The Heart of the New Forest
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You probably know that the New Forest is neither new, nor wholly a forest. Just an hour and a half away from London, this National Park is one of the largest remaining expanses of open pasture land, heathland and woodland in the country, let alone in the densely populated south of England. In fact, whereas other royal and ancient forests such as Arden, Dean, Epping, Sherwood and Windsor are just fragments, the New Forest occupies roughly the same area as it did in the days of its founder, William the Conqueror. It is remarkable that it has remained so, wedged as it is between the conurbations of Bournemouth-Poole and Southampton-Portsmouth.
Part of the character of the forest are centuries-old traditions including the rights of commoners to collect resources and graze their cattle, pigs and ponies. The large areas of lowland habitats, lost elsewhere, which have survived are rich in wildlife: there are specialist heathland birds such as the Dartford warbler, curlew, nightjar, stonechat, redstart and tree pipit, and there are woodland birds such as the wood warbler, hobby and buzzard; of reptiles and amphibians, all three native snakes, sand lizards and the great crested newt; and of wild mammals numerous deer and the European otter find a home in Britain's second-newest National Park.
This walk will explore open heathland and woodland in a large loop between the village of Brockenhurst and Lyndhurst - 'the Capital of the New Forest' - which is still pleasant despite horrendous traffic congestion, with many independent shops, cafes, pubs and a fine gothic-revival church. We will have an hour to explore the town and have lunch. One leg of the route will give us a chance to admire the lofty redwood trees along Rhinefield Ornamental Drive, and upon returning to Brockenhurst we could have a drink at a pub there such as the Foresters' Arms, the Rose and Crown or the Snakecatcher.
What to bring
Water: bring water.
Medicines: if you have hay fever, diabetes, minor ailments etc.
Day rucksack: typically 20-30 litres, they are comfortable to wear and allow you to use your arms freely
Boots: waterproof and breathable and designed for hiking
Gaiters: recommended for wet weather or boggy conditions
Socks: proper walking socks will keep your feet dry and help prevent blisters
Layered clothing: lets you quickly adapt to changes in the weather and body temperature. Go for a base layer (vest or t-shirt) and a mid layer (a micro fleece or shirt) and in cooler weather add an outer layer (a windproof jacket or thick fleece)
Trousers: ideally no jeans as they become heavy and cold in the rain, breathable fabrics are more comfortable and dry and on warm days shorts are OK
Waterproof jacket: essential when hiking in all but the calmest of weather, breathable fabrics are more comfortable and dry
Gloves: Windproof, or better still, waterproof gloves are the best choice, bring a spare pair if expecting rain
Hat or cap: stay warm in winter and shaded in summer
Sunglasses: for any sunny day, even in winter
Sun cream: can be useful even on cloudy and winter days
Snacks: bring biscuits, energy bars, gels, bananas, chocolate or dried fruit for example and put them somewhere easy to get hold of
Lunch: bring a packed lunch unless otherwise stated
Food & drink
We will have lunch in Lyndhurst, which has many cafes and pubs. You will have an hour to look around the town and do as you please. Either bring a packed lunch or buy something in the town. Also bring enough to drink and eat to sustain you on the walk, especially as lunch will be late, about 2pm. There are also pubs in Brockenhurst for a drink before we get trains.