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.