For too long, the New Forest has remained a bit of mystery to me. I’ve ridden a few of the country lanes, run around the pretty bit by Beaulieu, but never properly explored the wide open heaths or the areas of broadleaf woodlands. We’re putting it right, with many trips Up Mainland bookended by quick walks or runs on the way to and from the ferry port.
Saturday morning saw the three of us traverse the Island under cover of darkness, the sun rising as we crossed the water towards Lymington in chill winds. We made for the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive, stopping before the main car park and tramping off into the woods. The sun was still below the level of the canopy, strips of light and dark across the heavily carpeted floor. Emerging into a clearing, we spotted a stag from afar. Most deer are nervous of humans, choosing to remain out of sight, but this fellow took his time to disappear between the trees, stopping to check our progress as he went.
Looking down, the last of the golden hour light illuminated to dewy webs and grassy hillocks. Unidentified birds went about their business. We took the opportunity of familiarising the dog with horses thanks to the incredibly placid inhabitants of the forest. We came across deer twice more, reverential silence replacing our companionable chatter in an instant. I couldn’t work out and have yet to discover why one of them was wearing a wig.
We ran on the return journey on Monday morning, and not until the sun was well risen. This time we stopped just before Lyndhurst, on the side of the busy main road. It didn’t take long for the wood to dampen the sounds of the cars and peace soon reigned. In the spirit of everyday adventures, we didn’t take a map, but nosed out a loop around an ancient hill fort. We followed a clear track across open land and round the base of the hill. The ponies have better camouflage in the autumn, hidden amongst the browns of the bracken and leaves.
The second half of the loop took us back underwood. The ground gave way to the wetness of the season, shoes and socks soon wet. We encountered a stream deeply-cut into the earth. Our wayward route-finding required us to cross a couple of times, the jumping and leaping adding to the joy of the trail.
These were only two small pockets, but we know the forest a little bit better now, and it’s always fun to take the ferry with mud-splattered legs as well.