Deer in the New For­est

Win­ter might be just around the cor­ner, says Roly Smith, but the colours of au­tumn give the land­scape of this Na­tional Park a fi­nal glo­ri­ous flour­ish as its deer and ponies pre­pare for the most im­por­tant time of their year

Countryfile Magazine - - Contents - Roly Smith is au­thor of This Land, a cel­e­bra­tion of the Bri­tish land­scape (Frances Lin­coln, 2015)

Hamp­shire

With heath­land,bee­chits rich wood­lands,mo­saicoak and of

the New For­est hasn’t

changed that much since

Wil­liam the Con­queror and

his no­bles hunted there nine

cen­turies ago. It’s one of my

favourite places in the

coun­try for an au­tumn walk.

Nowhere in Eng­land has such a va­ri­ety of na­tive and or­na­men­tal trees, seen at their best when au­tumn paints their leaves into a kalei­do­scope of colours. Add the swathes of royal-hued heather on the for­est’s rare low­land heaths, and you have a near-per­fect pic­ture of au­tumn.

An­i­mal life abounds at this time of the year too, as the herds of ‘belling’ (bel­low­ing ) red and fal­low deer stags start their an­nual rut. The frisky New For­est ponies are gath­ered in ‘drifts’ to be given a con­di­tion check and for the an­nual sales in the pens at Beaulieu Road rail­way sta­tion, in the heart of the for­est. The sales are also a high­light of the New For­est so­cial year, when the com­mon­ers, verder­ers (of­fi­cials who reg­u­late the ponies and other stock) and ag­is­ters (em­ployed by the verder­ers for the daily man­age­ment of the stock) gather to ex­am­ine or buy and sell the ponies.

RAIL­WAY WALK

My easy, three-mile au­tum­nal walk starts from the Beaulieu Road rail­way sta­tion on the B3056 three miles south of Lyn­d­hurst. Head due south, par­al­lel with the BournemouthWater­loo rail­way line, cross­ing the open heath­land of Shat­ter­ford. Note the slightly raised mounds of a couple of 4,000-year-old Bronze Age

“Nowhere in Eng­land has such a va­ri­ety of na­tive and or­na­men­tal trees”

tu­muli (burial mounds) to your right. As the path swings slightly to the south-west, you’ll cross the in­signif­i­cant banks and ditches of the Bishop’s Dyke to en­ter what is known as the Bishop of Winch­ester’s Purlieu.

THE PURLIEU

A purlieu, a name from Nor­man French, denotes an area next to a for­est that was once part of it and then dis­af­forested. The bound­aries had to be walked (or per­am­bu­lated) to es­tab­lish its lim­its.

The lo­cal leg­end is that John de Pon­toise, the cor­pu­lent Bishop of Winch­ester in the reign of Ed­ward I (1272–1307), was promised as much land as he could crawl around on his hands and knees in a day. He did well, be­cause his purlieu en­closed around 500 acres of open, mainly poor, boggy ground, which is still a favourite feed­ing ground for ponies.

BRONZE AGE TUMULUS

Pass­ing an­other Bronze Age tumulus, cross a foot­bridge and turn right to skirt the mixed wood­land of Denny Lodge In­clo­sure by Wood­fi­d­ley Pas­sage. Wood­fi­d­ley is a land­mark knoll on which a spin­ney of na­tive beeches over­tops the sur­round­ing Scots pine and oaks planted in Vic­to­rian times. ‘Wood­fi­d­ley rain’ is the lo­cal name for per­sis­tent rain com­ing from this di­rec­tion. Fol­low the earth­work and fence that heads west around the north­ern edge of Denny Lodge In­clo­sure, then cut across the open heath di­rectly to­wards the triple gables of Vic­to­rian Denny Lodge.

AN­CIENT TREES

Em­bow­ered in the trees of Denny Wood, this was for­merly the groom keeper’s lodge and later the home of the head forester. Denny Wood, one of the Forestry Com­mis­sion’s ‘an­cient and or­na­men­tal’ wood­lands, has some of the finest old beech woods in the for­est. Their beauty is en­hanced by self-sown birches, their sil­very bark and yel­low leaves con­trast­ing beau­ti­fully with the cop­per of the beeches.

END IN SIGHT

At a junc­tion of paths just north of Denny Lodge, turn right on a path through the au­tum­ntinged wood­lands to even­tu­ally leave the trees be­hind.

TO THE PUB

Now head north-east across the low-ly­ing area known as Shat­ter­ford Bot­tom. There are many ‘bot­toms’ in the New For­est and in­deed through­out the south of Eng­land. The name comes from the Old English and means a val­ley. In a few steps you will find your­self back at Beaulieu Road sta­tion, hav­ing earned your­self a wel­come pint at The Drift Inn.

Fal­low deer feed in the New For­est’s de­cid­u­ous wood­land, es­pe­cially on au­tumn ‘mast’ – the var­i­ous nuts on the for­est floor

ABOVE The boggy heath­land of Shat­ter­ford Bot­tom is a good place to see birds

ABOVE RIGHT The ponies are rounded up for in­spec­tion in au­tumn

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