Our next stop was the New Forest, on the south coast of England, between Bournemouth and Southampton and across the Solent from the Isle of White.
Campsite: Camping in the Forest, Holmsley
Liked: great location, right in the New Forest park. Clean toilets and showers, and plenty of them (although the people next to us said it had been awful at the weekend when the site was full and the shower blocks were filthy!)
Didn’t like: camping on an old WWII airfield – not the prettiest campsite we’ve ever visited! There was rather too much broken up concrete and many of the camping areas were more like scrubland.
Score: 5 out of 10
The New Forest
Highlight: seeing the beautiful New Forest ponies everywhere
Other things we did: tried to keep cool! Visited Mudeford and Burley, both of which are very quaint. Education in the forest.
I have never been to the New Forest before and to be honest I thought it was going go be just that – a forest! In actual fact, it is the largest area of heathland in Europe and, whilst there are areas of woodland, it is mostly low shrubs, heather, bracken, gorse and grass. Apparently the heathland habitat is rarer than rainforest and it has been pretty much the same since the area was designated for hunting by William the Conqueror in 1079. In medieval times, a “Forest” was a legally defined area – subject to special laws – where the “beasts of the chase” (deer & wild pig) and their food were protected for the pleasure of the monarch. It was not necessarily a wooded area in the modern meaning of the word. The ‘commoners’ in this area have rights to graze animals on the land and there are approximately 10,000 cattle, ponies, sheep, donkeys and pigs roaming here, 5000 of which are ponies.
It was an interesting experience getting on and off the campsite as the ponies do not always keep to the grassed areas but often stand in large groups in the middle of the road – and the entrance to our campsite seemed to be a popular place to hang out. Fortunately there was a cattle grid across the entrance so that the horses couldn’t get onto the campsite. Anyway, you inch your car slowly towards them waiting for them to move out of the way, but they just stand there looking at you, or worse turn their rear ends towards you so that you worry they may give your car a good old hoof. Eventually you snake around them, so close you are almost touching them, and manage to get through, but it is very slow, especially if someone is trying to come past on the other side of the road at the same time! We were certain, from the look in their eyes, that they knew exactly how awkward they were being! And apparently they have the road sense of a 2 year old, so you really do have to drive carefully!
Having said all of that, they are the most beautiful animals. They are of so many different colours and types of coat – dappled, painted, black, tan, grey – and they had lots of foals with them that were mostly lying down in the sun sleeping (although we did look closely to make sure they were breathing!). Many of them have brand marks on them to show who owns them and some have different tail clippings to indicate which part of the Forest they belong to.
We wondered whether they were horses or ponies and so did some research to find out the difference. The main difference is height – above 14.2 hands (144cm or 4’10” in old money) is a horse and below that height is a pony. But there are also physiological differences between horses and ponies; for example ponies are stockier and stronger with shorter legs, wider chests and thicker manes and coats. They also have heavier bones, thicker necks and shorter heads, in general than horses. And they are more intelligent too – which means they are often more stubborn than a horse (I refer you to my paragraph above about knowing how awkward they were being!)
We had hoped to do some walking and exploring whilst we were here, but two things put paid to all of that. One was the weather – with temperatures up in the low 30s most of the time and with very little shade, it was just too hot to consider walking. The other was the fact that we were all exhausted and needed to SLOW DOWN! I guess the events of the last couple of weeks have finally caught up with us and we really needed to stop for a while.
We took a drive out along the south coast, stopping in Poole for lunch, passing through Bournemouth and taking a walk along the beach in Mudeford, which was charming with its rows of beach huts. But no-one wanted to go very far as the heat just sapped our energy. So the rest of the time we just stayed close to the campsite and tried to keep cool.
Education in the Forest
We also thought it was about time we started our home schooling adventure, so we spent the mornings sitting under the trees doing some English and maths and the afternoons going out to the shops just so that we could sit in the air conditioned car and walk around the air conditioned supermarket for a while! The girls have both planned, drafted and written their first blog posts, which I hope you will have seen. And there have been so many questions about things we have seen that we have started to make a list of the topics we want to do some research about when we get a chance.
Tomorrow we are heading to Hastings for a few nights and from there to France
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