The New Forest covers 144 square miles of Hampshire, and this is my second post on it for #30Days Wild this year. 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 from Cadnam through Lyndhurst to Lymington. The map of the area is at the bottom of the page, in case you need to refer to it.
Beaulieu Road Station and Hatchet Pond
Sadly, the map does not show the railway line, but it comes lopping round the top of Southampton Water, through Totton, down to Ashurst, then crosses the Lyndhurst to Beaulieu (pronounced Bewley) road with a stop at… Beaulieu Road, on its way to Brockenhurst. It then crosses the New Forest to Christchurch, Bournemouth, Poole, and eventually Weymouth, except fot the branch that goes down to the ferry terminal in Lymington.
A station in the middle of nowhere does not sound promising, does it? But this ‘nowhere’ is the New Forest, and it’s one of the wildest spots you can imagine. This is the description in Where to Watch Birds…
majestic forests and woodland form a backcloth to the extensive bogs and heaths of Bishop’s Dyke….Betton, 2023, p217
He goes on to enthuse about the variety of habitats, the richness of the wildlife, big and small, and the usefulness of the railway line in providing vantage points!
There are several nice circular walks listed, which should give the birdwatcher ample opportunity to spot a wide range of raptors, plus the specific heathland birds that are almost restricted to this areea, and the northern uplands of Britain.
I have to confess that the word ‘bog’ puts me off a little, but I’m sure the walks are pretty dry, especially now, as we have a general wildlfire watch in place after all this hot and dry weather. But apart from irrtating biting insects, bogs often contain plenty of dragonfly habitat. Another place I must visit.
If you’re not travelling by train, you could drive down to Beaulieu and set off on the Brockenhurst road to Hatchet Pond.
In the north-east corner of the heath lies Hatchet Pond, a 200-yr-old lake formed from gravel pits and marl workingsBetton 2023, p220
Following that you have a description of extensive heath and woodland that by now much be familiar, but the Pond tends to attract breeding waders in the spring and summer. And the dragonfly population must be good as the area is also well-knowon for attracting hobbies.
If you’ve never seen a hobby, you’re missing out. It’s a small falcon, but its dark colouring and scythe-like wings makes it easily mistakable for a very large swift. And its trick is to catch dragonflies in midair and eat them from its claws while still flying! If you think I’m exaggerating, I identified a swift leaving a hedge when I was on a survey in Norfolk once, on the basis of my exclamation ‘that’s a large swift’, before realising what I was looking at. And I spent a lovely afternoon at Strumpshaw Fen watching them hunting dragonflies along the hedgerow at the edge of one of the fens.
Beaulieu Estuary, Lepe and Exbury
Taking yourself back to Beaulieu and down the south road to the coast you get glimpses of the lovely river (worth taking a boat trip on), on the way through a well-wooded area to Exbury Gardens, which my parents visited a lot, and should not be missed especially in rhododendron season! Further south to Lepe, one of Hampshire Council’s top reserves, and I think the only one actually in the New Forest. I keep meaning to go there.
I looked out as we came out of lockdown, and realised – everyone was on the road to go there! It is popular, the roads are slow, but it is worth getting there. There is plenty to do, both for families and for birdwatchers and solo walkers who like to avoid crowds if you go early enough in the day!
Calshot and Fawley
Then as you return (it seems such a long road beside Southampton Water), from Blackfield you can go down to Calshot. Apart from more scrapes and reedbeds for waders, Calshot was home to the flying boats , including the Sunderlands (wartime successors to the ones my Dad worked with) that came home after war. It is largely due to this and people’s memories, that I sell so many copies of White Water Landings at my craft fairs!
Calshot is next to Fawley, which has been a fixture of the area for so long, but is now being dismantled. I’m not sure how I feel about an oil terminal being redeveloped, what with contaminated land and sea level rise in the offing, but there is a plan for a new nature reserve between the housing and the coast. I learned about this from WTWB – congratulations to Keith Betton for doing such an excellent job of his research.
My brother’s second home in the area was at Blackfield, so probably visited when I was around 16, well before it was restored. We took a long walk along the field path to the edge of the estuary, then walked up to Eling Tide Mill. I remember it being surrounded by open fields, and reedbeds. And I was already fascinated by tidal power. The tide comes in, the wheels in the mill go one way,. The tide goes out, they reverse the blocks, and the wheels turn the millstones the same way, despite going the other way. And I missed looking at Woodbridge Tide Mill when I was up in Norfolk..
I was thinking of trying to sketch it from memory, but this will probably do, (thanks to the Society for Preservation of Anceint Buildings.)
A few months ago I was in the area, so I followed the signposts (driving), passed a small marina, and eventually ended up back in the streets of Totton. Duh?
Yes, things have changed. The mill is preserved, there is a ‘Mill experience’ to enjoy, and flour to buy… But the whole area is massively developed, no reedbeds in sight, almost….
But Betton does encourage us to go and birdwatch on Eling Great Marsh, which, from his diagram, is part of the route we used so many years ago to approach a mill in the middle of nowhere. That walk is now listed as the Eling Mill walk, complete with boardwalks and fencing to stop people straying into the reedbeds… Maybe the pylons were there then.
But not the rest…
No wonder I missed it. I was probably concentrating on the very narrow bend in the road at the left hand end!
Other Wild Things since the last post
- I have seen quite a few bumblebees over the weekend, mainly because I’ve been out at either 6 am or 8 pm to plant cucumbers and lettuces in my veg patch. I had to rescue one from the wood-burning stove, too. The fire was not alight (the bee came down the chimney), but the bee was covered in ash!
- And I was in Lymington for a craft fair on Saturday, so watched out for some nice birds… like buzzard, and a grey heron flying over.