Wednesday, 20 October 2010

New Forest Chestnuts

The New Forest. First created by William the Conqueror around a thousand years ago as a place for him to hunt deer etc. Even now, the rules and methods used then are still utilised to maintain the forest today by the Verderers. A place that has been particularly special to me since my childhood as it has always been a haven when a 'get away from it all' was ever needed. Since I was around eleven years old, I have, along with various mates, and in the latter years my brother and occasional friend, trekked out here armed only with a piece of rope, waterproof sheet and hunting knife, and made a rough camp for the night. On occasion the cover would be left at home and we would sleep around the fire under the stars. Chunks of lamb pushed onto sticks and cooked in the fire, hot sweet tea, a bottle of bourbon and good conversation is the order of the night (although when younger the bourbon didn't happen!). My two daughters have both spent nights doing this, in fact both have accompanied me when they were only six months old to begin with. The only extra bit of kit on these occasions was milk, a blanket and papoose! The forest has been a place of peace and enjoyment during daytime as well, with rope swings over rivers, picnics in the open spaces, and  forays for blackberries, sloes and chestnuts occurring on a frequent basis.

Being days off, Sunday and Monday was spent heading out in this brilliant place once again, and this time there was a purpose both times, to get interesting foresty bits to arrange around the house, and sweet chesnuts for making stuffing, bruschetta topping, and just eating once roasted....delicious!

As a boy in his teens, I would stay with my father, who after remarrying moved to a house in the heart of the forest, and spend my days walking on my own for miles. Sometimes sitting down for a bite to eat and a whittle of a stick.

If one is really quiet when walking, then you may be lucky enough to watch a deer or the occasional fox.

At this time of year, fungus grows everywhere. The forest now has National Park status, and so is protected very strongly indeed. Even so, the public are allowed to harvest any mushrooms that they wish to eat, provided that they are of course knowledgable enough to do so, and thus don't poison themselves, and also stay out of areas restricted from picking to preserve existing stocks.


All around are strange shapes in the wood of the trees, both alive and dead. It's very easy to let ones imagination stray when young, and as the light of the day goes, to start to see all manner of the macabre and spooky in the shadows.

This one made me think of the 'Ents' in Lord of the Rings

The picture below shows just the right sort of area to set up a camp for the night. Coniferous part for a bit of shelter, deciduous silver birch for dead wood and it's tissue like bark for tinder, and dead bracken to lie on. In the spring, as the sap starts to flow, the silver birch gives a very generous sweet watery sap for drinking if a branch is snapped.

This Shelf Fungus is very common here. As tough as old boots, it can grow in tiers, giving the appearence of steps going up the tree. Some forms are edible, although I think that this particular variety would need to be cooked for around a week to soften it enough!

Mosses form on anything that have stayed put for a while, and even just make small rounded clumps of their own amongst the dead leaves, and it was a few of these latter individuals that we were after.

All of the New Forest ponies belong to somebody. There are hundreds of them, and are allowed to roam freely wherever they wish. Once a year they are herded up, and the numbers counted, sick ones attended to, and then released again to go about their business. There has been many a night, when comfortably curled up on a pile of bracken asleep, that a wet nose has come snuffling beside my head. Quite a jump at first, but comforting in it's own sort of way.

And so we wandered some more, taking in the sights and particularly at this time of year, the smells.

Occasionally coming up against yet another spooky effigy in the woods. How a childs imagination could run away at the sight of this fellow!


We had been finding the occasional fruit bearing sweet chestnut. For some reason this whole area had plenty of the trees, but they were not fruiting, and so we carried on. In the picture below it is easy to see the area of deciduous silver birch plantation on the right.

By now we were into our second day, and headed into a different part of the forest.

Our walk took us past a very famous tree, the Knightwood Oak.
The largest, and at 600 years old the oldest oak in the forest, it has quite a strange feeling about it. When about 200 years old, it was pollarded, probably for the use of the timber. What also makes this tree a rarety is the fact that it is probably the only one that was missed for felling during the age of the galleon. Shipwrights would search the forests for large oaks as they were not only incredibly large and strong, but their limbs etc were shaped just right for particular parts of the ships hull.

Now it was down this track to a place where we know we can find what we have been looking for, our favourite big chesnut tree....always a winner!

And there they are, thousands of the little fellows ready for us to harvest. Rucksack on the floor and Amanda is already off. We spent about three hours at this spot, a really lovely time just quietly gathering and occasionally chatting.

The sun of course started to go down, and the air became really chilly, and so a hasty retreat was made to Burley, and the open fires of the Queens Head pub. A blazing fire, coffee and whisky....and boy were our cheeks pink! Lot's of dogs in the pub, always nice to see, as they curl up in balls and sleep comfortably after their own adventures in the forest.

And here is our harvest, quite a haul! All will get washed and roasted, then peeled and turned into a variety of tasty treats.

And Amanda gathered our other finds, added a couple of Physalis from the garden, and made a really beautiful display for the hall.

That's it folks, sorry it has taken a few days to put on here, but the working week has been really long and heavy. Just about to have my second cup of tea, it's 7.45am and so far looking to be a sunny day. Off to get the repaired knapsack blower from Wimborne and then across to Hurn for some bedding plants, and then maybe actually start the day.    Take care.


  1. Dear Gary, You capture here so well the mystery and magic of the New Forest. I can well imagine the delights that such a place affords to a young boy and how wonderful to return as an adult and revisit your childhood haunts. The chestnuts do indeed look marvellous.I really enjoy them simply roasted and yours look to be plump and, I am sure, delicious.

    Amanda's autumn arrangement looks so very pretty. And, what fun explaining what the individual items are and where they were gathered. Lovely!

  2. If I was sleeping in the forest and a wet horse nose sniffed my ear in my sleep the whole forest would have thought a banshee was loose as I would have screamed so loud . Wonderful walk, I want Amanda's boots very much, and she made a very artistic display for you both.great post, thanks.

  3. Forgot to mention, I absolutely LOVE the vintage picture of your mother in the garden ( in your sidebar ). You need to figure out how to make that larger, it is so special.

  4. Gary,

    What a wonderful break you have afforded me this morning. The visual inspirations you have offered in this posting are truly evident of someone who has spent much time in this lovely aged forest. On viewing each photograph one can tell it was taken be someone with a connection to imagery. And the personal history presented made them so much more intriguing.

    I could just hear the rustle of the leaves and smell the earthiness of rich earth, moss and tart fall air. You have conjured up such a mystical feeling with this post that it will become one of those I will have to continue to revisit.

    And finally please pass my kudos along to A for the creation of such an exquisitely beautiful seasonal arrangement. It truly connects to the forest. - G

  5. Lovely, lovely walk in the New Forest that you have taken me on today. I've never gathered wild chestnuts, which are in the local woods all about me, but I plan to rectify that today, if the squirrels have left any for me!
    And I too love the photo of your mother and would like to see it enlarged.

  6. What a wonderful tour you gave of the forest. It was almost like being there. I've never actually roasted chesnutts. Just sing about it at Christmas time.

  7. I could have sworn the ones in the photograph were horse chestnuts rather than the edible kind.
    Haven't been to the New forest since we stopped orienteering. must be lovely to have it on your doorstep.

  8. What a magical place you have to visit...thank you for sharing it with us.

  9. Hi Edith,
    The New Forest has always been an incredibly evocative place for me, and I hope to return for a wild camp night very soon with my grandson for his first forest adventure.

  10. Hi Gina,
    Thanks for the nice comments. Amanda would guard those boots with her life! I would love to enlarge the picture of mum, but don't know how. As for animals in the woods. Once, my brother had cut his hand very badly on the bracken. We managed to bandage it up, but during the night were woken by a fox amongst us, trying to rip the bloodied bandage off his THAT made us jump! lol

  11. Hi Gary,
    The atmosphere in the forest is amazing. Sometimes welcoming, and sometimes menacing for some reason. Amanda does seem to have an arty hand at doing stuff, and we are hoping that the display doesn't dry out too quickly.

  12. Hi Share (I hate having to use a title, sorry!)
    Thanks for the kind comments. I can recommend chestnuts roasted...godd luck and I hope the squirrels havent eaten them all.

  13. Hi Sherlock,
    I look forward to hearing how you have not only eaten roasted chesnuts, but have sung about them at the same time! Thanks.

  14. Hi morememes,
    Definitely sweet chestnuts, tufty bit on the bottom and shell cases that make you scream!
    Orienteering in the forest, I used to love doing that, and Dartmoor was a pretty good place also. Thanks for your kind comments.

  15. Hi Tim,
    I think that magical is a very suitable description for this forest. Thanks for passing by.

  16. Came across your blog via. Trissa in Colorado. Interesting photos as I so love the New Forest.

    Interesting blog here and enjoyed the garden you showed you were working on. Will come back.

  17. I tried to sign in as a follower Gary but told my URL was too long. Strange.

  18. Your blog is nice.
    And I would like to answer to your question on Oct29th blog.
    That trees name is
    Japanese name is "Yamaboushi".