If any of you have been following my 'Above the Underground' challenge on my other blog here you will know that I have completed, the first of the Underground lines I am researching. It became more and more difficult the further from Central London that I travelled as there was less interesting places to discover. It took me a year to complete just that one line so this challenge is going to keep me busy for many years to come.
Although this series of posts is all about the places I find above the Underground, I think it is relevant to mention the people I encounter if they are part of the fabric of the area. I have now started travelling and researching the Central line which takes you from the Essex countryside through the centre of London and out to the West of London. This led to my meeting this gentleman as I was enjoying the serenity of a beautiful country churchyard. My first impressions were of a homeless, down and out whose downfall was probably caused by drink/drugs. However, he engaged in polite conversation, telling me a little bit about the church and asking if I was familiar with this area. He showed a keen interest in my reasons for visiting the church. As I was eager to see a little of Epping Forest, whilst so close, I asked if he could direct me to the nearest main pathway. He offered to show me some of the Forest and if I had time a place called Copped Hall.
I know at this point many of you must be thinking that I would be mad to even consider going off into an unfamiliar, very large forest with a vagrant, about whom, I knew nothing. But, I have always relied on my instincts. If you recall from a previous post I was in a similar situation in Kensal Green cemetery that had me turning on my heels and leaving the cemetery as quickly as possible. I had a good feeling about C and so spent the next four hours in his company.
I was curious to know how he had ended up living in a tent in the Forest. He went on to explain that he had Bipolar Disorder which led to the break up of his marriage and ultimately being disowned by his son. He found it more and more difficult to cope. Feeling that life had nothing to offer he took a trip to the Forest with the idea of ending his life. Walking round the Forest on that first day and night he felt calmer than he had ever felt. Sleeping out for a couple of nights led to another couple until he bought himself a tent and sleeping bag and never looked back. He no longer feels the need for medication and feels able to cope with his mental health problems.
He related many instances of the kindness of the local community. C is well known amongst the dog walkers in the Forest who often stop for a chat or leave him items that he might find useful. As he has worked all his life he is in receipt of a pension and is in no need of charity. We returned from our walk to Copped Hall via a main pathway and a number of people stopped to say 'Hello'. He now suffers from arthritis and doesn't know how much longer he will be able to bend down to get in and out of the tent and as a consequence is unsure of his future but I felt the people in the village will give him the support he may need.