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I Went Wild and it was Wet and Wonderful! (The New Forest)
New Forest (Hampshire)
Member Name: flutel
New Forest (Hampshire)
Advantages: Back to nature if you want it.
The New Forest is an ancient and unchanged landscape. In 1079, William the Conquorer made sure the area was available to him for his hunting and fishing exploits and called it the 'Nova Forista'. Over 1000 years ago, a system was developed to manage the woodland and heathland (that is the 'New Forest') using Verderers, (judges), Agisters (stockmen), and Commoners (landusers)- of the forest. This is still the system that keeps the forest functioning. For example, the ponies of the New Forest live as if they are wild but they are each owned by a local person (Commoner). Each pony carries a brand mark which shows who 'owns' it. For each pony that they own, Commoners pay a small fee each year called the 'marking fee' which goes towards the employment of 'Agisters' who check up on the health of each pony regularly. Look carefully at the ponies' tails because they each have a set pattern which the Agister cuts into the tail to prove it has had a health check. There are four Agisters and a Head Agister who each cover a different area of the New Forest. Each of the Agisters has a unique pattern that is chopped into the tail.
In this review, I will endeavor to give a flavour of some of the places we visited - as it is impossible to go everywhere as the place is so big. The forest is very well signposted and it is easy to find all of the different sites using a big colourful map that you can find in the helpful free newspaper, 'New Forest Focus' from the Forestry Commission and the New Forest National Park Authority. This paper is widely available at campsites, car parks, shops and other attractions. I have put car parking information in - but many of the places are easily accessible by bike. A cycle path map is an essential item of kit. They cost £2 from many local stores all over the New Forest.
We stayed just outside Brockenhurst - which is a bit of a central hub - having a railway station and being used as a place where many walks and cycle routes start. I thought that this was an excellent little town having one or two pubs, a shop selling camping equipment, a cycle shop, a great chip shop, a French Patisserie, teashops, bistro, bookshop and a busy Tesco Express. In fact, every facility that made for a comfortable stay. I particularly enjoyed ponies nibbling the grass verges in the town centre outside the chip shop.
Blackwater (free car park and ice cream kiosk here)
The New Forest comprises of deciduous and pine trees in the densely forested areas. Blackwater has a particularly high concentration of huge Douglas firs and redwoods. There are walks and cycle paths that take you past particularly massive trees. There is also the Blackwater Arboretum which is a wonderfull fenced off area where you can wander among trees of the world (helpfully named). This area is a delight to the senses as some of the trees are fragrant, the variety of trees is a visual wonder and the fairly small area has been laid out with great care and a Garden of Eden eye. We spent a very fine lunchtime eating a picnic on a rug laid on the softest grass in the dappled light of a vibrant small oak. Small sculptures were dotted about the place, it was very quiet apart from birds, a rabbit hopped here and there. I truly thought it was one of the loveliest 'gardens' that I have ever been in; you could see it had been put together with great vision but with love and simplicity. I did not want to leave!
The space could also be used by disabled people as there was a flat gravel path all around the arboretum.
Rufus Stone (Free car park)
This is an area of woodland and heathland with the claim to fame of having the spot where King William II was killed with an arrow by Sir Walter Tyrell (aimed at a deer but which glanced off a tree and ended up in the King's heart). You can visit the small monument carved with inscriptions that were on the original tree telling how the King was taken away by a cart etc. We used this as a starting point for a 6 mile walk (from a great book called 'Mike Power's Walks In The New Forest' available in local bookstores and some village shops). This walk took us past delightful rural dwellings, friendly ponies (one came very close and nuzzled all up my arm), dense forest (where there was a glimpse of a shy herd of deer), the village of Minstead with a busy local pub and funny local shop which also sold cups of coffee and huge slabs of cake for a bargain price of £2. The dense forest was particularly noteworthy because we got lost in it. I answered a call of nature behind a tree and left the guide book there, only realizing it was gone a short while after we had walked for a bit. This necessitated a frantic search which lasted around an hour! This prompts me to comment on the markings of the public footpaths - they are few and far between - so great care should be taken when walking in the forest. We also met a couple of other walkers who helped us gain direction with their ordinance survey map and proper compass. They too admitted they had been lost in the forest before and it was a frightening experience. It is! Ordinance survey is a good idea. I should have been less tight and bought one.
Lepe Country Park (Paying car park but not too expensive)
A place of pine fringed cliffs and stunning views across the Solent to the Isle of Wight. You can do some cycling further into the park but the strong wind precluded this when we were there. There is a great walk (that can also be accessed by those with a disability) along the sea front if you wish to blow the cobwebs away. A local told me that the wind is stronger here because of the 'tunnel effect' created between the coast and the Isle of Wight. The walk takes you to the very interesting D Day remains on the beach a little further up. You can view for yourself how the beach was prepared for sending thousands of troops over to France. The wrecked evidence is clear to see and there is a handy key on a notice board which tells you which bit of wreckage did what. You really could picture the place packed with armoured vehicles all waiting to board the caciques in readiness for the horrific bloodbath that awaited them across the water. I wondered why the messed-up beach had not been dismantled many years ago - the grey concrete everywhere is an ugly (if interesting) eyesore. Was left because of a British pessimism - two world wars had been fought? Maybe there would be another?
There are toilet facilities and a café and kiosk at the car park on the front.
This is the area with the campsite that we stayed at. It is notable because at the back of the site, on the cycle paths is the old Beaulieu airfield - operated in WWII. I wondered why there was so much grey concrete on the heathland but did a bit of research and put another piece in the war history jigsaw.
Burley (paying car park - I parked in a café car park)
This village is like the Blackpool of the New Forest - and I don't think the two fit that well together. It is full of tacky, pseudo magical type shops and tea rooms and jam-packed with tourists and cars snaking through the tiny main road. There was an incident with some ponies - with impatient drivers trying to move the ponies in the road on. They became very confused and distressed. I found it very stressful to watch. I regretted stopping here and we moved on swiftly.
Beaulieu (cheap car park but you can park for free on the village main street)
This is a lovely village which is famous for its abbey ruins and the National Motor Museum (sorry - didn't visit it - not my bag). It had quite a few visitors but was not tacky. There was an amazing old-fashioned sweet shop that sold every sweet you could remember as a child. The queue in this shop was large with one frantic assistant also operating the ice cream sales from a window in the same shop. There is also a shop that sells some souvenir gifts and groceries and a Garden Centre. The teashop looked popular and had outdoor seating.
Bucklers Hard (free car parking but we walked from Beaulieu)
This is a funny little village (2 miles from Beaulieu) with an extraordinary name. It was a formal naval ship-building yard in the 18th century. Nelson's fleet was built here in the Beaulieu River. It comprises of a single street leading down to the wide riverside. There is a lovely pub at the end of the street but most of the houses belong to the maritime museum which has many room displays of typical households in the 18th Century (I enjoy this kind of thing). You can wander in and picture yourself there. Admission is £5.90 for adults with small concessions for children and OAPs. I think it was a little pricey. There is also a little functioning chapel in the village.
A great point is the village green where you can sit and enjoy your picnic with great views and some noisy seagull friends.
We used our walk book and did another walk to this village along the riverside. It was well signposted and we did not really need the book. I think wheelchair users would find the walk difficult.
Moors Valley Country Park and Forest (ridiculously expensive car park)
This was another place I regretted going and we left 20 mins after arriving. Unless you stuff your people carrier full of kids who will have fun playing on the giant play trail (and lots were doing) don't bother. This is principally a place for little kids despite it having a golf course. The problem is that there are so many much nicer places to go for free in the New Forest that this place seemed dull and a lot less beautiful in comparison. It is however, accessible to those with disabilities.
Mudeford (car parking approx £1 an hour)
This is a lovely sea side resort that gives you a real old-fashioned sea side flavor. It is also home to the most expensive beach hut ever bought (£135000)! There are lots of basic beach huts along the front with people enjoying their day in them (tea brewing, toy fishing nets, towels, beach chairs, clutter). I was jealous. The beach is a mix of sand and pebbles - so better for beach chairs). There is a café, a coffee and tea kiosk and the best beachside shop I have ever been in with food, books, mags, beachwear and even some vegan snacks! I think that this is because the place is principally a middle class resort and this shop that catered to this market was doing a roaring trade. The public toilets are new and clean. I gasped in shock at their pristine appearance as I entered them.
An important thing to note is the possibility of weaver fish lurking in the sand waiting for people to tread on their poisonous spines. The lifeguards had a scoreboard up on their hut - it said 'weaver fish 2 - people 0'. It is advisable to wear jelly shoes in the water (which was surprisingly warm - people were swimming).
There is a lot to see and do in the New Forest but the best fun is to be had by your own making. Of course, you could take the 'New Forest Tour Bus' around the area which costs £9 per adult, £4.50 per child (under 5's and OAPs free), £22.50 for a group of 5. But I'm not sure that is the way you would have the best (and the best value) fun. You have to get out the bike or the walking boots and explore, making your own adventure. This is where the New Forest comes into its own. It is a natural place where you can paddle in streams, play in trees, spot deer and be moved by the simple pleasures of watching ponies and foals living in their friendship/family groups. In the driving rain, we walked in the forest, in the sunshine we lazed on the grass or sand, in the long evenings we cycled for miles but it never seemed that far.
It is also a place that can be enjoyed by people with limited mobility. With a bit of local research in the widely available local literature, the forest can be opened up to all.
I wanted a holiday where I could return to natural, simple (childlike) pleasures - and found delight, fun and excitement everywhere.
Summary: Your own adventures are the best!
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