The last time we visited the New Forest we discovered a beautiful country hotel called Forest Park in Brockenhurst. A charming feature of the village itself is that it is entered by passing through a ford. Since it had rained for many days and was still doing so, the entry was quite dramatic on this particular Wednesday in December, the day before our wedding anniversary.
We had driven up through the morning, which was cold and wet. We saw a few mute swans around the River Exe but nothing else apart from various members of the crow family, particularly an extremely large, no doubt, male raven.

We arrived at Forest Park in time for lunch – enjoyed a mixture of starter dishes, rather than a main course; Cherry particularly enjoyed a dish made up of figs on a round of goats cheese with crushed peanuts garnished with honey and blackberries, strawberries and raspberries, all lightly toasted.

We then enjoyed a short walk but it was still raining and we both hoped for a better day on the morrow.

The following day, our actual anniversary, started with a really pleasant breakfast served by really pleasant staff. We then drove to Lyndhurst, visited the local New Forest Museum and a co-operative of antique shops. Very enjoyable but nothing we particularly collect. After a drive around the various villages, we had seen ponies drenched but happily munching on gorse and cattle standing around chewing their cud. We came across a herd of mixed age donkeys all looking fat and fit but very depressed and miserable in the continuous rain.

It was at this point that Cherry and I realised how much standing water there was all over the forest especially the open ‘lawns’ and heather and gorse covered areas. Of course, this is quite normal, but new to us, as we had not visited in winter before. We did wonder however where all the reptiles, three snakes and three lizards hibernated and how they kept dry in an area of so much standing water.

In the spring, it is this very water that helps the amphibians to breed and attract various birds, especially waders as well as numerous dragonflies, damselflies and others.

We travelled back to the Forest Park and ordered a snack and drinks. As our drinks arrived, a young lady came to introduce herself. She was a “conservationist,” she said “and had heard we were keen conservationists also.” Her name was Hollie M’gog and she lived in Kenya and Uganda. The last eight years she had spent in Uganda.

I looked up and said how nice it was to meet her and how we had always wanted to go to see the gorillas, but that Cherry would not be able to walk the potential three-hour trek through the jungle.

“Don’t worry, I can arrange that for you, you can be carried in something akin to the old fashioned Sudan chair.”
“And chimpanzees,” I asked.
“Definitely,” was her reply.
“And we could see the shoebill storks?” I uttered.
“Given a couple of days looking we could do that as well.”

What an anniversary gift, the ability to go and see gorillas in the wold and chimpanzees and shoebills.

We exchanged addresses, emails and telephone numbers and Hollie is coming down to stay in the New Year.

It turned out that she had come over to England to take youngsters on a conservation holiday only to find herself locked down within the UK and locked out effectively from Africa – her bad luck, our good luck! She was working temporarily at the Forest Park until she can get home.
We enjoyed another couple of days before our return home. During those days we kept passing the Brockenhurst Snake Catchers Inn. Apparently, a hundred years or so ago there were men fully employed catching snakes. It is hard to imagine these days. Apparently, the snake catchers would catch adders and grass snakes for exhibition in London Zoo and no doubt small travelling circuses and the ubiquitous freak shows.

The pub still stands and there is mention of this old profession in the Museum of the Forest in Lyndhurst.

We always enjoy our breaks away from home but hope this particular one with the introduction of Hollie will be one that really does make a long-term ambition come true for both of us.

During our short stay, as always, we kept our eyes open for birds. Near Beaulieu on the water we spotted mallard, coot, moorhen, cormorant, sandpiper, mute swan, black headed gull, herring gull, redshank, and buzzard. Near the railway crossing at Lymington we spotted five teal. The best sighting was of a stunning little, quite tame, kingfisher, which flew onto a tree overhanging the water at Beaulieu. He sat there for several minutes while we admired his plumage.

Other more common birds seen there were:

  • Blue tit
  • Woodpigeon
  • Rook
  • Flocks of water starlings
  • Great tit
  • Jackdaw
  • Carrion Crow
  • Robin
  • Meadow pipit
  • Magpie

And finally, a huge raven as already mentioned, a hovering kestrel, and a pair of Brent geese on our way home (Topsham).




Tony Blackler

- A collection of short stories -

Tony is a passionate writer as well as an active conservationist. He is currently working on a number of books and we are delighted to be able to share a few stories from them.

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