This is an ancient place, a remnant of old England, where ponies stop the traffic and donkeys look into shop windows, while pigs rummage in the woods in the acorn season. Things are different here! Past traditions still flourish, ‘commoners’ graze their animals overseen by a court of ‘verderers’ assisted by ‘agisters’! After 900 years, though still owned by the Crown, it’s now an open National Park.
‘The best landscapes draw you back again and again, because however many times you look at the same view, it never is the same….. A landscape is both ephemeral and unchanging, particular yet timeless”. (Julian Calverley)
We never tire of coming to the New Forest. It is always a joy to leave the rush of the motorway to enter into a different kind of England, large parts of it unfenced and gloriously unkempt, where animals have the right- of-way. Life here goes at a more natural pace than elsewhere, keeping in step with the seasons as they change. Passing though the landscape there are woods on all sides, Every now and then scattered ‘lawns’, looking like bowling greens, appear amidst the clearings. Ancient tree branches arch over the roadway as if to welcome us.
Further in, the ‘forest’ opens out into wide heaths where scattered groups of ponies quietly browse. The animals have right-of-way here, sometimes holding up the traffic. It’s so good to see cars having to give way! The ponies also gather at picnic places after scraps of food from the tourists – but the Park authorities do not encourage this. Elsewhere the ponies will wander into villages peering into shop windows and generally asserting their ownership of the place! This is their forest and they’ve been here much longer than us.
This is an ever changing environment as open heath, scrub land and woods jostle for control. The ‘lawns’ are evidence of who influences the forest, so too is the grazing line of the lower tree branches, eaten by deer and by the wandering ponies and cattle of the ‘ commoners’. The Verderers’ Court at Lyndhurst seeks to keep everything in some sort of order. It was established by William the Conqueror when he took over the forest as his royal deer hunting park. His act of control stopped the free-for-all development of grazing and has preserved much of the Forest for us as it is today.
Many tourists will want to stop off at the Rufus stone (above). If you stand here and listen in still air you can imagine you can hear the sound of galloping horses and the shouts of men on horseback involved in the chase of deer. William the Conqueror rode here as did his son Rufus who was killed by an arrow. This stone marks the spot. Was it an accident or something else?
Hearts of Oak
“Hearts of oak are our ships,
hearts of oak are our men.”
John Evelyn’s book ‘Sylva – Discourse of Forest Trees and the Propagation of Timber in His Majesties Dominions‘ was presented to the Royal Society in October 1662. It warns that:
“there is nothing which seems more fatally to threaten a weakening, if not dissolution, of the strength of this famous and flourishing nation, than the …. notorious decay of her ‘Wooden Walls’.
This wise advice paved the way for success at Trafalgar over a century later. to which vast numbers of New Forest oaks contributed. Many of the ships were built here at Bucklers Hard (above), another tourist site.
The Forest extends to the coast here with reed beds and marshy lagoons providing some great habitats for wildfowl. This is quiet Keyhaven with the hills of the Isle of Wight and the Needles always as a backdrop across the Solent. To sit here is always a delight with the sound of reed warblers in the reed beds and the cries of gulls and oyster-catchers never far away.
‘Time is stitched into the landscape; geologists measure it in millions of years, historians in millennia, and farmers in seasons’
The New Forest has a lot to offer visitors: walking, cycling, yachting, bird watching, horse riding and more. But for me the greatest pleasure is just being immersed in quiet woodland for several days—to absorb the stillness and calm of trees . Woods are such healing places. This ancient forest is a laid-back place full of character and charm, a ‘tree-delighted Eden’. The still, silent witness of its aged trees challenges our over-active world to slow down. Even the wildlife takes its time and the ponies continue quietly to graze as their ancestors have done for centuries. We were once stopped by a Green Woodpecker crossing this lane (below) with a line of her young in tow. Like the ponies and cattle, woodpeckers also have right-of-way here! This forest is where you take your time and relax. We need quiet places like this.
Top Photo of Stubbs Wood by Jim Champion -Geograph