Going Local

Home from our two week dash to Brittany we unload, deal with domestics, undertake some garden rescue [drought had been threatening to murder many plants], clean the van and make another, impromtu dash; this time to the New Forest, which is on our doorstep and to a favourite spot- Holland’s Wood at Brockenhurst.

We choose midweek, calculating that the weekend will elicit throngs of campers into the Forest and it’s certainly quiet as we arrive in the early afternoon. Husband is keen to try out a plan he had devised to manage for longer without electric hook-up [Holland’s Wood has none]. Our ancient camping gas/electric fridge has been resurrected for use outside, now that there is an external gas outlet on the van, freeing up solar power for other devices.

In the old, tent camping days the gas fridge was a boon and much used on trips. Subsequently it has been used as an extra fridge at parties or during the freezer defrosting process.

For the uninitiated, the New Forest National Park covers app 150 square miles of land in the south of England and is home to a vast variety of wildlife as well as livestock- pigs, cattle, donkeys and ponies that roam unrestricted throughout the park. The animals, in particular the ponies have adapted to visitors and developed skills in stalking and mugging and anyone sitting down to enjoy an innocent picnic can expect to be gatecrashed by a couple of hungry, marauding ponies.

Ponies, donkeys and cows also wander into the campsites, weaving expertly through and around tents, vans and motorhomes and helping themselves to anything vaguely food related. It’s mid-morning when a tribe meanders into Hollands Wood, one of the mares accompanied by a young foal, all legs and eyelashes. He’s curious, sniffing and nibbling a campervan. Camera at the ready, I go to watch, although not so close as to upset his protective mum. He spots me and walks towards me and I can’t help stretching out a hand, at which he puts his soft nose into it. The mare continues to graze, unperturbed. It’s a wonderful moment.

One reason for choosing Holland’s Wood site is proximity to Brockenhurst village, with its shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants, although walking there and back involves trudging along by the busy main road for some of it. It’s a cute place though, with a parade of shops and a railway station, making it just about possible to go camping by train.

Due to wrist surgery I’ve not cycled for about a year and this is the occasion for trying it out- first around the relatively flat campsite a few times, during which my legs begin to hurt already, then for a short ride on a forest track. The gravelly track is bumpy and I’ve not brought my support straps, so post-cycle my wrist is not too happy!

We BBQ on our new gas, outdoor cooker then the evening closes in with some magnificent thunder and lightning plus a few showers and we sit outside under the awning to enjoy the spectacle.

Next day is a rest for wrists and we walk. We go through the village and up to picturesque St Nicholas church, which we weren’t able to see inside the last time we looked as its roof had collapsed. It’s a tiny and beautiful church and has a special stained glass window donated by New Zealand, in recognition of the health care given to their war veterans in the First World War.

Walking in the New Forest is always rewarding and I feel we’ve earned the meal we have in The Huntsman, just along the road. We leave on Friday, just as others are streaming in to the site, encampments of tents springing up and it’s looking much busier. Goodbye for now but we’ll be back again soon…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

India 1998: Ladakh Trek

At breakfast, taken in the beautiful garden of our Leh hotel before we began our trek, I discovered that some members of our group had taken preventative medicine for altitude sickness. I’d wondered why I’d been the sole sufferer of our group to have succumbed to this debilitating condition! But I had rallied and was now feeling up for a trek. We were used to vigorous exercise at home, being habitual daily runners.

This second tour group consisted of several couples [including ourselves], a couple with a teenage son and some singles; a couple of older, single women [one rather type-cast spinster and the other a charming widowed lady who I walked alongside for much of the route], a somewhat unfit looking, younger man who’d brought walking poles, a youngish woman. One half of a Welsh couple, Gareth had the most extreme eating phobia I’d ever witnessed [including the fussiness of my own children as toddlers] and seemed to exist solely on bread and chocolate, a tragedy in a country such as India. Despite this he was the fittest of all of us, with calf muscles like beer bottles and an ability to run up a mountain slope faster than a goat.

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While the mountain scenery was often stark and unmarked with vegetation in the higher levels there were stunning views as well as encounters along the way. On our first day we paused on meeting a group of schoolchildren making their way to school, an arduous hike they must make twice daily. They were cheerful and friendly, wanting to show us their exercise books, shaking our hands, their warmth shining from their smiling expressions.

Further along we caught up with a lady whose sheep had escaped and who’d clearly had to track the animal for miles across the peaks before capture, so some of our group [Husband included] gamely took turns to carry the sheep for her. The creature was extremely smelly, which resulted in a transfer of aroma to Husband, of course.

At the end of each day’s walk the bathing facilities on offer were a small bowl of warm water or a bathe in the snow-melt stream using eco-friendly mountain suds. Most chose the freezing water after a sweaty hike up and down slopes but it needed to be undertaken quickly while the sun was still up because, as is typical in mountain terrain the daytime temperature was hot, the nights cold. Toilet provision en route consisted of ‘behind the nearest large rock’ and in camp there would be a small tent over a hole in the ground, which was filled in on our departure.

Our tiny, 2-man ridge tents would be up and ready by the time we got to camp, also the the dinner table. The pack ponies would be set free of their loads and be enjoying a well-earned graze. Then we’d sit together at the long table and enjoy a meal prepared by our crew.

A Forest Stay

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Last week we took our camper van only a few miles away to spend a couple of nights locally at a New Forest site at Ashurst. The New Forest is well-known as a tourist destination for visitors worldwide [ about  ]and we consider ourselves fortunate to live within cycling distance of this historic National Park. The camp site lies between picturesque, touristy Lyndhurst, with its bustling shopping street full of gift emporia, coffee shops and restaurants and sprawling Southampton with its cruise terminal, IKEA, shopping malls and docks.

Here there are the usual useful services: showers, washing up, laundry, water and emptying, although no electric hook-up; neither is there a play park [there is, however an excellent one at the adjacent pub] a swimming pool, organised ‘entertainment’ a bar or a restaurant.

What there is, though is a wealth of natural play options-from riding a bike around the site tracks to building dens; from ‘hide-and-seek’ to ‘cops-and-robbers’. And there is no shortage of happy children to demonstrate that pools, play parks and organised entertainment, despite having their place are not essential components of children’s happiness. Here at Ashurst they make their own entertainment, gathering together to create games, chasing, cycling, discussing, learning to organise and be part of a team.

Then there are added distractions. Here in The New Forest, gangs of cows or ponies roam wild and free, the camp site being part of their territory. They are expert opportunists, taking every opportunity of campers’ absences to forage inside the accommodation, strewing the contents of bags and bins over the grass in careless abandon to the amusement of onlookers.

For this short break close to home we’ve brought a small guest with us, a grand-offspring, coming along for a first taste of camping life. From the moment she arrives she takes to it all, loving the camp site, loving the safe freedom she can have. She cycles, apprehensive at first and then growing in confidence. She rides a circuit again and again, singing at the top of her voice. She wants to ride everywhere-to the showers [which she loves], to reception [from which we obtain a nature trail sheet], to the convenient pub [which serves perfectly acceptable food].

Next morning she is up and out straight away, cycling. If she were to become bored we could walk or cycle up the road to the New Forest Wildlife Park to see otters, owls, dormice, badgers, deer, wild boar and many more creatures in their natural habitat; or we could visit the adjoining Longdown Activity Farm, get a tractor and trailer ride or pony ride, feed the goats, scratch the pigs’ ears, stroke the donkeys, feed the calves and cradle tiny, fluffy chicks or baby rabbits in our hands. But none of this is necessary because the van guest is perfectly, ludicrously happy to ride around and around until she goes to sleep.

An English Forest Weekend

The New Forest, in Hampshire, southern England featured in a lot of my childhood. We were all three born in a village on the edge of it. My father travelled across it every day for work in Southampton and we went often for picnics and recreational activities like those family cricket games of the fifties or accompanying scout camping trips.

Of course as children we were accustomed to seeing the animals of the Forest roaming free and were used to marauding bands of ponies invading our garden and enraging my father, who would storm outside in the middle of the night with objects like biscuit tins to bash and banish them from his precious vegetable beds. They always returned-until cattle grids were installed across all the entrances to the village, when to my immense disappointment the night visits ceased.

What a contrast East Anglia seemed when we re-located there! Even as a young child I was shocked at the impoverished fenland landscape, my mother compounding the sensation by telling me I’d have had my own pony ‘if we’d stayed in The New Forest’.

I was not to return to live next to The New Forest for another nineteen years, during which time it had altered considerably and had begun to assume its reputation as a tourist magnet.

Nowadays the Forest has National Park status and is thronged with visitors of all nationalities. Cheffy restaurants, trendy hotels, gastro-pubs, tea shops and costly gift emporia have proliferated in the towns and villages but it remains, to us a precious resource that we still love to walk, cycle and camp in.

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What better location to spend a weekend celebrating an anniversary and birthday? We park up, go for a hot, dusty cycle, return, shower and make for the convenient station where we take a tiny train to yachty Lymington. Here there are ferries to the Isle of Wight but we are interested only in the Lobster and Burger Bar where we feast-but not on burgers.

Next morning we have guests expecting breakfast:

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And we retreat inside the van until they give up. The ponies, cows, donkeys, deer and pigs of the Forest are a delight but need to be treated with caution. The Forest roads, terrain and flora are all theirs and humans must bow to their superiority, whether it means waiting in a traffic queue for them to shift from the centre of the road or going the long way around to the shower block on the campsite.

After another sweaty bike ride we get ready and set off to The Pig, favourite for Sunday supplement features and writers of restaurant columns.

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I’d say we aren’t The Pig’s average customers as a quick glance reveals that few would have travelled here from the camp site-many will be staying in one of the artfully ‘shabby chic’ rooms or have arrived in convertible sports cars, their pastel sweaters slung casually around their shoulders, their stilettos tap-tapping on the wood floors.

It’s nice, although the food is not quite as stunning as I’d been led to believe. But outside the gardens alone are worth the visit, immaculate, symmetrical veg beds and a path leading to a voluptuous pond area.

Next day we BBQ with old friends and enjoy a good gossip under the shade of the pull-out. All good!