The New Forest covers 144 square miles of Hampshire. Even though I have probably only just passed the halfway stage in coverage, I thought it was worth taking two posts for it. I’m roughly dividing it into East and West by taking the lines of the major roads that go in a south westerly direction through it, and the road south fro Cadnam through Lyndhurst to Lymington. (You see why I go to the craft fairs there and at Romsey just to the north.) Not surprisingly, given my parent’s location (see Tuesday), I’ve been to most of the places selected today, and hardly visited the ones for next Tuesday, the ones in the East, although I do have some memories of them, as you’ll see.
I always understood the New Forest was laid down as a hunting preserve by Henry VIII, but both WTWB and Google Maps cite it as reserved by William the Conqueror for his own use and that of his knights. Whichever, the abundance of 500 year-old trees, especially oak and beech, lays a foundation for an astonishing array of wildlife. Despite the word ‘Forest’, there are broad tracts of heathland, both gorse and heather, plus rough scrub, plus bogs, marshes, plateaus, and Forest Commission plantations (generally spruce). In some parts there is local farming on a small scale (mainly around the edges). There are large tracts still of ancient woodland, some of which is fenced off from deer, and some of which contain deer enclosures.
On the west side is a sharp decline down to the Avon Valley, but from the high ground we’ll be on today it generally slopes southeast down towards the Solent, which joins the English Channel just beyond Yarmouth (which is on the Isle of Wight).
Hale Purlieu, Hampton Ridge and Ashley Walk
A good walker would do these all in a day. I’ve only ever done one at a time.
Hale Purlieu is a favourite walk from my brother’s house, just outside the forest boundary, in the vicinity of Morgan’s Vale. The village of Hale is directly over the park boundary and footpaths and small back road lead you onto the great plain that stretches across the northern part of the forest, across to the road going down to Fordingbridge.
Once you cross that Fordingbridge road, you’re on Ashley Walk, and it’s where Rebecca and I went on our short visit before finishing with a pub meal at the Green Dragon at Brook. This was fifty-one weeks ago! it seems much longer – a lot has happened in one year.
Hampton Ridge is the high ground beyond, which tends off towards Fritham and Eyeworth in the east. It’s a well known place for watching raptors. There are a wide variety in the Forest, and we even get passing Sea Eagles since their reintroduction to the Isle of Wight. And donkeys are a common sight, along with the New Forest ponies and cattle. Thanks for the photo, Rebecca!
The name is easily confused with Hamptworth, which is a wooded area to the north of the Lover-Brook road. Officially outside the forest boundary, but is being investigated as a new reserve. I very much want to go there to spot a Redstart. These far more common that I imagine, and I don’t know how to identify its calls and song. Those are my main way of spotting birds so I can get my binoculars on them.
Fritham, Eyeworth Pond, and Ocknell Plain
I’m covering a huge amount of ground in a paragraph or two here. Fritham is a lovely village, and Eyeworth Pond (as it is now called) was also known as Fritham Pond and Irons Well. It has a good reputation for birdlife despite being a popular walk for families.
Ocknell Plain covers several small ponds and forest enclosures as well as heath habitat. It’s a favourite orienteering area too. And by now you can see the fast cars and trucks on the dual carriageway of the A31 down to Bournemouth. You can turn off or get on in the direction of traffic at Stoney Cross, but the next access is at Picket Post, a couple of miles before Ringwood. A couple of roads go over or under it, and there are are also tunnels of various sizes for ponies, badgers, deer, foxes etc.
South of the A31: Acres Down, Bolderwood and more
There are acres of gorse heathland either side of the road at this stage, and the Dartford Warbler survey carried out this year confirmed many pairs breeding, and hopefully some of them successfully. My survey square was on the south side, near the Canadian War Memorial.
This area is called Acres Down at its high point, and the forests descend towards the upper reaches of the Highland Water, which eventually drains into the Lymington River. Bolderwood Enclosure is well known for its beautiful trees (and Ornamental Drive), and for birds (I saw a cuckoo there this year). The woodland continues towards the Rhinefield House estate and its lovingly planted many years ago Tall Trees Walk.
If you are travelling by road you may get tangled up in Lyndhurst’s one-way system at this point. I refer you to my Great Cake Heist for a more autumnal fantasy view.
It always seems to me that Lyndhurst is the heart of the woodland part of the Forest, but there is ample plain, heath and woodland between it and Burley to the southwest, and Brockenhurst and Lymington to the south.
One of my favourite parts is the high part of Hincheslea on the other side of Brockenhurst (just about where that elbow in the road heads off to the A35). There are several orienteering areas there I have tackled with various degrees of waterlogging and success, but it’s also full of wildlife.
Keyhaven and Lymington
And so we move down to the coast. I discovered from WWTB that I have not yet tackled Keyhaven, but the Lymington part of the reserve. There is far more for me to see. I’ll take you back to my Jemima’s Jaunt in November, so if you read it then, here’s a reminder, if not, go and check it out!
Other Wild Things since the last post
- Nothing much extra! I was wondering why I hadn’t seen more butterflies out in the hot sunshine, then realised, because I’m inside keeping cool with curtains closed until about 7 pm!