September 14 – The New Forest
It doesn’t get much better than that. A brilliant day, with a fantastic outing on the bikes, through the national park and seeing some animals along the way. Absolutely ripper!
I trotted out into the dawn light for a quick run around Lymington. The sun was just coming up over the harbour and I happily made my way beside the marina, around the neighbourhood, up streets and down, exchanging “Good morning” with fellow runners, cyclists and walkers.
Time to saddle up and pedal off into the New Forest. After a stint on a busy road, we turned off and were along a quieter road, running through the New Forest National Park. One of the brilliant things about this national park is the the animals that roam free and wild throughout. There are villages dotted within the national park and the animals still freely roam through those too. As we turned off the main road, it wasn’t long before we spotted a small group of horses, peacefully grazing off to our side, then a little further on, some cows chomping contentedly under some trees.
The day was another absolute pearler; the blue sky was a picture above and the sun blazed down, warming up the morning beautifully. There is a rail trail that runs through the New Forest, known as ‘Castleman’s Corkscrew’ named for the shape of the original rail line that cut through the forest from Brockenhurst to Burley and also for Charles Castleman, the man who promoted it. This rail trail was simply a gravel path and we bumped and rattled along, passing other cyclists and walkers, all of whom gave a beaming smile and greeting as we pedalled past. There wasn’t as much evidence of this trail’s former life as we’ve seen on other rail trails, but we did pass under a couple of arches.
We did have to get off and push a couple of times, thanks to our nemesis the path barricades. Some of the bridges along the path had been closed and blocked off with fences, so we were directed down an alternative route, which involved going down and up a short, steep, gravel incline. A sign at the top recommended walking bikes down and up, so that’s exactly what I did. No swerving out of control downhill on gravel for me thank you very much. Even Steve pushed up, rather than spinning the wheels in the gravel.
We had another section of road to navigate and this was busy, not just with four wheeled traffic but with the two-wheelers as well. Group after group of cyclists rode by, all with numbers on their bikes or jerseys. Some sort of organised event was obviously taking place, because we were pedalling amongst a sea of lycra. It was great to see the competitors though, making up every possible age, shape and size of person. It wasn’t just flash, lithe cycling pros out there, there were people our age and older, with and without round bits and wobbly bits like us, all squeezed into lycra and smiling or chatting with those around them as they wheeled along. Peloton after peloton of happy wheelers, getting involved in a pretty major event by the look of it, lots of grey hair under helmets, lots of people easily in their seventies, as well as youngsters and size was clearly no barrier, because there was every shape out there, getting active, being social and having fun. Brilliant! We exchanged greetings again and even though they were clearly in some sort of competitive ride, we had continual smiles and waves from them as they went past. We later discovered it was The New Forest Sportive, with a 100 mile distance and other shorter distances, but there were heaps of people involved. Good on ‘em!
We got off the busy road and back onto a path through the heathland. We passed a lot of dog walkers out and about and I saw one little dog demonstrating one of the most amazing dog-to stick ratios I’ve seen. The dogs we see out and about are usually carrying something in their mouths, a ball or a stick and this little pooch wasn’t so much carrying a stick as a branch. I just managed to snap a quick pic as it walked past, a little dog merrily trotting along, carrying half a tree! Off the path we went and back onto a road for a while, with more ponies around us.
We pedalled into the little village of Burley, where we stopped for elevenses under an oak tree, in a field, looking across to Burley Manor, with a little caravan in front of us, sitting under its own oak, looking like it could have come straight out of Danny The Champion of the World. A perfect piece of Britishness, for our elevenses pause, on a superb day.
The ride back continued to be absolutely magic. The sun was blazing, we passed more ponies, even when we had to ride on a road. The horses just make the national park their own and go wherever they choose, whenever they choose and I love that everyone else, whether walkers, cyclists or drivers are expected to give way and take care around the animals. We saw a mare and foal walking up a very busy road, just ambling along, as unhurried as can be, seemingly oblivious to the cars going past, just walking to wherever they wanted to be. It’s so special to be out on the heath and see and pass the New Forest ponies, so happy roaming wild and all in such good condition. To be close to them and ride past, with them not giving two hoots about our presence is very special indeed.
After riding across the heathland and open landscape for most of the day, we now came to forests and it was gorgeous, riding through the trees, with the dappled light and the sun piercing through the branches. Absolutely magic.
Riding through the vast heathland, under a perfect blue sky and passing so many wild ponies had made the day absolutely superb. Then, it got even better. As we pedalled through the forest, we heard a crashing of branches off to one side. Deer! We stopped and I could just make out two deer, complete with antlers, reaching up to eat from the trees and then walking slowly through the forest, all but hidden in the shadows.
New Forest ponies, now deer, how wonderful! We rode on and then…squirrel! A little grey critter bolted across the path in front of us and sprinted up a tree, way too fast for me to get the camera out, but that was just the bonus on top of the bonus. Ponies, deer and a squirrel. It doesn’t get much better than that!
We pedalled back into Lymington, spotting another squirrel along the way and there ended an absolutely sensational outing on the bikes. What a wonderful day. The sun blazed all day, it was warm and we had scenery through the national park, some great traffic-free paths and then that four-legged bonanza of ponies, deer and squirrels. Happy, happy me! I can only echo my oft said refrain, once again. Loving it! LOVE-ING IT!
Distance ridden: 42.3 km
Time in the saddle: 2 hours 55 minutes
Distance run: 7 km
Weather: Sunny, warm…ALL DAY! 22C