Loughton Camp is one of the most magical places in Epping Forest. One of two Iron Age earthworks in Epping Forest (the other, Ambresbury Banks, is situated a little further North), it is thought to have been built around 500BC and used by the neighbouring Trinovantes and Catuvellauni tribes to hold livestock and as a place of refuge. By the time Julius Caesar led the Roman invasion in 55AD, the Trinovantes were considered the most powerful Celtic tribe in Britain, teaming up with Boudica and the Iceni during the uprising against the Romans in 61AD. Although excavations have proven Romans were in the forest, the legend that Ambresbury Banks was the location of Boudica’s defeat has been dismissed by historians.
Loughton Camp is hidden off the beaten track in Great Monk Wood, on the edge of a high ridge approximately 110m above sea level. It is now densely wooded, but the 10 acre camp would have been built there as a great viewpoint. The banks would have been 3 metres high and the ditches surrounding them 3 metres deep. Image #1 shows how a hillfort built around the same time might have looked.
Fast-forward over 2000 years and Loughton Camp is also said to be where highwayman Dick Turpin had his hideout in the 1700s. Such was Turpin’s notoriety in the area that many Loughton residents built ‘Turpin Traps’, wooden flaps at the top of the stairs that wedged between floor and ceiling keeping them and their valuables safe - a sort of C18th panic room! Nowaways the forest is thick with trees right up to the edge of the roads, but back then they were kept clear to prevent robbers like Turpin from lying in wait to ambush unsuspecting carriages.
I find it fascinating to think of all the people who have stood on the site of this camp before me, their stories embedded in the spirit of the place. Even in the short period of 130 years the area has changed. See in photo #3 how open the space is, with lots of fox and rabbit burrows, versus in #4 how tall hornbeams surround the area cathedral-like today.
If you want to go and explore for yourself, here are the directions on the Epping Forest website