Thursday, July 17, 2014

The New Forest

It had been 10 years ago since I visited the New Forest, so named in the 11th century as it was specially planted for William The Conquerer as a hunting forest. We had stumbled upon it more than 30 years ago. Jeanette and I were on our first holiday together and as she hadn't been anywhere yet, I thought it would be a good idea to do a grand tour of Europe. While in France, near Cherbourgh, my little battery operated AM radio picked up a signal from the BBC which informed us it was good weather in the south of England. So we rode up to the ferry and sailed to Portsmouth!

On the ferry I asked one of the stewardesses for the nearest campgrounds. She gave us directions for the New Forest. We arrived late at night, pitched the tent and fell asleep. We knew nothing about the area we were in and when I looked out my tent the next morning… I looked straight into two big dark eyes of… a bull…! We had obviously not pitched the tent at a campground… yet when I looked further around I found another tent and a caravan too.

It was our first encounter with The New Forest, where horses, ponies, cows, pigs and donkeys roam free everywhere. I mean everywhere! In the fields, in the woods, in the towns and sometimes even in the shops… (although there is usually a bit of commotion when that happens). Today The New Forest is no longer a Royal hunting forest but one of England's National Parks and a popular spot for holiday makers and weekenders. It's a special place where time seemingly has stood still. Quaint villages, ancient forests, open heathlands and meandering streams make up an area unlike anything I've ever seen.

We didn't stay long that first time as we wanted to see more of England, but over the years we kept coming back to it. We liked England from the start. Switzerland and France have their charm too but are overcrowded during summer and somehow didn't have the same appeal to us like England does.

Just like our first encounter, it was by pure coincidence that we became to fully appreciate it for what it is. We found ourselves with engine troubles and in the interest of making it home with an engine that was missing on one cylinder and blowing oil past all gaskets, decided not to travel any further and stay in The New Forest for two full weeks.

We left the car at the campground and started walking the many walking tracks through The New Forest and saw a whole new side to it. From that moment on we just kept coming back to it at least once a year, but often more than that. Over the years it gradually changed a bit. The Forestry Commission that managed The New Forest became the Forest Enterprise… walking tracks became 'hiking trails' and voluntary parking meters were introduced too. Other things changed as well. The little old ladies in their Morris Minors were replaced by yuppies in BMW and Mercedes convertibles as housing prices had gone through the roof, which had attracted a whole different group of inhabitants.

I had wondered, now that we hadn't been there for 10 years, what we would find. The first thing I noticed is The Forest Enterprise had given way again to The Forestry Commission. A good start I thought. The parking meters were still there but also still voluntary. Camping was as good (and expensive!) as ever. Unfortunately the small Robertsons of Brockenhurst supermarket had been replaced with a Tesco. If Tesco had done their marketing right they would have taken over but kept the Robertson's name and style. Apart from that Brockenhurst is still the charming centre of The New Forest it had always been. Officially the centre of The New Forest is Lyndhurst but to me that is a mistake by the tourism info.

What had changed dramatically was the carparks. They are now filled with tasteless modern mass produced plastic rubbish. We saw just a handful of old classic cars still in daily use. Slowly but surely the modern cars had taken over illustrating that Britain needs more mechanics willing to work on older cars and less salesmen promoting plastic replacements. For motorcycles the situation had become even worse. We were in the country that produces Triumph motorcycles and yet saw nothing but Japanese! The only old bikes we saw in use was a lovely man riding with his daughter on an older Triumph while she was on an older Honda. Even during our visit to Sammy Miller, on which more in the next post, our Triumphs were the only classic models in the parking area. They received a lot of attention too!

Lyndhurst had changed too. The traffic was just as bad as before, possibly even more choc-a-bloc than ever, but something had changed as well. It was covered in Australian flags…?!? Wondering why we found there is a special connection between Lyndhurst and Australia. The only one I knew of is that there is also a Lyndhurst in Tasmania (which looks nothing like the one in The New Forest). The connection celebrated with the Australian flags however is the first governor of New South Wales and the founder of Sydney, captain Arthur Phillip, was a Lyndhurst man.

Of course England wouldn't be England without its weather. Clouds formed during the day and opened up in the evening. It kept raining all night too, which didn't bother the many English kids riding around the campground on their little bicycles. They simply put on their raincoats and wellies and kept on going, better still when off the bikes they jumped up and down in as many puddles as they could find :-) In the morning barbecues were fired up everywhere for a bacon and eggs breakfast.

During our trip we have met many wonderful people and while in general the people in Europe are much more closed and reserved than say Mexico, we have met many wonderful people here too. First there was Sammy Miller and the people working at his motorcycling museum. Then we met 'two grumpy old men' who turned out to be anything but grumpy (see the upcoming post about Beaulieu Motors). The Hollands Wood campground in The New Forest is managed by a team of very friendly people who wanted to know all about our trip and last but not least all the many people we have met along the way that showed a genuine interest in what we are doing.

Of course after reading this and seeing the photos, you want to know more about The New Forest. There is an enormous amount of history and tradition here. Many a book has been written about it and every building has its own long history too. Covering that all is well outside the possibilities of this blog as there is simply too much to tell. There is a, to me anyway, rather unique way this forest is managed by both the Forestry Commission and several commoners. The history goes back almost 1000 years. Arguably the most scenic drive through The New Forest is the Ornamental Drive, so named after the many ornamental trees lining it. It's one of those roads that you just have to ride really slowly to appreciate what it's all about. If you click on the video below, we'll take you on a guided tour through the New Forest!

I couldn't resist taking a photo of my British bike in front of a unique British piece of history which can be found on the way to Fritham pond. The telephone box had escaped modern times although it is no longer equipped with an actual telephone. The telephone company had decided it needed scrapping as it was no longer 'commercially viable'. The residents of Fritham protested and fought to keep the telephone box where it is. They won too! It is now a tourism information stand, probably the smallest in the world, where we left our comments in the guestbook. What a great idea to restore a telephone box and use it as a tourism info stand! I'm sure Google will show you some of The New Forest history but I would advise anyone who is interested to purchase a book on the life and history of this place.