Mandarin Mum – Epping Forest

I took a walk through Epping Forest around lunchtime and was pleased to encounter Mummy Mandarin and her brood at one of the ponds.

Mandarin Mum

Mandarin Mum

The ducklings are getting quite large now and there are another two who were just out of shot. I’m glad to see that she has moved the family while their little legs are still vulnerable to the non-native predators at Strawberry Hill pond.

There be dragons

There be dragons

Photos copyright QueenMab/Shipscook Photographic. contact for commercial reuse

All Aboard! – The Epping and Ongar Railway

On Saturday we took a trip back in time. Just a couple of stops on the tube from where we live, found us waiting for the bus in the Essex town of Epping, but it wasn’t just any old bus.

Here comes the bus

No this was the kind of bus that my grandfather used to drive in the 1950s and 60s, a classic London Transport double-decker, lovingly restored to its original condition by the volunteers of the Epping and Ongar Railway. We piled aboard, clambered up the stairs, sat ourselves down and waited for the conductor to sell us our tickets (£13 adult, £7 child, bus and train inclusive), before setting off towards North Weald Station.

OK time for a bit of history. In 1997 London Underground closed the Epping to Ongar extension of the tube’s Central Line. Bit of a short-sighted decision given the tremendous boom in commuter house building in the region since then, but we did have a Tory government at the time. Since then a couple of attempts have been made to operate trains on the line with varying degrees of failure, but this year the good folk at the Epping and Ongar Railway have reopened the track at weekends with a collection of heritage locomotives and carriages.

Diesel Shunter Ruston, built in 1965

Disembarking at North Weald we legged over the level crossing to board the diesel carriage to Coopersale. Eventually the Epping and Ongar Railway volunteers hope to restore all the track back to Epping, but for now Coopersale is as far west as the railway can go. Nevertheless it gave those of us who are old enough to remember, the opportunity to revisit some of the railway carriages of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Fortunately the little grey cells were not taxed by any murdered Ameican industrialists and we returned to North Weald,

Corridor train carriages on the Coopersale branch

for the second leg of our adventure.

Signal Box North Weald Station

Where we had just about enough time to scramble back over the level crossing and board the eastbound train to Ongar.

Locomotive Pitchford Hall shot from the old signal box at Ongar station

Only this time the train was pushed by a steam locomotive, the 1929 built Pitchford Hall. So having pushed our train to Ongar, Pitchford Hall got to pull it back to North Weald.

Pitchford Hall gets steam up

We climbed onto the platform of North Weald’s Signal Box, watched her steam up

Full steam ahead

and waved her off. Whether it’s the smell of the coal firing up the boiler or the noise of the engine as it chuffs out of the station there is a real romance about steam that contemporary trains just can’t match. That being said the class 37 Diesel that pushed Pitchford Hall’s train out of the station, still brought back happy memories of the 1960s, when my father worked as a British Railways engineer.

Bringing up the rear a Class 37 Diesel locomotive gives Pitchford Hall a push

This left us with about 40 minutes to explore Ongar Station and its small museum and shop and eat a delicious Hadley’s (an independent Essex manufacturer) ice cream before our return ride

Our ride back arrives

to North Weald arrived for our bus back to Epping Station.

London Transport Double-decker in the country green livery

Congratulations to the volunteers at the Epping and Ongar Railway for making the railway live again and bringing so much happiness to so many people. The railway will operate services on weekends throughout the summer and every day during the 2012 Olympic Games.

Photos copyright QueenMab/Shipscook Photographic. contact for commercial reuse

A Bit of Christmas Cheer at the Duke of Wellington High Beech

With Christmas Eve on a Saturday this year Cook’s extended family could enjoy a get together before the big day (with no cooking or washing up) at one of our favourite local pubs, The Duke of Wellington in High Beech in Essex. (see my previous post for more details

The Duke of Wellington, Epping Forest

We had booked our Christmas lunch seemingly months ahead, so it wasn’t surprising that most of us had forgotten what we had originally ordered when we turned up, no need to worry though as the friendly bar staff soon had us sorted with drinks and our starters. My crayfish and prawn salad overflowed the bowl while the pate, soup and baked Camonbert of my dining companions all went down a treat.

Next up was the roast meat. Whether it was rare or cremated the chef went out of his way to make sure that everyone got their meat exactly how they wanted it and there was more than enough veg to go with it, not to mention a scrumptious cranberry and apple sauce to go accompany the turkey. For desert there was a choice of homemade cheesecake, spotted dick with custard or a festive chocolate orange creme brulee, which was simply divine.

All things considered for seven people, top value at about £165 including many and various drinks.

OK people, enjoy the holidays whether you are of any faith or none.


A Brief Walk Epping Forest – time to try out my new camera.

I bought a new camera yesterday, so I thought let’s take it into Epping Forest and take some pictures of the wildlife. Admittedly I did leave it a bit late in the day to go, so the wildlife had mostly gone to bed. Aside from a couple of mallards and a moorhen, I did catch a fleeting glimpse of a muntjac, but other than that the whole the animal kingdom seemed to be tucked up safely for the night.

Even the Ducks were hiding in Epping Forest

I did, however find some interesting fungi and make friends with a Jack Russell.

Not boring they are Fungi

And there were some quite lovelyviews in the late afternoon light.

Epping Forest late afternoon

Buying the camera was an interesting experience. I had seen the particular model I wanted in a shop a while ago and naturally did a bit of internet research to see what sort of price I could expect to pay. The first retailer I went into was part of a very big national chain on London’s Oxford Street. It wasn’t long before one of the assistants homed in on me like a dog on heat, as I had a fiddled with the camera chained to the stand.

Having watched so many editions of Antiques Roadtrip over the past couple of weeks I knew exactly what to do.

‘What’s the best you can do on this?’ I asked

‘We will match any price sir’ he replied

So I gave him the price and he says

‘Was that an online price?’


‘Oh we don’t match internet prices’

‘But that’s a bit daft, because people will just buy things on the internet and your business will fail’

‘It’s company policy sir’

‘Don’t care, goodbye’

It was at this point I realised that it was pointless trying to haggle with a huge corporation intent on  commiting retail suicide and tried one of the independents on Tottenham Court Road. Here a similar tactic of asking him to match the internet price paid off. Although the dealer could not come down to meet the internet price, he was willing to throw in a nice chunky memory card to clinch the deal. I was happy with the price I paid and he was happy to have made a sale, just shows haggling is not just for the Grand Bazaar in Cairo.

Lunch at the Duke of Wellington and a Walk in Epping Forest

Living on the outskirts of Epping Forest we made the most of the late October sunshine this weekend, when we went for lunch at the Duke of Wellington at High Beach.

The Duke of Wellington, High Beach, Epping Forest

The pub was originally built in the middle of the 19th century, at a time when the Iron Duke used to visit his friend General Grosvenor, who lived nearby in the then sleepy little Essex town of Loughton.  Today it’s a very family friendly little boozer that is very popular with the local riding set, so there are plenty of folks in boots and jodhpurs propping up the bar. Drinks are reasonably priced for a pub the London area and its the only one I have come across where the house lager is Asahi.

Being quite hungry we ordered some starters, chicken sticks and baked cheese straws.

Baked Cheese Straws and Chicken Sticks

The chicken sticks were very tasty, but I thought the baked cheese straws were a bit bland. Perhaps cutting a bit of chilli through the cheese would have just given them a little extra bite, however they were very nicely presented. When it came to the mains I wish I’d plumped for the Merlot and steak pie that Nick had.

Superb Merlot and Steak Pie

It was a proper full crust pie, packed with meat and served with a mountain of chips,  crisp of shell with a fluffy heart. Instead I went for the cheeseburger,

Disappointing Cheeseburger

perhaps I have been spoilt recently, but what I am looking for in a pub or restaurant burger (and for the price) is an artisan bun, a homemade patty and certainly not a Kraft cheese slice. This fell on all three counts, but on the plus side, there was a lovely crispy salad and a mountain of chips. Mab’s spinach and ricotta cannelloni, on the other hand, was one of the best I have sampled in a long time.

Excellent Spinach and Ricotta Canneloni

The Powder Monkey had a very substantial tuna mayonnaise baguette, which the chef chopped red onions through by special request, so extra points there and more points for replacing the erroneous tuna mayo baked potato that had arrived first, without any fuss at all.

Chips by the bucket, does it get any better?

On balance for our £57, including drinks and a couple of extra buckets of those ‘oh so good’ chips, I thought it was pretty good value, the food was beautifully presented and I’d certainly eat there again, only next time I will avoid ordering a burger.

Hunger satisfied we went for a wander in the forest. Most of the trees around High Beach are beeches, but there are also a few oaks. As you can see they are still green of leaf, thanks to the unseasonal weather.

Mighty Oak and Beech Trees

There is also a lot of wildlife to be seen. We spotted dragonflies, magpies, jackdaws and loads of grey squirrels, while trying to avoid the numerous rabbit burrows underfoot.

Well Disguised Dragonfly

I have seen the odd deer in the forest, they are mostly a dark form of fallow deer and muntjac, but they are much shyer than the red deer of Richmond Park and I think on Saturday we were far too close to civilisation for them.

Sadly many of the trees are suffering from old age, pollution and disease,

Mighty Arboreal Mushrooms

but while that may be bad for the trees it’s good news for fungi and the wood boring beetles, and the woodpeckers who like to eat them.

High Beach is a fair walk through Epping Forest from Loughton Underground Station on the Central Line. Don’t get High Beach’s Duke of Wellington confused with the Duke of Wellington pub in Epping, they are completely different boozers.

Pizza at Unico, Epping

Despite having gorged ourselves on bargain calzone the night before at Epping’s Prezzo, by Saturday lunchtime we were sitting at a table in the town’s Unico Ristaurante. The fact that TFL had closed down most of the Central Line for yet more essential engineering work this weekend did limit our choice of where to eat, but Unico does do mighty fine pizza.

Unico Epping

Now while Prezzo has the bargain bucket prices (so long as you remember the vouchers), Unico is a local independently family run business and is therefore unique, so no predictable chain menu or bland uniform surroundings.

Everybody was quite hungry so we started with some garlic bread, as you can see we’d wolfed down half of it by the time I remembered to get the camera out of my coat.

Garlic bread

For mains I had a Quatro Stagione pizza with ham, salami, mozzarella and artichokes.

Quatro Stagione Pizza

This was very good indeed even if it didn’t look as exciting as Mab’s Gamberini al Diavola with its fat juicy langoustine tails.

Gamberini al diavola

Our guests enjoyed a traditional lasagna and penne al arabiata, both of which were judged to be excellent and despite the very generous portions we all had room to stuff down a pudding, although the only home-made item on the desert menu was the tiramisu.

Whats the damage?

Complete with a couple of glasses of wine, some fizzy water and coffees the bill was a meagre £79 for four people, not bad for a Saturday lunchtime.

Unico is a family orientated restaurant and there were at least three birthdays being celebrated while we were there complete with special cake and singing waiters.

Unico, 261 High Street Epping 01992 577776

Prezzo, Epping

We fancied a night out yesterday, but still being a bit skint after Christmas needed to find something on the budget side. Fortunately those nice people at the upmarket pizza and pasta joint Prezzo, had sent us some ‘All pizzas a fiver’ vouchers and as luck would have it there is a branch not far from us in Epping.

The restaurant is situated in the former Thatched House pub in Epping High Street. I think the building itself is about 200 years old and its transformation into a branch of Prezzo has been managed with some taste, nice wooden floors, art prints and so forth. To see the pub as it used to be take a look at the Dead Pubs website here:

Yes I know Prezzo is part of a chain, but the food is really very good and with the regular offers that we get e-mailed from them or downloaded from their Facebook page, it is surprisingly economical. On to the food.  We both knew what we wanted and ordered a calzone carne piccante each. The calzone is stuffed with meatballs, chicken, mushrooms, cheese and Bolognese sauce and really tasty. It’s also huge so we declined the offer of desert to waddle off to the car.

What’s the damage? I was pleasantly surprised to find that our vouchers were even valid on a Friday night and with a glass of the house red for me, a side dish of gratinated potatoes and a bottle of fizzy water the bill came to just over £20 for the two of us.

For info on menus and locations see: