The New Forest

Horse and trap on a Bridlepath in The New Forest, Hampshire, UK
Horse and trap on a New Forest Bridlepath, Hampshire, UK
It has only been 7 weeks since we last went on an adventure.It seems like years. The weather was so bad we decided to stay put for a while. It didn’t seem worth the effort that it takes to search out new adventures. Especially as we knew that we’d end up drenched through every time we went out. Every day was heavy rain, everywhere we looked. So we stayed in Cornwall and got drenched twice a day walking the dogs on home territory. It’s starting to clear now, so we’re off to the New Forest.

We didn’t get to see my Mum over Christmas this year. Which was the excuse we needed to get ourselves on the road again. Mother lives in Portsmouth. We had to go past The New Forest on the way. It would have been rude not to stop in for a visit. Especially as there is a fantastic mechanic there and we needed his expertise to sort out Daisy’s handbrake.

We feel it is important to mention. Two minutes into the journey both Nik and I were struck by the most euphoric feeling of happiness. It was just so good to be on the move again. Off on a new adventure with silly big grins on our faces. AND. We could legitimately wave at passing motor homes again.

We had no intention of going very far our first day. Too many errands to run along the way. Last week I was suffering from ‘man-flue’. Nik was cheffing so neither of us had done any research before hand. We hadn’t even bothered to find somewhere to stay for our first night. We haven’t been this unprepared for years.

For good reason. There is nothing more stressful than trying to find a suitable site whilst driving towards our hoped for destination. Nik driving towards our hoped for destination, growling at me for a direction to drive. Whilst I desperately try to find a site that can accommodate Daisy. Desperately praying they’d pick up the phone before we whiz past. Because there is no going back. This first night was no exception. It’s a wonder someone doesn’t get smacked across the head with a map book on such occasions.

I did eventually manage to find us a site for the night, in Ilminster. So we pulled up to a lovely little site, in the dark. Fantastic owners that couldn’t have been more helpful and accommodating. And Nik managed to avoid being slapped for another day. It’s all part of the adventure.

We still had to walk the dogs for the evening. Our site owners had told us how to get to an old train track, which was good walking. So out came the high viz. coats, dogs as well. Armed with torches we set off along a fairly busy, unpaved road. Luckily it was only a two-minute walk before we turned into a lane with no traffic. It was pitch black though and despite having torches we didn’t find the railway track. Once we’d followed the lane all the way to its end we retraced our steps back to our site. The dogs had had a good enough walk regardless and we decided we must have turned down the wrong lane.

In the morning we set off along the road again. As we were intending to be in the New Forest by early afternoon with good walking. Therefore, we decided another half hour walk along the lane would do. Half way along the lane we discovered the train track. We were literally yards away from it the night before. Just hadn’t noticed it in the dark.

As we were there it just had to be explored. The track was part of the old Taunton ‘Stop Line’, now part of Sustrans National Cycle Route 33. Leading from Taunton to Chard. We picked it up somewhere in the middle and walked past Donyatt Halt towards Ilminster. For a moment, we were of a mind to stay another night and properly explore the track in both directions. There was so much potential for a good walk but just as we were swaying towards staying it started to lightly rain. And so we opted to continue our journey. At some point, we will be going back. When the weather is likely to be good as we do enjoy walking old railways.

The New Forest, Hampshire, UKAs we’d found the railway we were a little later leaving than planned. There was no time to stop and find a site before setting off. However, as we still had the memory of the night before very clear in our minds we decided to get there first. Find a pretty little picnic spot, park up and look for a site whilst having lunch. Far less dangerous that way, ha-ha.

One thing we had forgotten since our last visit to the area. Telephone and internet reception isn’t very good. A small price to pay for being in such a beautiful place, said, probably no one who lives there. It took a bit of driving in and out of beauty spots before we had enough reception for searching.

We do tend to avoid the big sites as a rule. We don’t use any of the facilities that you’re paying for. To be honest, we’re a bit grumpy about paying vast sums of money to be packed onto a site like sardines. Close enough to your neighbour that you can hear when they sneeze. We prefer the cheap little sites with loads of space. However, there are occasions when paying the extra and being close to ones neighbours is worth it for the location. This was one of those occasions. We decided to stay at Setthorns. A big camping in the forest site, but it’s January, so how busy can it be?

Actually, it turned out to have far more caravans and motor homes on site than we were expecting. Most did look to have been there for most of the winter and I can’t say I blame them. We’d love to have somewhere similar, near the children that we could stay over winter. I wouldn’t want to leave.

We found a nice little spot not too close to anyone, that had the feel of being in the forest. Got ourselves settled as quickly as possible then headed off. Our first walk with the dogs in The New Forest. Ah, there is nothing better than walking through wild untamed land. Whether it be moors, heath-land or Woods. The New Forest is a good mix of all with so much wildlife as well. The dogs where thrilled to be able to run around in an area with so many smells to attract their little noses.

Multi use trail at sunset along a disused railway,The New Forest, Hampshire, UK

We walked along an old railway track, that runs through the site toward Setly. By luck was less than a minute from where we had parked up, so easily found. As we’d messed around so much in the morning we didn’t get far before the sunset. It was, however, a most spectacular sunset. We went to bed that night praying that the weather would stay dry the next day for us.

In the morning we awoke to find that one of the dogs had an upset tummy. Luckily for me, Nik was first out of bed, so he got to clean up the mess. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it. Whilst I was in the bathroom Nik popped up to reception to a signal. He needed phonr our mechanic. Almost as soon as he’d left Oscar started up a high-pitched whine and I just knew what that meant. So I finished up as quickly as possible all the time praying Oscar would be able to wait. Threw on coat and shoes, and dived out the door with both dogs. At which point the heavens opened up and drowned the lot of us in less than a minute. The joys of having dogs.

As soon as we got back inside, the rain stopped and the sun came out in its full stunning glory. Oscar seemed fine again so we set off for a day of exploring. We thought we’d keep an eye on our boy and come back early if he looked ill. Luckily he was his normal bouncy self for the rest of the day.

Country road, The New Forest, Hampshire, UK

The New Forest covers approximately 150 square miles in Hampshire. The area is mainly heath-land and woods that are home to ponies, deer and many other wild creatures. The New Forest has few towns but those that are there are beautiful and well worth visiting. The open spaces here are perfect for the outdoor and more active holiday with cycle paths and bridle paths everywhere. The end of the New Forest reaches down to the coast with some stunning little seaside towns.

We had a lovely day walking to the end of the railway track, along bridle paths. Through woodland and across the heath in a wide circular route back toward Daisy. Nik was in his element snapping pictures of everything from cyclists to ponies as we walked. It’s been far too long since Nik was able to get out and take photos. He was beginning to get grumpy.

Disused railway across the New Forest, now used as a multi use trail, Hampshire, UK

When we eventually got back we were all slightly worn out and thoroughly content with out day. After dinner, Nik and I made plans for the next days adventure before settling down for a cosy evening with our books. At this point, Oscar thought he’d let us know that his tummy was still poorly, all down Nik’s trousers. Lord alone knows how he managed to miss me, but I’m not complaining. We still weren’t concerned as dogs do have a habit of eating things they shouldn’t. Usually, after 24 hours they’re fine again. Other than not keeping his food down and a bit of runny tummy he was still wide-eyed and bouncy.

After several more mad dashes outside, including a middle of the night journey. We decided to find a vet in the morning and get him checked over. All camping in the Forests provide the phone number of a vet on their welcome leaflet. This vet which was in New Milton. We rang first, to be sure they were open and set off thinking to get Oscar seen quickly. Hopefully still have some day left for exploring, providing our boy was ok. Unfortunately, when we got there the vet was in surgery so we had to book an appointment for later in the afternoon. It wasn’t worth driving back and forth so we ended up spending the day wondering the town.

After all our worries it turns out that Oscar had a tummy virus, which was going around. That’s a relief, were starting to worry that the boy had eaten something that really wasn’t good for him. An injection and a few days worth of tablets, along with a diet of rice and boiled chicken where prescribed. All was good with our world again. Sometimes I think dogs are more worrying than children.

Hayling Island beach at sunset, Hampshire, UKSunday morning was a stunner. Typical, as we were moving on towards Portsmouth and had no idea what weather would be greeting us there. We hadn’t bothered looking as we were going regardless. The only downside, if you see it that way, of staying in the forest is that internet reception was poor. So poor in fact, we gave up on it and consequently hadn’t found a site to stay at while visiting Mother. This does seem to be the theme for the trip. We decided that I would search for a site whilst on the move. Easier said than done! Consequently, we arrived in Portsmouth before I had found anything much. We had to top up the cupboards before settling down. Tesco is just off the motorway, so we stopped off there and used their internet.

There are no CL or CC sites in the city. Not much of a surprise as it so built-up. We were hoping to find something just on the outskirts in the less built-up areas. But no! There are four sites on Hayling Island. All owned by the same person, and they weren’t picking up the phone. Therefore, Nik had the idea that we should stay on the beach. At this time of the year, it’s free to do so. 

I’m not keen on free camping with the dogs. They bark at just about anything that makes a noise. A free car park on a lovely beach, that enjoys lots of visits from dog walkers didn’t seem to be the best setting for our dogs. As it happened, between the walking twice a day and visiting with family in unfamiliar surroundings both dogs where nicely shattered by the end of each day and barely budged when someone drove or walked past.

Beach hut with Nemo characters painted on it, Hayling Island, Hampshire, UKHayling Island is a small island just off the A27 at Havant, near Portsmouth. Connected to the mainland by a road bridge at its northern end. This beautiful little island has much to offer the day tripper or holiday maker. From miles of beautiful beach, amusements or for the more adventurous sailing and other water sports. One of the beach car parks also allows overnight stopping for motor homes. It is free in the winter months.

Our mornings started each day with a lovely long walk along the beach. For which we were lucky enough to get sunshine for all but one walk. The dogs weren’t sure about taking their walks along a proper pebble beach but they soon got used to it. Our dogs have pampered feet and mostly walk on sandy beaches. Nik thoroughly enjoyed our walks as he has always liked Hayling Island. His passion for the place means there isn’t anywhere that’s safe from his camera.

All too soon it was time to head back to the New Forest. We had a date with our favourite mechanic that we couldn’t miss. So we said farewell to Mother as late as we could get away with. Then headed back to Setthorns with fingers crossed that we’d be arriving before dark. We made it with minutes to spare. With just enough time to find a pitch and set up before we lost the light. We were hoping to find a pitch with a little reception so the mechanic could ring us when he arrived but had to make do with enough reception for a text.

New Forest Pony laying downin the bracken, The New Forest, Hampshire, UK

The next morning we awoke to glorious sunshine and we had the whole day to play. On that note, we decided to follow a footpath headed for Sway. Not far into our walk, we came to a cross in the path. A path to the left rather than toward Sway, looked more interesting. Headed that way and ended up back on the heath that was opposite our site.

There was lots of this area that we hadn’t explored. Therefore we were more than happy to continue on this way. Our walk took us in a big circular route up hill, through woodland, over more heath-land, past New Forest Ponies. Eventually, we arrived back at our site. It wasn’t quite an all day walk so after a small rest, we headed out again to see if Nik could catch the sunset. He failed, but we still enjoyed our little walk. The whole day was perfect. We didn’t do a great deal to talk about.Just took in the sites and enjoyed being out and about with the dogs again.

The next day was to be our last and we had a date with our mechanic. Meaning we wouldn’t be able to spend too long out walking. As we had to be back by 1.30pm we decided to explore a little more of the railway track. We walked left from Setthorns and followed it to its end. It turned out not to be that far. Walked past some ponies, which we didn’t see until we were almost on top of them. The dogs where off lead, which could have been a disaster. Fortunately, when we called them away they did as we asked. Even though they really didn’t want to. This is a massive progress in their training so we were chuffed to bits with them.

New Forest pony eating heather, Hampshire, UK

Anyway, we reached the end of the track and crossed the road onto another small heath. This heath was pretty boggy and got worse the further we went. Nik was taking the lead and seemed pretty oblivious to the fact that the dogs and I weren’t overly enjoying ourselves. He had seen a picture opportunity in the distance. We followed quietly behind until the dogs where muddy from the tummy down. It became obvious to me that they were loosing the will to keep going. At this point, I decided that it was time to encourage Nik to find dryer ground. There was little car park near Wooten Bridge with a pretty little river running past it. I believe this would be a lovely picnic area in the summer. Crossing the road again we were back to the original heath.

We followed little paths through the heath in the general direction of our site. Until I could see a little herd of ponies on our path. In real terms the dogs hadn’t been off the lead for long. Walking past so many ponies would be too much for them without leads. Rather than restrict them just yet we decided to cross the heath in a less direct route. (We had time. The path we followed ran parallel to Setthorns so the wrong direction. However, we had hope that another path would take us closer, if not we’d leave the path.

Lone tree next to footpath on the New Forest, Hampshire, UK

I should say at this point that this direction choice was mine, which Nik is still reminding me. Unfortunately, as there has been a lot of rain this season our path became a stream just before it met the river that we’d walked past earlier. The path that crossed back in the correct direction was also a small stream. We managed to walk both without getting too wet. Can’t say the same for the dogs, but at least it wasn’t mud for a change.

So we are now walking the direction we want to be in and find a gate leading into the woods. It will quite quickly take us back to Daisy, but as we still have a little time left Nik decided we should follow the edge of the wood for a while. This meant we had to navigate quite a deep stream, which we all managed without mishap.

Then Nik discovered that he had dropped his camera’s lens shield. As they are £40 each he didn’t want to give it up without a search. Luckily we were in a small sunny meadow so while he retraced his steps the dogs and I stayed behind and played while we waited for him. He came back empty-handed and by this time we had to trot, fast to make it on time. The route Nik chose was very boggy and because we were going fast, feet inevitably got wet. Ah well, we did manage to arrive before the mechanic. Who very quickly sorted out Daisy’s hand break for us just in time for an evening walk before the sun went down.

It was so good to be out and about again and such a shame to have to head back to reality the next day.

For more about The New Forest click HERE

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