Last Sunday morning, determined to get out and get some fresh air, Andy and I decided on a bike ride in The New Forest. It was very cold, but we gamely piled on the layers, uncovered our bikes from their winter storage and peddled off across the heath. I’m never quite sure where we are going, or even where we will finish up on one of these rides, but Andy follows his nose and we always see wildlife we haven’t seen before, and explore new paths and bridleways.
We are very lucky that we live only about 5 minutes away from the heart of this beautiful area and we enjoy a bike ride through the Forest regularly, though we tend to go when it’s warm and sunny (and usually end up at one of the lovely Forest pubs).
I admit it wasn’t quite as wintry as this time last year when we were engulfed in snow, but it certainly felt cold enough to snow this morning! I took these photos last year.
The New Forest National Park is breathtakingly beautiful, even in winter when everything is quite barren. The seasonal landscape changes are stunning and the animals that roam free are nearly always on view. It is apparently one of the few remaining large pieces of unenclosed forest and heathland in the South of England and its vast area covers parts of Hampshire and Wiltshire and Dorset.
Famous for its ponies and donkeys, hardy little creatures who are often seen on the roadside, The Forest is a major tourist attraction with plenty of caravan parks, camping areas and delightful little hotels and B&B’s. There is scope for every budget! Please be careful though if you are driving in the Forest, as it is not unusual to round a corner and come across three or four animals standing in the middle of the road.
The New Forest was given the accolade of a Royal Forest by William The Conqueror in the eleventh century. The royal sport of hunting was very popular, and the Forest with its abundance of deer, was the perfect hunting ground. When William I died in 1087, his son William Rufus (William II) succeeded him. (Rufus being Latin for red, because of his red hair). William was unpopular and disliked by his peers and countrymen alike, and at the time of his death, was surrounded by a very uneasy nobility, who may or may not have been looking to replace him.
On 2 August 1100, William Rufus was hunting as usual in the Forest, and somehow became separated from the rest of the party with whom he had ridden out. Alone with Sir Walter Tyrrell, he spotted a deer, but it was Tyrrell who fired an arrow at the animal. The arrow hit a tree, ricocheted and hit Rufus in his chest killing him instantly. Was it murder or a tragic accident? Historians are still debating this nearly a thousand years later. If you are able to take a trip to the spot, have a look at the famous stone that marks the place in the clearing where Rufus died and then pop into the Sir Walter Tyrrell Pub with its roaring fires and home cooked menus and consider this age old murder mystery. Interestingly, William’s older brother had also died in a hunting accident in The New Forest some years earlier….
As Andy and I cycled, we passed a lot of very friendly dog walkers, joggers, horse riders, power walkers and amblers. All ages and levels of fitness were out enjoying the pale winter sunshine! It’s great to see the area is so popular and whether you are looking to get fit, exercise your dog, or go for a easy stroll, the experience of being in the Forest is uplifting and exhilarating.
At Woodlands, near Netley Marsh, we stopped for a coffee at Spot In The Woods which is an absolute little gem of a boutique hotel and cafe with a delightful shop and delicatessen attached. You can buy everything from scrumptious Craft Beers and cheeses to gorgeous homewares. In the homely cafe we treated ourselves to Lattes and Greek Yogurt Granola with figs and apricots …but they cater for every taste and we saw traditional English breakfasts being served and they offer fully vegan choices. In the summer there is a beautiful terrace to sit out on and enjoy a glass of wine … and we will be definitely be back to do just that when the weather is warmer.
Further on, we stopped at Lyndhurst, a very scenic tourist spot, hugely popular and busy in the summer. (And an ice cream heaven!) No crowds this time of year, but the little antique and jewellery shops are open for business as are the cafes, tearooms and pubs. Lyndhurst is a large village which is the administrative capital of the area (New Forest District Council has its home here) and it is a great base for exploring the rest of the Forest.
According to legend, Lyndhurst has even been the site of a dragon slaying! A local dragon, who lived at Burley, (another beautiful Forest village) was flying around being a menace and stealing milk (!) An enthusiastic Knight, (Sir Berkeley) was employed to slay the monster. The fight was a great one, played out over many days, but the Knight won the day by covering his armour in glass. As the dragon died, it’s corpse turned into the hill at Lyndhurst known as Bolton’s Bench, and the Knight, exhausted by his endeavours, also expired a month later, his body becoming the Yew Tree at the top of the hill. The hill is certainly a well known landmark and is very popular (when we have snow) with intrepid sledders.
Writing this post, I don’t feel that I am doing the area in which I live enough justice! If you are ever in this area, please visit The New Forest, it’s truly a magical and ancient environment and it’s very easy to feel at one with nature again, and put worries and life’s problems back into perspective. I will post about our Forest trips again in the Spring, Summer and Autumn and hope to capture some more of the majesty and spectacular scenery that is living on our doorstep. ❤️ 🌳