Starting the day with a seven thirty pub visit is not a normal Saturday morning for me. In 2014 this was exactly what I was doing though because it was the day of the annual Care For A Walk hike through the New Forest in aid of MacMillan Cancer Care. Of course there was no actual alcohol involved, at least not for me, although some of the more hard core in the group did have pints of beer. Ok, so I did have a bacon sandwich but I didn’t have the coffee on offer, mainly because there are only so many trees in the forest to pee behind.
We set off at about eight, suitably fuelled, after a quick photo shoot. It was a chilly start, hats and gloves were being pulled on as we marched along Main Road towards Deepleap Lane. I felt a little sorry for the two male members of the group who had decided to raise more money by walking in drag, especially the one in the mini skirt and tights, at least their wigs were probably keeping their heads warm. The weather forecast wasn’t exactly confidence inspiring, showers followed by a thunderstorm are not the ideal conditions for a New Forest hike and there were some pretty black looking clouds to our left. The pouring rain last night had me slightly concerned about mud too, especially after last year’s wet and boggy walk.
When we turned off Dearleap Lane into the forest things were surprisingly dry, especially considering the wet winter we’ve had. Usually when I’m walking in The New Forest there is a certain amount of getting lost but on these walks I don’t have to worry about that. Pete, who organises the walks, knows the forest like the back of his hand so I was fairly confident we would be fine even if the downpour last night caused problems further on. We made it to the first gate without puddles or mud which was a better start than I’d expected.
Off the path it was a different story. The woods were dotted with large puddles and the damp conditions meant everything was covered with a thick coat of moss like a deep green velvet blanket. The remnants of the heavy rain could be seen on every bare brach and twig, a beautiful dusting of shimmering water droplets catching the morning light and turning into rainbow colours. It was breathtakingly beautiful.
Further along there were a few puddles beside the path but there was blue sky to our right and we were heading that way. Maybe, if we were very lucky, we might out walk the showers. Up on the high ground a bitter wind was blowing over us and the large, pond like, puddles near the tree line told me we might find the going tough later, especially as we came towards Matley Woods.
A little later we saw our first ponies, grazing in the wet fields. Not long after, the poor ponies were actually standing around in the mud and water. I felt sorry for them. If this kind of weather continues they may start to evolve with webbed feet. They didn’t pay us much attention as we all straggled past them.
When we came to the open moors things started to get wetter. We had two dogs with our group a black Labrador and a Staffordshire Bull Terrier (at least I think, I’m not all that good at dog breeds). They were both bounding about, back and forth putting in double the miles of their human companions. When we came to a huge lake of a puddle the Labrador, who had been dashing into every little stream up until then, went berserk. He ran into the lake, half ran, half swan across, dashed out again, ran a ring around us all then gambolled back into the lake. By the time we’d passed it he’d done this three or four times with such joy I couldn’t help smiling. Oh to be as easily pleased as a dog, and to have that much energy.
Last year we’d crossed the moors by hopping from one dry island to the next but the approach to Matley Woods was where the going go seriously muddy. Then it was drizzly and the mud was so thick one of the group almost lost a shoe. There were pockets of mud and big puddles this year but nothing we couldn’t step over fairly easily for the most part. It was really a case of each person finding the best route they could. On the final stretch there was no getting away from it we squelched through the mud but it wasn’t deep or too slippery and we were soon back in the woods.
As I’ve seen fallen trees on most of my recent walks I was surprised not to have seen many at all up until this point. In Matley Wood the real damage to the forest started to become apparent. Lots of really large old trees were lying about, huge muddy root balls sticking up into the air. The soil here is quite clayey, meaning the water doesn’t drain very well. On these rutted paths we came to the first really slippery mud. There were a few moments of madly flapping arms and sliding feet where I thought I was going to end up on my bum in the mud. Somehow I managed to stay upright but it was touch and go.
Eventually we reached drier ground but everywhere I looked there seemed to be more trees down. One tree had not quite managed to fall, another tree had caught it and the two leaned together like lovers embracing. At the campsite we had our first stop. This was more to let the tail end of the group catch up than to rest although one of the young girls had developed a blister. I fished a blister plaster out of my little tin and gave it to her. Sometimes I can be quite useful.
Did we all make it to the end in one piece? You’ll have to wait to find out.
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