and is a prime example of a traditional timber-framed hunt. Having been extensively restored to historic accuracy, the three-floored building has themed displays on every level, with Tudor outfits able to try on and examples of Tudor feasts, as well impressive views across the forest grounds. Queen Elizabeth was rumoured to have ridden her horse up the stairs of the building, and apparently Henry VIII used to shoot enclosed deer with a bow and arrow from the comfort of a chair in the building.
The forest itself borders North East London and Essex, and spans over 6000 acres. Because of its woodlands, grasslands, heaths, rivers, bogs and ponds, lots of the area is classed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, though it’s not especially suitable for agriculture because of the soil type. Despite this, commoners (people who live in the forest parish) were allowed to let their herd of cows graze freely in the southern area of the forest up until the Mad Cow Disease outbreak in 1996. They were then reintroduced in 2001 with more restricted freedom. Managed by the City of London Corporation, the upkeep for the forest is maintained with private funds from ‘City’s Cash’, meaning that local rates or taxes aren’t used for its conservation.
Though many of the 100+ lakes and ponds within Epping Forest are manmade, World War II bombs and rockets landing in the forest also created some of them, so there's no shortage of history within its boundaries.
Before the forest was named Epping Forest, it was called Waltham Forest – and served as the namesake of the borough. It became known as “The People’s Forest” after Queen Victoria visited in 1882 and said she would “dedicate this beautiful forest to the use and enjoyment of my people for all of time”.