Forestry Commission, The Queen’s House, Lyndhurst, Hampshire S04 7NH
On unclassified road 1 mile south east off A31 Southampton-Ringwood road, 61 miles north east of Ringwood
Map reference: SZ243
Three walks through a central New Forest highland among mature trees: Radnor Walk-j mile; Arboretum Walk- li miles; Mark Ash Walk-3 Smiles
Trail notes or full guide book HMSO); car parks; picnic areas The New Forest is, of course, a complete misnomer. This 92 000-acre expanse of ancient woodlands, new plantations, cattle and horse pasture and heather-clad moors actually celebrated its nine-hundredth birthday in 1979. It is not essentially a true forest today because between the many dense stands of trees, equal areas of meadow and moor, busy villages, drives and roads interpose. Officially decreed a Royal hunting forest by William the Conqueror, perhaps the only thing that remains unchanged is that this vast area is a tremendous recreational amenity. Within the bounds of this twenty-mile belt are walks galore, beautiful camping grounds seemingly deep in the woods (in reality a stone’s throw from the roads), fishing and pony-trekking opportunities.
In this concise look at the New Forest it is the trails and walks of the Bolderwood Grounds that are featured. Taking their name from that of the Master Keeper’s Lodge demolished in 1833 is an old English word for a house) the three walks lace through some of the more mature woodlands of the New Forest which are of great scenic beauty and antiquity.
The walks, detailed in a trail brochure and in the official New Forest Guide, are a maze of paths colour-coded to keep ramblers on the straight and narrow. Shortest of all is the Radnor Walk, following yellow sign boards. A major feature of the trail is the stand of 120-year-old Douglas firs that once formed a large part of the Keeper’s Lodge grounds. It is also worth taking for the sight you gain of the Radnor Stone.
Carved from delicately-shaded Westmorland slate in masonry workshops in Bournemouth, the Stone is a modern memorial to William, seventh Earl of Radnor, a chairman of the Forestry Commission and New Forest Verderer (the chief forest officer responsible for the well-being of the trees and deer-herds).
Carvings on the stone depict forest wildlife and the trees in great detail.
Even William the Conqueror is said to have disliked the New Forest’s verderers for their strict laying down of the hunting law-but unlike William they survive to this day. The court of the verderers still meets every two months, electing three Agisters (responsible for livestock) and a Steward to police the forest, often on horseback, safeguarding the well-being of the animals. In addition, a team of keepers patrols individual forest preserves and enclosures, culling the deer where it seems
necessary and keeping down other small mam-mals which damage the young trees.
Central on the Radnor Stone and undoubtedly one of the New Forest’s most popular features, are the forest ponies. These sturdy, sure-footed animals wander throughout the forest singly and in herds, seemingly oblivious to the motor-car and the people who come to stare. All the horses are privately owned and branded with their owners’ names-owners pay a fee to the Agisters for grazing within the forest. Strictly speaking, only registered stallions are allowed to serve New Forest mares to maintain the breed’s individuality, but the odd horse of other breeds has got into the forest and there are some horses every year with something of a mixed parentage. The ponies are rounded up at various times of the year and official pony sales held near Beaulieu station have become a popular tourist attraction. Never feed New Forest ponies-not only can a diet of picnic leftovers upset them but they are completely wild and occasionally both playful or alternatively, vicious.
It seems odd that at one time the majority of the New Forest deer were culled in an effort to wipe them out completely and make the forest a much more prolific wood-bearing area-Happily the attempt failed and the remaining individual animals were soon breeding again. It is the fallow deer that is the major species present but there are red, Sika and roe deer, too. The fine stag shown on the Radnor Stone has the magnificent antlers of a seven or eight-year-old. Fallow buck. Keeping the numbers down by culling and sale of the venison is good for the herds-one of the major reasons is to ensure that the herd size does not exceed the available food supply. If you want to sample the rich and fibrous meat, shops in Lyndhurst and other New Forest centres sell it all year round in a variety of products.
As you leave the Radnor Stone you will walk gently up Bolderwood Hill and see the smaller Douglas firs, trees that have regenerated natur-ally. Eventually they will be replanted to take the place of the older trees in the main stand, which are long past their prime growing age.
While on the first part of the Radnor Walk you are also on your way along the Mark Ash Walk-the longest of the Bolderwood trails. Follow the red markers and you will discover one of the oldest woodlands in the New Forest, its name taken from the form of the traditional boundaries to forest areas, a line of ash trees.
The early part of the walk is through the Oakley Inclosure, which is fenced or wired off to prevent the ingress of commoners’ grazing cattle. It is a woodland of the future, as few of
the trees have reached full maturity. Without nibbling cattle, a wide diversity of species will develop with a considerable span of ages. The oaks here have grown very tall and straight compared with the scattered trees one sees in meadows or wood fringes with more lighting.
The forest can at times seem alive with flowers. On the ground in the appropriate seasons are the white, blue and yellow spikes of wild garlic, bluebell and primrose-in the air you may see the pink and white candles of the occasional chestnut or the delicate splashes of wild cherry. Wild gladioli flower in summer, while the patches of marshier ground, soft and acid, bear marsh gentian and bog orchid. Amid the grasses, sedges, mosses and whortleberry, flutter bright butterflies and if you are lucky you may see a grass snake or common lizard basking in the sun. The adder is present in the New Forest and, in fact, there is here an all-black form of the normally black and green-patterned snake.
While the larger mammals are the most common sight in the Forest, the patient naturalist waiting until the evening could spot fox, badger, rabbit and hare. The predatory birds come out at this time too. The tawny and barn owls do not have the Forest’s small mammals to themselves-there is a fairly rare summer visitor in the woods, the honey buzzard. Normally eating the grubs from bee and wasp nests, which it tears apart, it will take field mice, voles and lizards.
Mark Ash Wood, the destination of this walk, is one of the oldest parts of the forest and contains ancient beeches up to 260 years old. Beeches growing close together create an in-hibiting factor in the soil which prevents natural regeneration around adult trees and this, coupled with the shade, means there are few younger trees in this part of the wood. The old trees are over-mature and will eventually have to be felled. In a few small groups, naturally regenerating trees have been fenced off from the attentions of grazing cattle and within the enclosures are beech, sallow and birch which will become the nucleus of new woods when the old trees are cleared. The path returns via Pound Hill and a view point.
In 1860 in the grounds of Bolderwood Manor, an arboretum was planted which now contains a magnificent display of over forty trees of thirty-five different species. Some of
the trees are considered to be the finest examples of their species in Britain. A path leads from the Radnor Stone to the Arboretum Walk, or alternatively it can be reached by diverting from the Mark Ash trail.
Consisting of both ornamental and commer-cial species, the Arboretum trees are numbered and a full key is contained in the trail brochure. Among the special trees are a Caiifornian Redwood about 120ft high, a of about 150ft (it is a tree which can live to over 3000 years old in its home forests of California) and two Australian cider gums (the on which koala bears feed).
Although the Arboretum receives the bulk of its visitors during the summer months, it is particularly attractive both as the leaves turn in the autumn and as the bright green, spring foliage bursts forth after the long winter.
For car-bound visitors, an ornamental drive has been established on the same route as the old horse-drawn carriages used to take through the Bolderwood section of the forest. However, the narrow road continues further south than the trails, through an ancient, pollarded grove and past the famous Knightwood Oak which is thought to have been planted in 1697.
Similarly, the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive and its associate walk, leads through a wide belt of conifers planted in 1859 in the grounds of Rhinefield House. There are over fifty trees to view and all are meticulously labelled with both their height and their girth recorded for posterity. The accompanying Tall Tree walk has been specifically laid out to accommodate both pushchairs and invalid chairs.
Naturalists may care to extend their travels in this area and follow the Brock Hill trail which culminates at a hillside badger sett, carefully monitored by the Forestry Commission to ensure the survival of the black and white ‘brocks’.
Car parks are too numerous to mention and perfect picnic sites superlative, while for cam-pers and caravanners the Forestry Commission have established several full facilities sites and a dozen sites designed for the purist, equipped with only the basic facilities necessary to enjoy a woodland holiday.
It is not only walkers and naturalists that may enjoy the forest: anglers may care to walk across Beaulieu Heath to Hatchett Pond for
coarse fishing or visit the trout fisheries at Emery Down or try their hand at casting for carp at Minstead Mill Lake.
Golfers can visit the 18-hole woodland course close by at Brockenhurst Manor or venture further afield to Barton-on-Sea. Horse riding and pony trekking are well-catered for at the numerous local stables and, if watching rather than participating is your idea of sport, there is an old world village cricket green just outside Lyndhurst.
The ancient royal manor of Lyndhurst is the undisputed capital of the forest with its manor house and adjoining Verderers’ Hall, thatched, timbered and brightly-painted houses.
The Beaulieu River meanders from the heart of Denny Lodge, a favourite haunt of roe deer, past the National Motor Museum and the ruins of the Cistercian monastery through the tourist-tired village and south towards the Solent. An oxbow in the river at Bucklers Hard provides the perfect harbour and shelters the boatyards where the ships of Nelson’s fleet were once built from local oaks. The boatyards and cottages of the village have been sympathetically restored and now house a maritime museum recording this phase of Britain’s great naval heritage.