The Care For A Walk fifteen mile hike in 2014 had begun with mud and fallen trees. There were blisters too, thankfully not on my feet. It was drizzly and wet, not the best weather for walking and we’d stopped to let some of the tail walkers catch up. At this point, we still had the hard miles ahead but everyone was still in surprisingly good spirits.
22 March 2014
Mostly when I walk I walk alone with just my own thoughts going through my head. Walking with other people means conversation and, with so many people and lots of stops to take pictures, I found myself speaking to several different people. The majority of the group live in the forest and have known each other for years but Liz, like me, is not a forest native and at the beginning of the walk I’d been talking to her. It’s probably a year since we last met face to face so we had a lot to catch up on. I learned a little of what it’s like to have just retired and about her son who is off to spend a couple of years working in Vietnam.
By the time I got to Matley Wood though I found myself further back in the group, mostly due to a photo stop to capture some flowering gorse, and I was walking with Pete who organises the walks. Pete walks these trails all the time and has lived in the forest all his life. We chatted about all the fallen trees, the deer he often sees when he’s out alone and the management of the forest.
“I think they’ve cut down too many trees,” he told me. “When I was a boy areas like this were so thick they were dark. Now there’s too much light and the deer don’t like it.”
Shortly after this things got a little muddy again but we were soon back on firm gravel paths in bright sunshine. The Labrador was once again dashing in and out of the water filled ditch running beside the path. For a little while, I was walking alone again, trying to avoid the spray when my doggy friend occasionally emerged from the water and shook himself dry.
On the other side of the woods we crossed Beaulieu Road and gathered for our first official stop up on Matley Ridge. The Beaulieu Road ponies couldn’t have been less interested in the long stream of walkers trailing past if they’d tried. For me that was quite a relief. In the past I’ve found them more interested in me than I’d really like, sometimes actually blocking my way. Much as I like to look at them I find them a bit scary when they’re too up close and personal.
Up on the ridge the wind cut through us like a knife, despite the bright sun. Still, the views were stunning, Lyndhurst in the distance, ponies chomping away on grass and heather, gorse bushes coming into flower, the tree line in the distance and blue sky and puffy white clouds overhead. I fished my chocolate milk out of my rucksack while, around me, others unpacked sandwiches and the like. The poor men in skirts struggled with the etiquette of sitting on the grass whilst keeping their modesty in tact and I think I heard the hiss of the odd beer can being opened.
The three mile loop back to Beaulieu Road opposite the ridge above White Moor was fairly uneventful. The mud and deep puddles we saw last year had disappeared, along with all the wet ponies. This year the rain held off and the paths were, for the most part, dry and firm, until we got back to Beaulieu Road that is. The dip down to the underpass was a deeply rutted quagmire. We picked our way through carefully. Looking down from above the ground, pockmarked with our water filled footprints, reminded me of an impressionist painting.
A little way up the road an RAC van and an ambulance were pulled up on the verge. Someone wondered aloud whether the RAC needed the ambulance or the ambulance the RAC. As we got closer it was obviously the former. The ambulance appeared to be having its wheel changed. A broken down ambulance isn’t something you see every day. We squeezed past single file.
The next obstacle we encountered was natural rather than mechanical. Trees had fallen across the trail. The first was too big to climb over and, although I considered trying to shimmy underneath, everyone seemed to be going round so I followed suit. This was fine until I got to the other side and found I had to jump a water filled ditch onto muddy ground. Somehow I managed it without slipping and ending in the ditch on my backside, but it was touch and go. A few yards further along two more trees, smaller this time, were also across the path. Had my legs been longer I’d probably have found it easier climbing over. As it was I made a fairly inelegant job of it and was caught on camera by Pete.
Making our way towards our mile eleven pub stop I noticed curious stems topped with knobbly orange brown heads, like a cross between bulrushes and asparagus, all along the path. These are the buds of giant horsetail, equisetum telmateia, and soon the ferny leaves will appear. The shoots are, apparently, edible although in large quantities they are toxic. The stems can be used for polishing metal or wood and an infusion makes a liquid feed which prevents rust and blackspot on roses. Of course I only found this out by Googling when I got home.
On the road we met some horses and their riders out for a Saturday trot. We all moved onto the verge to get out of their way. Not long after I saw the first of two lovely little thatched cottages and knew we were almost at the pub. Around me there were a few grumbles.
“I’m sure someone keeps moving that pub further along the road.”
I knew exactly what they meant. That stretch of road seems to get longer every year. Eventually the second cottage came into view with the pub sign just beyond it.
Everyone streamed gratefully into The Gamekeeper, peeling off rucksacks and coats as they went. Drinks were ordered, toilets thankfully used. Unlike last year when we huddled inside, dripping from the rain, most of us made for the garden this year. I sank onto a bench next to the pretty barrel water feature and sipped at a cool diet coke kindly supplied by Liz. My Labrador friend was a little too interested in the water, especially the ornamental carp swimming around the biggest barrel. His head was ducking in and out of the water so much he looked like he was bobbing for apples. I’m not sure what the poor fish made of it.
After I’d finished my drink and dispensed a few more blister plasters it was time to say goodbye to the rest of the group and set off on my own for the last four miles. There are three more pubs in that distance and the walk turns into a bit of a pub crawl at this stage. I’m not really a pub crawl kind of girl. This year I had some company on the first mile. Pete was on his way to the next pub to meet up with the five mile walking group and two young girls were impatient to be off again.
The last few miles are all along the road. They seem the longest miles of all to me. The verges may be lined with spring flowers not to mention quaint church halls, thatched cottages and pretty gardens but there’s nothing to beat walking through the forest with no traffic whizzing past.
Before long I was back at the start. The New Inn looked quite forlorn without a crowd of eager walkers outside. Still the rain never really materialised and I’m already looking forward to next year.
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