18 March 2017
Instead of crossing Beaulieu Road and walking through Denny Inclosure, we headed off across White Moor towards Lyndhurst. This is a walk I’ve done many times on my own so, for once, I knew exactly where I was and where I was heading. This was more than could be said for CJ, who had never walked this trail before.
As we set off through the flowering gorse I told CJ about the Grenade School and Trench Mortar School that was set up on the heathland to our right in 1915. More than three hundred acres of land was used to train soldiers heading for the trenches in France and Belgium and the land is still dotted with unexploded ordnance to this day.
“There are big yellow warning signs telling people to keep off but, as the ponies can’t read and wander about on there anyway, I always expect to see them exploding.”
Of course he had to go and have a look at the signs and, once again, we fell behind the group.
We hurried along the undulating trail, glad of each clump of gorse buses to shelter us from the biting wind cutting across the ridge. In places blackened stumps showed where the gorse had been burned. CJ wondered if there’d been a fire or a lightning strike but I explained how the gorse is regularly burned to rejuvenate it.
“If they didn’t burn it it would probably take over the world,” I joked. “It soon grows back and the young shoots are tender and easier for the ponies to eat.”
The land dipped down to our right, a flat expanse of heath that will look beautiful in a few weeks when the heather begins to flower and the whole landscape is tinged with purple. From time to time, as the trail wound this way and that up and down the dips and furrows, we caught glimpses of the church spire and buildings of Lyndhurst.
“There are usually ponies and donkeys at Bolton’s Bench,” I told CJ, “and the remains of trenches where soldiers practiced for World War I.”
We never got to see the donkeys or the trenches though because we turned off before we reached Bolton’s Bench and strode across the heathland towards the distant trees. Soon the trail disappeared and the lower we got the wetter the grass beneath our feet became. Soon we were picking our way across patches of mud and skirting puddles.
One very large puddle, almost big enough to be called a pond, was too much for our labrador friend to resist. He dived in for a swim and had to be coaxed out again. Left to his own devices I think he’d have stayed there all day.
Ahead we could see a road but, by now, I’d lost my bearings again and wasn’t entirely sure if it was Southampton Road or not. When we came to a steep dip and a very familiar looking bridge though, I knew exactly where we were again. In previous years we’ve come to this bridge from the other side. It has always been muddy and today was no different. Usually some of the group brave the mud while others climb up to the road and cross. Usually I choose the mud but today I decided it looked a bit too squelchy.
Everyone else had the same idea. We all climbed up the steep bank and clambered over the style. Once we’d crossed the road and peered down at the quagmire we’d avoided below we all agreed it was the right descision, although footprints in the mud told us others had not been so wise.
We were now walking up Southampton Road towards Ashurst. Moments after I turned to CJ and said, “I wonder how Dad is getting on with his run?” a figure shot past us as speed. By the time I realised it was Commando he was disappearing into the distance. At least it answered my question though.
Not long after this we turned off the road and went through a gate. We were Now in another Inclosure but whether it was Dunces Arch, Ironshill or Lodgehill I couldn’t tell. Pete and Mike were too far ahead to ask so we just kept walking along the leaf littered trail.
The trees here were mostly broadleaved and bare, hence all the fallen leaves, and the trail was wide and dry. After a while we came to an area filled with white tubes, each containing a newly planted tree. What kind they were we couldn’t tell but my money was on pines. Something about the neat rows of white tubes put me in mind of the war cemeteries we visited in France years ago.
Nearby we passed piles of cut logs. This was almost certainly how the new trees would eventually end up. The first New Forest inclosures were fenced in the 1700’s to keep animals from damaging trees being grown for timber. The Wood was destined to build ships for the Royal Navy. These days the wood is used for other things such as renewable energy. Whatever the trees are destined for, pine is the quickest growing so it seems to be what is usually planted.
Around the next bend we came upon yet more newly planted trees, or at least the white tubes protecting them. Overshadowing them were mature pines, probably destined to be cut down and, in turn, replanted. The forest inside the inclosures is an ever changing landscape.
Now the forest seemed to close in on us as we left the bare trees and walked between tall pines with their dense canopies. Beside the trail a water filled ditch had our labrador friend dancing with joy. He leapt in and out of the water and even managed to find himself a stick to carry.
Now the trail stretched ahead of us, straight and wide. When I saw a gate ahead I knew we would soon be leaving the inclosure although, with all the twists and turns, I had no idea at all where we would be.
Just before we reached the gate Pete got out his camera and took a photo and I followed suit. CJ went through the gate before me, politely holding it open. I was so intent on grabbing the gate I wasn’t watching my feet. The ground under the gate was uneven, probably from so many people passing through, and there were large stones embedded in the dried out clay soil. Somehow I lost my footing and fell. It all seemed to happen in slow motion. There was a moment when I thought I could grab the gate and recover, then the certainty that I could not. My final thought, as I hurtled towards the ground, was to protect the fancy pants camera.
Somehow I managed to save the camera from hitting the deck but my left knee landed heavily on the hard stones. Right away I knew I’d done some damage. Feeling embarrassed by everyone fussing around me I picked my self straight back up, brushed myself down and kept on walking. My knee was throbbing though and I was sure I could feel blood trickling down my leg. Walking was painful but a glance at my Garmin told me there were still a couple of miles to walk. Trying not to hobble or cry I keept going.
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