Thursday, 15 May 2014

Matley Wood and Matley Heath

It was the final day of the football season this weekend. Although you may think my biggest passion is hill walking, in reality it is actually football. I am a life long Manchester United fan and season ticket holder at Old Trafford. I am also a huge fan of my local non-league team Altrincham who I even had a trial for when I was young. On Saturday I went to Moss Lane to watch Altrincham take on Guiseley in the Conference North playoff final. We won the game in injury time of extra time. At the final whistle I joined the other four and half thousand strong crowd and invaded the pitch, it was a fantastic result. It hasn't been quite as successful a season at Old Trafford, but hopefully it'll get rid of the impatient negative stale glory hunting fans we have around the place who are only there because of our last two decades of glory. I'm a positive football fan and player and my team get my support always, win or lose. The following day on the Sunday I headed down to Southampton to watch United's last game of the season with my mate Neil, who had managed to get us VIP tickets in the Presidential Suite at Southampton's fantastic St Mary's stadium and tickets in the away end. Despite a fairly disappointing game we had a fantastic day out and even bumped into a true legend when we came out of a lift to find Sir Bobby Charlton stood in front of us. We asked for a photo and he kindly obliged. I was a little star struck to say the least as Bobby really is a true legend.

Neil, Myself and Sir Bobby Charlton at St Mary's Stadium, Southampton.
By now you are probably thinking... "why on earth am I reading a football story on the Trekking Britain blog?". Well it just so happens that as I was looking at a map of Southampton on my sat nav I spotted a big green area nearby. It was then that it dawned on me I wasn't far from the New Forest National Park, just fifteen minutes away in fact. So as the New Forest National Park is somewhere I haven't visited before I promised myself that as long as I wasn't too hung over on Monday morning I would go for a wee wander before I headed back to Manchester. I might even make a habit of combining my two greatest passions in one trip.

Matley Wood Car Park, New Forest National Park.
I had absolutely no idea where I was heading or what to expect so I headed for Lyndhurst as people were referring to it online as the unofficial capital of the New Forest National Park. On the way I pulled in at Ashurst and grabbed the Ordnance Survey OL22 Explorer map from the Post Office and picked up a tasty packed lunch from the Gossip Cafe to eat on my walk. The road heading into the New Forest National Park was already showing signs of things to come with natural woodland on either side of the road. My first stop was the visitors centre in Lyndhurst where I hoped to find some decent walking books. I had a look at a few but I wasn't that impressed. The Cicerone one was probably the best but I refuse to pay thirteen pounds for a book I won't use very often. There was an interesting book written by members of the local rambling club which looked good, I'll probably purchase it if I'm down there again. I did find one walk which looked interesting that I pulled off the internet on my phone and copied into Evernote so I had a local copy. In the end I decided to do that walk as one thing the writer said was that it was varied and showed everything the New Forest National Park had to offer in one short and easy walk.

Matley Wood, New Forest National Park, England.
I parked the car at the Matley car park just off the B3056 Beaulieu Road a mile south east of Lyndhurst. As soon as you leave Lyndhurst and head along the Beaulieu Road you experience another unique landscape the New Forest National Park is famous for, its wild heathland. Its certainly a landscape I had never experienced anywhere else in Britain. At times the relatively flat and dry wild heathland, flanked by natural woodland and backed by massive skies reminded me of places I have walked in Australia. One of the most common sights on the New Forest National Park's heathlands is the graceful New Forest Ponies and Horses. Everywhere you look they are grazing. Unfortunately as this adventure wasn't planned I had absolutely no outdoor clothing on me. When I set off from the car at the Matley car park I was wearing my best Adidas pumps, denim jeans, a cotton Captain America t-shirt and my bag containing only food, drink, map and my best going out jacket.

Squirrel in Matley Wood, New Forest National Park.
I headed towards the Matley Wood Campsite then walked through it following the main gravel road to a gated track at the back of the campsite into Matley Wood. I was expecting a busy campsite. There were several caravans but not one person anywhere to be seen. I followed the track through Matley Wood and was immediately taken aback at how natural the woodland was and how varied the species of trees. It was absolutely stunning and the birdsong was amazing. At one point I stopped suddenly as a Grey Squirrel sat perfectly silhouetted on the branch of a tree. That big grin I get when I know I'm somewhere special stretched out on my face.

Matley Wood, New Forest National Park, Hampshire, England.
It was a very strange day weather wise. On my way to the New Forest I could see from the car that although it was a mild seventeen degrees and mostly blue skies and sunshine, there were some nasty looking cumulus clouds gathering and I could see huge dark curtains of rain falling from them in the distance. One of those short sharp showers was suddenly falling on me so I took up the chance to shelter under a thick holly tree and just listen to the birdsong. I heard something scuffling round in the tree opposite me and couldn't figure out what it was. It must be a bird but it was moving around like a mouse clinging on to every small branch like its life depended on it. I spotted it and recognized it was a small lonely Tree Creeper. Once it stopped raining I made my way to the far end of the track through the forest where my way was impeded by a fallen tree.

Fallen Tree in Matley Wood, New Forest National Park, Hampshire, England.
As the track came to the edge of the forest the views were incredible. Matley Heath reminded me of some of the places I had visited in the Australia bush. Dry barren land with isolated trees, and most of all the huge skies. Luckily for me in my Adidas pumps, the paths were relatively dry, there were only a few sticky mud patches to circumnavigate.

Matley Heath from edge of Matley Wood, New Forest National Park.
I had a look at the map to check the direction I should be heading then made my way north east across Matley Heath. Instead of sticking to the path I often wandered through the heather and bracken hoping to spot a snake. The New Forest's warm sandy heathlands are perfect reptile habitat and they are home to all species of snake found in Britain including the rare Smooth Snake. No such luck seeing one today though unfortunately.

Tree on Matley Heath, New Forest National Park, Hampshire, England.
Stood in the centre of Matley Heath on a day like today was overwhelming. The panoramic views were to die for and the skies all around were huge and fascinating. I reached the far end of the heath where it crosses the Fulliford Bog which becomes the Beaulieu River further downstream. There were horses everywhere including a cute pony that I thought was being friendly and coming to see me before it completely blanked me and walked into the field on the other side of the track.

Fulliford Bog, New Forest National Park, Hampshire, England.
The track then passed over a bridge that crosses the railway before rising to a small woodland by another open heathland. To the left now was the more visited Deerleap Inclosure. The heavens opened just as I was passing the small woodland. I took shelter under a tree and looked out to the open heathland and saw that the horses had the same idea sheltering under a set of wide fir trees.

Raining near the Longdown Inclosure, New Forest National Park, England.
Deerleap Inclosure trees reflecting in a puddle, New Forest.
The rain stopped several minutes later so I continued heading north east. The area immediately to my left was a deforested section of the Deerleap Inclosure that had been replanted. The thousands of young fir trees backed by blue skies made me feel like I was in Canada not Hampshire. These days the term inclosure as used in the New Forest seems to simply refer to an area of forest that has been enclosed by fencing to allow regrowth for timber production. There have been many acts through the centuries that refer to inclosures that were areas of unused land that were enclosed by fence and sold to land owners. Whether these so called inclosures started off like that I'm not too sure but these days it seems to be just a term used by forestry.

Young Fir trees in Deerleap Inclosure, New Forest National Park, England.
Young Fir trees in Deerleap Inclosure, New Forest National Park.
The track passed over another bog which was full of frog spawn and tadpoles then climbed onto the wide grassy strip of land between the Deerleap Inclosure on the left and the Longdown Inclosure on the right. I had a look at the map to figure out where I needed to turn right to enter the Longdown Inclosure. As described on the online walk directions it was as soon as the Deerleap Car Park came into view.  

Track between Deerleap Inclosure and Longdown Inclosure.
I turned right and ascended a track towards the Longdown Inclosure. The track passed over another small boggy stream. The track split and I followed the track to the right with the tall trees on my left.

Tall trees in Longdown Inclosure, New Forest National Park.
All of a sudden the heavens opened again but this time it wasn't rain it was a hail storm. The hail was quite large and was coming down at some pace so I sought shelter. I spotted a big thick fir tree on the left a little further up the path so ran to its dry base. It was a perfect spot, the tree was so thick that I remained completely dry, there was a ledge for me to sit on and admire the forest views. There was even a tiny bird which must have been either a Wren or Pipit in the tree above me keeping me company, though I suspect I was enjoying his company more than he was enjoying mine.

Fir tree in Longdown Inclosure, New Forest National Park.
Hailstones and Fir Cone in Longdown Inclosure, New Forest.
Birch and Fir trees in Longdown Inclosure, New Forest National Park.
After the hail storm it was blue skies and sunshine yet again. I headed along the track towards the south west corner of the inclosure then turned right heading along another track and in the direction of an area marked on the map as Fulliford Passage where the path passes under the railway. The track crossed another deforested area with young fir trees. There were Skylarks and Stonechats in abundance. The Skyarks making a racket a dozen or so metres in the air as they do and the Stonechats were sat on top of the young trees making that unique sound they make that sounds like two pebbles being bashed together

Myself near the Longdown Inclosure, New Forest National Park.
So far my ill prepared choice of clothing hadn't been an issue as I used trees to shelter from the rain, it was warm, and the going underfoot had been relatively easy. Now however just a few hundred metres short of Fulliford Passage I found myself at the edge of a peat bog that looked more like what I am used to when walking in the Peak District.

Lapwing near Fulliford Passage, New Forest National Park.
 I'd often looked down at the bogs in the Peak District and wondered who the fool was that left his trainers behind, now I was quite likely to become one of those fools. I tightened up my Adidas pumps and started the arduous task of navigating my way across the bog without sliding and falling into the bog in my best work jacket. To make things worse I was being attacked by a disgruntled Lapwing that was circling me and swooping down unnerving me at every opportunity.

Lapwing above bog near Fulliford Passage, New Forest National Park.
I eventually gave up trying to carefully navigate the bog searching for grassy mounds and instead just thought sod it and walked straight through the lot of it. This is how my favourite Adidas pumps look right now.

My favourite Adidas pumps bog damaged.
I headed into the woodland by Fulliford Passage and was taken aback at just how incredibly enchanting the scene was. The woodland floor was covered in a velvet like green moss, there was a small stream running through it and a small wooden bridge. It was like something from a scene in Bambi. If I didn't have to head back up north to Manchester I could have sat there for hours.

Oak sapling and Bluebell at Fulliford Passage, New Forest.
Footbridge by Fulliford Passage, New Forest National Park, England.
Stream near Fulliford Passage, New Forest National Park, England.
Stream near Fulliford Passage, New Forest.
I headed under the railway through Fulliford Passage. On the other side was the far eastern side of Matley Heath. There were horses and ponies grazing everywhere. A lovely young Foal following his mother passed in front of me just before I turned right and headed through the King's Passage and back to the area of Matley Heath I had traversed an hour or so earlier. I turned left and retraced my footsteps back through Matley Wood to the campsite and back to the car. Within seconds of me closing the car door the heavens opened again. I sat eating a Mars Bar waiting for the windscreen to clear and reflected on what a great time I had on my first walk in the New Forest. I had expected the New Forest to be a bigger version of other forests I know well, but it is far more than that. It is far wilder, more natural, it has a fascinating history and incredibly varied and unique landscapes. I look forward to returning one day when I have more time, my proper outdoor gear and my camera.

Foal in the New Forest National Park, Hampshire, England.

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