Everyone remembers the first time their parents met their other half’s parents – mine was this past weekend in the New Forest in Hampshire. My boyfriend Martin and I have been together almost three years but our parents have not yet crossed paths. We thought that, whilst on a visit to the New Forest in Hampshire, his parents and brother would like to have the company of my mum.
Martin’s parents had rented a small cottage in the village of Lyndhurst on a family estate called Acres Down. Driving down a small country lane we found a series of buildings – the family house, a small farm shop, and three rental cottages, as well as a camp site. It seemed like a fantastic set up for a country business – possibly something I would like to do in the future. We made the most of the farm shop during our stay, buying our Sunday dinner meat (a huge silver-side of beef, fresh off the farm) amongst other purchases. It was perfect to have on our doorstep.
I think the cottages at Acres Down may have once been old out-buildings, which had been extended to create more space. The decor inside our cottage was slightly old-school but it was clean, tidy and comfortable. A recent addition to the living room was a wood-burner, which gave the place a lovely homely feel. At the back of the cottages were fields of sheep, cows and chickens, roaming in the long grass.
The New Forest turned the ideal place for this first meeting of families because it combined all of our loves – the outdoors, wildlife, and walking. My mum has been doing wildlife photography for years now in a semi-professional capacity, having had pictures published in various magazines (her own blog and wonderful pictures can be found at http://lindapriestley.zenfolio.com/). By far her specialist subject is the New Forest area, as she knows every single pathway, pebble and plant….and their relatives! Martin’s parents are also big fans of wildlife and walking, so we spent the majority of the weekend outdoors (when the weather allowed!)
We started up at Bolderwood, parking near the Canadian War Memorial and walking off-trail between the thick heather and low trees. Keeping as quiet as possible we quickly spotted a herd of deer running through the trees – with a huge stag at the helm. Mum has kindly provided me with photos of this beautiful sight. Further into the valley there is a farmer who encourages the deer into his land to feed – so you are pretty much guaranteed to see deer in this area – just remember to be very quiet!
The New Forest is home to thousands of New Forest ponies and other wild horses, which are tended to by rangers. Twice a year, the ponies are rounded up by riders and moved into pounds, so that veterinary checks can be done and numbers counted. This is called the drift. Rangers don’t release dates for the drift but we were lucky enough to see this happening when we were out driving this weekend. The riders helping with the herd were wearing full tweed jackets and jodhpurs – it was fascinating to see them all riding off into the undergrowth to find more of the ponies. Later we saw many ponies with their tails clipped into a step pattern – this is to tell which had been herded and which had not.
We drove from Bolderwood down through what is known as the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive, which is a stretch of narrow lane between Brockenhurst and the A35. On this road you can find rhododendrons, azaleas and other beautiful bushes and trees. You could also visit Rhinefield House, which used to be a private country estate but is now a beautiful hotel. Along this drive you will also find the one of the largest oak trees in the country.
Our travels took us next to the vibrant village of Burley, a semi-touristy but all-together lively and picturesque part of the forest. There is bunting between the shops and stick of rock in the shops, most of which are themed around witchcraft. Burley apparently has a long history of witchery, as a white witch lived there in the 1950’s and took to walking around town with a jackdaw on her shoulder.
Parking up, we noticed that tractors were running from the car park out to a Cider Festival in a nearby field. This turned out to be a mixture between a steam fair and a small Glastonbury, showcasing very old methods of cider-pressing and featuring a grass-roots band playing cider-related songs! After some tasting (quite a bit of tasting) we headed for the beach.
After a short drive down to Milford on Sea we grabbed some teas from the local cafe and headed down to the shore. From there we could see across to the Isle of Wight and the needles, with the lighthouse in the distance. Colourful huts line the bottom of the cliffs (for roughly £20,000 each!) and we played a game of stone skimming (I am pretty rubbish!). Gradually the sun came down and the sunset was just glorious.
In true Walton’s style, we stayed in that evening around the fire, playing board games and eating hearty food. This was all watered down by copious bottles of red wine and a large carton of the festival cider – it certainly added a little zing to the games! It was a perfect family-friendly weekend away.
Have you been to the New Forest? What were your highlights?