Monday 8 December 2008

Sleeping with ponies

Cabin fever had been setting in. Having barely stepped out of the flat for over a week, I was restless. Finances being tight the New Forest was the cheapest option. Also, it gave me a chance to spend a couple of days to work on my bush craft skills. Once more I headed down to Ringwood on the Friday. John H. kindly took time off from a very busy work schedule to meet me at the bus stop, get me a cup of coffee and then drop me off at a convenient starting point just outside Burley. Many thanks John, appreciated. Headed up the main track by Burley Outer Rails. The day was quite pleasant with a low, winter sun. Crossing the Bolderwood ornamental drive, I left the main tracks and made my on rather obscure footpaths. John had warned me conditions underfoot where wet. How right he was. Some places where total bog. At times, just following my nose, I headed up to Bolderwood cottage. Deer where quite numerous but with the density of the trees, I was unable to photo them. At the cottage I took to the drive up to the car park and picnic area. From there, aware that there was not too much daylight left, I made my way up to the Canadian memorial and then picked up the track. Headed across by Fritham cross and around to the underpass. Something else John had warned me about, the horrendous noise of traffic on the A31. It was a ghastly din that battered ones senses. Easing my way past a group of large red cattle with equally large horns that had no intention of moving off the track, I headed over to Cadman's pool. Here I was faced with a bit of a quandary, light was fading fast, I wanted to stay up on the ridge but somehow be far enough away from the car park that still had people driving in even though it was dusk. Managed it in the end, although I could hear cars arriving and departing at different times during the night. This time around I was using another wood burning stove, the Kunzi Magic Flame. In design it is simplistic. Basically it is hinged in such a way that it folds flats, like a large postcard. Open it up and drop the inside base plate and one has a fire box. my initial findings where that it burns hot. Water boiled incredibly quickly. The only down side possibly is the weight. It is the heaviest wood stove I have used. However, it is an ideal bush craft tool. My bivi was set up between a large fallen branch and an old rotten, tumbled down holly tree. Even in death though, there was life. A new holly tree was growing up through the hollowed out centre of the old one. Young holly trees where sprouting up nearby. The chain of life continuing. Read for a short time by the light of a guttering candle until the cold caused me to burrow deep in to my sleeping bag. A clear night sky and bright moonlight promised a cold night. As is my want I woke during the night for a loo break. As I wriggled out of the bivi bag I noticed dark forms all around me. A group of ponies had bedded down very close by. Heads turned in my direction but they where totally unfazed by me. Just before first light they began to stir, rising to their feet and wandering off. Something I had decided to experiment with was a tin of green heat. Supposedly the green alternative to meths. The idea was to use it for a quick breakfast brew instead of firing up the stove. After ten minutes of waiting for a pint of water to boil I decided enough was enough. Getting the stove lit was a lot easier and quicker. Breakfast was a mug of tea and a roll. it was shared with a friendly robin who made short work of the bits of bread offered to him. There had been a frost during the night and the morning was crisp and clear. There was a frost on the ground as I started off. The air was clear and still. the leaf litter underfoot gave off a deep, heady, fecund scent as it was disturbed. Following a defined footpath, I could see it was not going in the direction I wanted. However, across the other side of a boggy hollow I could see a gate that would lead me in to Holly hatch enclosure and a track through the wood. It was pleasant walking through the woods. Deer flitted through the trees. At one point a stag with a magnificent set of antlers ambled out on to the track. He was camera shy though and legged it as soon as I got the camera out. A bird caught my attention and I froze, trying to make out what is was. A spotted wood pecker. Once past Holly Hatch cottage the track got busier. At first a few serious looking walkers, big boots and trekking poles. Nearer to Fritham and the car park a series of dog walkers. Barbour jackets and hunter wellie boots. Most replied when I said good morning to them. Upper class accents to the fore. One or two looked askance at my scruffy appearance and swiftly hurried on. Well, I refuse to curtsy to them. At least their dogs where friendly. One chap looked a tad surprised when I commented on his Labrador. It was one of the older breed, deep chocolate brown and much larger and stockier than today's normal lab. The guy thawed a little and told me he was working on a breeding programme to bring up the numbers of these dogs. There was a track marked around the outer perimeter of Fritham. However. it was signed up as private and a man standing there was rather indignant that I had been considering heading down it. Took to a very muddy footpath instead. Out on to Salisbury Trench and then back across Longcross plain. Picked up the track that led across to Irons Well and back to Fritham. From there made my across Amberwood enclosure, Alderwood enclosure to Hasley hill. Saw a couple of woodpeckers and more deer. In one of the photos taken on the Hasley Hill ridge deer can just about be made out. Double click for a clearer view. Set up a bivi on the ridge. It was still quite early but I had the beginnings of a migraine. Took a migraine tablet and just curled up in the sleeping bag for a few hours. It was fairly late when I surfaced and I still felt non too good. However, I decided that it was essential to get some form of food down. Got the stove going. The warmth it threw out was most welcome. Made a mug of soup and managed most of it. Lay back against an old log as the stove died down. The sky was bejeweled with a star studded arena. A dark shape silently drifted across the night sky. An owl landed high on a tree beside me. In the distance another owl hooted. The owl in the tree replied. A dialogue ensued between the two until eventually on wide spread wings it drifted away effortlessly from its perch, hooting as it went. In the early hours of the morning a stag barked very close to me. Deer where quietly passing by, walking within a foot or so of my bivi bag. A dark shape paused, checking me over, deciding I was no threat it continued on its way. There had been a heavy frost during the night and by morning my water bottle was partially frozen. A cup of tea and I was soon packed up and on my way. Making my around to pick up a track that would lead me over to Ogdens. Two horse riders where heading for the gate that I was going through. To save them dismounting I swung it open to let them pass. One of the horses baulked though. The rider sighed in resignation, explaining to me that for some reason this was one gate the horse did not like. The horse seemed amiable enough and made no protest when I took the bridal and gently led him through the gate. Equine logic is sometimes a little difficult to fathom out! Over at Ogdens, dog walkers where struggling to get their cars down to the car park. Black ice made the going tricky. It was a succession of footpaths from there and eventually followed the Avon path back to Ringwood. Saw another spotted woodpecker as well as a couple of green ones. A quick nip in to the less than salubrious ladies loo, to change out of very muddy footwear and equally muddy trousers. That is why I carry a spare set of clothing. A final remark in my defence. There are a few folk who will read this and roll their eyes in horror at the though of me being tentless. However, apart from the fact that wild camping in the New Forest is illegal. Where I stopped overnight where in areas not suitable for a tent. Certainly it was not done from a lightweight aspect. My bivi bag is an old ex military surplus goretex bag. It is not light, but it is robust. A poncho overhead is there to keep any rain off. Mind, I would love a dd hammock and tarp. At present I am looking for a second hand one, money being tight.


  1. Dawn, Great write up. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Another successful outing Dawn - nice one

  3. Great trip report, as ever, and the photos are getting noticeably better.

  4. Wild camping and walking. Great stuff that.