The forest felt proper autumnal this afternoon, it was warm and dank, a light rain blanketed the landscape, softening everything, it had moistened the leaves on the woodland floor just enough for you to move unheard through the stands. Periodically the tiny raindrops which clung to the canopy way up above, would merge and tumble earthwards in isolated down pours. I became aware that I made no noise as I walked, I listened for any give away sound I may make as I move, though heard nothing. Nothing but for the drip drop of the rain and the occasional acorn, Burley Old was silent and still. And I moved silently through it. I'm fairly invisible too in my usual forest toned cloths. Though clearly not invisible enough, as although I freeze as soon as I see him, a fine white stag has clocked my approach, disappearing through the bracken he moves off with his girls at speed, and is lost in autumns jumble. A couple of ponies looked up, though realizing there's nothing going on, quickly return to their chomping. And the stands are silent and still again. Burley Old is beautiful today, subtly lit through the holes in its canopy left by the fallen. I stand a while in tranquillity and take in the beauty of the woodland, I breath it in, it's magical, it's an antidote to some of the crappier elements of modernity, it's reviving and rejuvenating. Nice. Restored, I continued on with my damp walk leaving Burley Old and its inhabitants in peace. I'm grateful for the forest.
Tuesday, 17 October 2017
Monday, 16 October 2017
It was 30 years ago today that the 'Great Storm' ravaged the South Coast, wreaking havoc and destruction. The forest suffered, especially the older trees. Swathes of adolescent timber plantation were felled, sad, though easily replaced. Not so easy to replace were veteran and ancient leviathan trees who'd watched over the forest for centuries. They'd seen the works of man in the forest come and go, coppice, pollard, graze, enclose, bound, drain, plant, extract, repeat. Standing firm and resolute these ancients had weathered countless previous storms with maybe only a battle scar, though this storm was to be their downfall, quite literally. Bratley Wood, exposed as it is on high open ground, took a pounding in the storm. I remember the prostrate hulks, shattered trunks and fallen boughs of many of it's inhabitants. Bratley felt like an appropriate place to walk today. Bratley Wood's a beautiful open woodland, never enclosed, it's old and knows it, it holds an air of timeless tranquillity, along with the memory of the forest in it's huge Beech and Oak. It also holds a history of storms in its rotting relics, a history which extends well before 1987 and right up to the present day, and some of those stumps of trunks and fallen remains are the result of 30 years ago. 30 years and still a presence in the woodland. Some of the trees were truncated in the style of a brutal pollarding, though even some of these still produce leaf each year, and some have become fertile homes to seeds from other species, and live on. How cool are trees.
Sunday, 15 October 2017
Saturday, 14 October 2017
I climbed one of the wooden shooting towers on the edge Great Huntley Bank and Camel Green. It's an older tower and the tops of the uprights have hollowed through weathering, in one of the hollows was a stone painted pink with a pair of blue and yellow eyes. On the underside of the stone creature was 'Find Waterside Rocks FB Have Fun'. Apparently it's a thing, a community based around Southampton who paint rocks and leave them places for people to find. Cool. I like the idea of leaving art for people to find, and I like the idea of the connections that can create and the community which could develop.
I saw these couple of fatties out in the forest. Mad looking bikes. The frame clearances look outlandish, though they have to be to fit the tyres, tyres which are huge, 4.8'' fitting as they do 100mm wide rims. The guys said the great for mud and sand, and are a lot of fun. Must be slow riding though, and hard going on the road. The top bike is a Surly Moonlander, and the bottom a Cube e-fatbike, the Cube also had a motor. If I had loads of money I'd have a range of bikes to fit terrain, conditions and mood. Though I haven't, so I think I'll stick to my Santa Cruz, it may not like the deep mud or sand, but it's versatile on and off road. It's funny what you see out.
Friday, 13 October 2017
A nice piece of subway art found in the subway under the A31 near the Spreading Oak and Winding Stonard. Simple and effective colours used well in classic NYC style. I have no objection to art like this, it brightens a dull concrete subway and adds something unexpected to your walk.
Thursday, 12 October 2017
We were over Purbeck today, exploring the rugged terrain of the Jurassic Coast, and to make it more challenging, for most of the walk (walk really being a misnomer) we created our own route over, or followed animal tracks over, a rough boulder strewn landscape, across acute slopes of loose dried clay or through a dense carpet of bramble and thorn. It made for an interesting outing. It started with a bracing stroll out to Houns Tout with its beautiful views into the Encombe Bowl and the Jurassic Coast as it unfolds west, before we descended to Chapman's Pool. Between Chapman's Pool and the western slope of St Aldhelm's Head there has always been a narrow path, it's course would occasional change, through the path remained a constant, not so now. Although some sections of the path remain, for the most part the path is gone; the sea has eroded so much in recent years, the coast is raw and fluid, blasted with pebbles flung by the waves. There's no path to follow. There's something primeval about making your own way through nature, you are forced to take notice of your surroundings more, to look ahead as well as your footfall. Over the years, as with everywhere else, the brambles here have invaded and colonized the boulders, rocks and quarry waste beneath St Aldhelm's Head, they tangle your feet or rap themselves around your legs with incredible efficiency, they really are a pain the arse. Though the views we were afforded as we moved up and around the headlands were more than compensation for our injuries. Eventually we climbed out of the old quarry mouth, turning to take in the dramatic view back into the quarry and the sea a 100 meters below us. It struck me how green the post industrial landscape had become, when we started coming here in the 80's the scene was one of starkness a bare stone landscape. How much its changed. The views from St Aldhelm's Head in all directions are phenomenal. Kicking back in a depression of long rough grass, I think, I could lay here all afternoon soaking in the autumn sun and scenery. Though we're not sat for long, before it's off west in the direction of Emmett's Hill and Chapman's Pool. This time the paths are defined and well kept, easier walking but for the deeply cut blunt valley between the two headlands, which is all steep stairs and aching. The light catches the cattle lines which mark the valley's steep grassy sides. It's not only the cattle tracks which are picked out, but also depressions and hollows, and a track which cuts diagonally across the slope and which once would have reached the tiny bay below, though now ends abruptly meters above the sea. A testament to the erosion of the years. Once around Emmett's Hill we drop into Hill Bottom, it's wooded core holds a secret. Over the fence (for sometimes you just must) and you're into a deeply cut wooded gorge through which a stream flows. A gentle stream today, though in the wet season a torrent. It's a magical place of gnarled trees, waterfalls, sparkling pools and luscious ferns. If you chose to get off the path and roam, nature will always show you her wonders. We left Hill Bottom and made our way up through grassy fields and nettle choked footpaths until we'd returned to our start point in Kingston. Fabulous walk immersed in natures glory, in good company and under a generous Autumn sun.
Wednesday, 11 October 2017
And what are they protesting? Their apparent right to be shit thick and ignorant. I mean, really! What is wrong with these people? Their ignorance and disregard for others and the environment dumbfounds me as much as annoys me. The worst bit about picking up dog poo, is picking it up, and if you've got a dog you know you get used to it, once you've picked up the rest is easy; or so you'd think. Obviously not for these morons, and they're out there in huge numbers too, no, they choose to festoon trees with their bags of shite. Why! I don't understand. I'd be ashamed if I left a bag of poo, though they appear proud and want to display their ignorance for all to see. It's bad enough when you see their dirty protests in the local park, but out here in the forest it just seems weirder and worse. What the f*ck is wrong with these people?
The forest is going nuts at the moment. It's been a really good year for nuts all round, and the moment now belongs to the Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa). Recent winds have dislodged the cracked open spiky cases, littering the woodland floor around the trees with hundreds of fair sized nuts and empty cases. That's a thing I've noticed this year, 2015 and 2016's nutting seasons saw the chestnuts unfairly divided between a portion of very good sized nuts (30%) though with the bulk of the nuts being of a poor size or near hollow (70%), whereas, this season the nuts appear to be predominantly (70%) a more uniform size, a reasonable and still useful size. This situation isn't restricted to one site either, it appears to be the same wherever I've walked in the forest of late. If you wanted some sweet chestnuts now is the time to get out there, you'd collect your fill in no time at all.
Tuesday, 10 October 2017
If you look carefully around the forest you may spot incongruous features which could be clues to past activity or events. It's astounding what history hides from us in plain sight, only seen if we really look. It could be earthworks of some kind, hidden footings, boundaries, pieces of masonry or in this case non native plants. At Holmhill you'll see a plantation of non native Eucalyptus trees, and in the spring, clusters of daffodils, these mark the site of Holmhill Cottage. Holmhill had seen occupation from at least the 1600's and was described in 1670 as a place ''very much delightful for the feeding and harbouring of his Majesties deer'' (New Forest Notes by Anthony Pasmore), and a cottage stood here right up until the late 70's when the last occupant died and the buildings were demolished. The only physical remnant of the cottage is a significant piece of brickwork, possibly a chimney, about 100m down hill wedged in a drainage ditch. When the cottage, stables and out buildings were gone the Forestry Commission ploughed the whole site and planted these Eucalyptus trees. So you're looking at what Eucalyptus trees growing in Britain look like after 40 years. Holmhill Cottage must have been a magnificent place to live back in the day, rudimentary maybe with no services and limited amenities, though set as it was in such splendid isolation, I'm sure you could overlook those.
In the valley through which the head waters of Highland Water flow, the Ocknell Arch Oak towers above its surrounding neighbours. A majestic ancient Oak, the Ocknell Arch Oak is reaching the end of its leaf bearing days. For the most part it's naked, a few branches have the fading semblance of leafing twigs, but only a few. The last 10 years have seen it decline markedly, I wondered if it would leaf at all next year. Though even if they don't and no more leaves burst from its boughs, it will still have a presence in the forest for decades to come.
Monday, 9 October 2017
Sunday, 8 October 2017
Saturday, 7 October 2017
I've just binge read volumes 4 through 6 of Saga, and it just keeps getting better as the characters, universe and story grows and unfolds. Written masterfully by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated beautifully by Fiona Staples, it far exceeds most of it's contemporaries in consistency and quality, and really is a graphic masterpiece. The story continues to engage and moves at just the right pace, not rushing the story, nor not getting bogged down. If you don't know the story. It's a story as old as stories get, boy and girl from different warring sides meet, one has horns the other wings, they fall in love and everybody's pissed off about it. Vaughan tells it in such an original and imaginative way, and Staples illustrates it sumptuously, every page is a visual feast of line and colour. It never fails to surprise, and often shocks. The universe Vaughan and Staples have created is complexed and colourful, a universe engaged in an ages old war, every star system and race enlisted, a universe where technology and magic blend seamlessly. When our main protagonists fall in love and have a child (Hazel), the entrenched sides see the offspring of their union as an abomination rather than a blessing. I'm tickled that the afore mentioned main protagonists bonded and built a relationship, a dream, over a pulp book by underrated writer Mister Heist; inspiration can come from anywhere. The characters have depth and originality, you just accept them, no matter how weird or outlandish. You accept that Prince Robot IV is essentially a human with a tv screen head, there's a cat that knows if you're lying and a spectral half bodied girl Izabel is a member of the family; it's a wonderfully rich universe populated by endlessly weird characters. These 3 volumes continue telling the story through Hazel's narration, of her recollections and perspective. There's separation, reunion and loss, there's sadness and humour, good helpings of humour both in the writing and the illustrations. There's soap opera shenanigans, drugs, bounty hunters looking for revenge, revolutionaries, deception, loyalty, sacrifice and a quest for healing monster jizz. I can't go into any detail without giving spoilers. So, you're just going to have to read them yourself. And hey, you'd be mad not to, this is comics at their best.
Friday, 6 October 2017
Chapmans Pool and St Aldhelms Head from Swyre Head
West from Swyre Head
Purbeck was stunning today, I say today, Purbeck is always stunning, no matter what season or weather it's a landscape that stirs the spirit. Purbeck is a landscape with millennia of human activity etched into it, though never really tamed, it remains in essence a wild place. Yeah, on a sunny day it looks the rural idyll, but walk it in bad weather and it can transform into a formidable and foreboding environment. Still, today was the former and beautiful walking it was.
Thursday, 5 October 2017
The Harvest Moon was beautiful this evening. Harvest Moon is the name given to the full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox, tonight was the first time Harvest Moon fell in October since 2009. It was a good night for a full moon fire, we were blessed with a clear sky to show off the moon in all her glory. I over did the fire a few times, possibly on account of me consuming a few to many shots of brown liquor on an empty stomach before I started. The fire pit area, nestled amongst the trees as it is was at times fully illuminated and I was pushed to the edge by the heat of my own stupidity. I slouched, blunted, along the fire side bench staring up at the full moon through our Hazel tree as shadows cast by the fire danced and flicked around me. Listening to Cary Grace's 'Projections' my alcohol muddled mind drifted up through the branches with the smoke rising from the fire. Projections is a fine album of a proggy psyche flavour, it's very atmospheric, and suited my melancholic mood well. It has been a mournful month since the last full moon, a full moon which was met with relief and thanks, though which sadly heralded a period heartache and upset. In fact, for the most part, the whole of September was a pile of shite.
Here's a weird looking thing, it's a Oak Knopper Gall caused by a small Gall Wasp (Andricus quercuscalicis), the gall is home to the wasp in their grub form. The irregular shaped gall isn't where the weird stops. The Gall Wasp (Andricus quercuscalicis) has a two part life-cycle which requires our native Pedunculate Oak (Quercus robur) and the fairly recently introduced Turkey Oak (Quercus Cerris). The Turkey Oak was only introduced into Britain in the mid 1700's. The Gall Wasp itself wasn't known in Britain before the 1960's, though by the end of the 70's they had become well established, spreading as far north as Scotland by the end of the last century. Nature's always changing, adapting to new opportunities. There were concerns that they'd cause untold damage to our native oak population, though that hasn't happened, and our mighty oaks, crowded with life as they are, just adopted the foreign gall wasps and carried on. There's a message for our times there.
Wednesday, 4 October 2017
And the second little piggy built his house out of sticks, and it wasn't too shabby, neither. The best stick shelter I've seen in a while. On the Pennington Marsh walk there's only one small tract of woodland near Keyhaven, on the return route. It really is small, immature trees stunted by the harshness of their environment. Approaching it I thought the view through the woodland looked clearer than I remembered it, at first I though the trees had grown a lot, but not in the few years we'd not walked here, surely. I saw a shelter and thought I'd take a peek, on closer examination I noticed a lot of sawn branches in its mix, then looking around I saw that most of the accessible branches on the surrounding trees were gone, hence the clear look of the wood. That and they'd used every piece of fallen wood too, making the woodland floor artificially clean too. From a forestry and timber production point of view the shelter builders have done the trees a favour and not really done any damage. Although, I don't think that was in their minds at the time, bad little piggies. Still, a well built shelter.
We used to walk the sea wall which protects Pennington Marshes from the Solent regularly when the forest became too wet and muddy. Starting and finishing at Keyhaven, you can take a really nice circular route all along the coast and return via a variety of interesting inland tracks, with lovely views throughout. There's no shelter on this walk, it's open to what the elements have to share and although beautiful this morning, it can be very different in bad weather, still stunning, though. We hadn't walked here for some years though, as Norris got older he developed arthritis in his front paws, the sea wall path is hard packed aggregates and became too difficult for him to manage. Unlike many of the walks we neglected in recent years, this one hasn't changed a bit. Nice way to start the day.
Tuesday, 3 October 2017
Monday, 2 October 2017
It's always time to celebrate when a Fruits de Mer Records package pops through your letter box. Fruits de Mer Records are purveyors of the finest psychedelic flavoured music, real gems that your ears got to hear, records that are always of superb quality and fairly priced. I'd heard of them through a friend raved about them for years, and rightly so, everything I've got through them gives me immense listening pleasure. Today's delivery was of two singles I'd pre-ordered, 'Always Here' by psychedelic rockers from Spain, Stay and 'Lovely Cuppa Tea' by psychedelic popsters, The Chemistry Set. As with FdM packages, invariably there's a little extra thrown in, in this case a couple of promotional tea bags, a lyric sheet for 'Lovely Cuppa Tea' and a free CD by folkist Scott William Urquhart. Very nice. Now to give them all a thorough listening to!
I'd read in an article over the weekend that there were a gang of rowdy pigs roaming the Mill Lawn area attacking folk. One guy even got knocked over and bitten! So as I was walking nearby I thought I'd seek said gang out, and see if they were as hard as people made out. They were! I didn't have search too far for them, I followed the sound of a barking dog, the sort of bark that suggests 'look what I've found', and sure enough a small hound was bothering and being bothered by a group of 5 pigs. Just as I got near, the dog buggered off and the pigs got on with snuffling. All 5 pigs were a fair size, soft fawny brown with black spots, fine examples of their breed, no doubt. The area where they were grubbing has plenty of cover, so it was easy to sneak up quite close. They didn't notice me for a while, too busy with their searching. The photo is taken at the moment they did notice me, and only seconds before they ran at me. As the article had suggested, they were indeed aggressive, feisty and looking for trouble. I'd equipped myself with a sturdy stick, with the intention of standing my ground and showing them I wasn't scared. Though I quickly dropped that plan in favour of running away as fast as I could. Luckily they weren't that persistent, as I'm not certain I could have out run them if they kept coming. Man, could they move fast. Really fast! Even taking into account the dog bothering them, I'd say these were the most aggressive pigs I've come across in any pannage. Normally they're inquisitive and will come right up to you, although tentatively and would withdraw at any sudden move. Still, fun in the forest.
Many of the exotics you see in the forest today were planted around the mid 19th century; I think it was all the rage in posh circles. The most famous, and the most visited is Rhinefield's Ornamental Drive of redwoods and firs, which was created for the nearby manor house in 1859. The Coast Douglas Fir is a favourite exotic seen about. All over the forest there are Coast Douglas Firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii) dotted around, most will have been planted about 150 years or so ago, so still have a good 400 left to grow, and they're already very tall, projecting well above the surrounding deciduous canopy. Towards their tops their trunks are covered in numerous small straight branches, which remind me of 'Kerplunk'. They look like they'd made it easy to climb, though I don't think those branches are that sturdy, and how you'd scale the meters of near bare trunk to get up to them to start with, is uncertain.
Sunday, 1 October 2017
One of the first stretches of forest drain to be restored to it's earlier course, maybe 25 years ago, Blackensford Brook now runs through a diverse corridor of bog woodland flora, tufted grasses mingle between trunk and shrub. The restoration plan is working, the brook now drains the surrounding land more slowly and over the intervening years there's no doubt that the woodland along the environs of the brook are becoming wetter. Trying to walk along the bank of the brook today was like walking through Mirkwood, with every conceivable opportunity to string a web taken, every bramble, bough, tuft, tussock and fern were joined by a filigree of gossamer. A spider waited in the center of each these bejewelled traps.
Across the wet valley in which Blackensford Brook is born, the ancient Bratley Wood as seen from Backley Enclosure. The forest was wet today, wet just hung there in the air and clung to everything, every fern and tuft of grass. The wet air muffled the forest, all you could hear was water, dripping from the boughs, flowing through the gullies, rattling over gravel and bursting over the detritus dams which frequently appear in the forest streams. That and the noise of your feet splashing with every step. Did I mention it was wet. Still, it was nice out.
Saturday, 30 September 2017
They're cropping the mature coniferous trees in a corner of Burley New enclosure know as Great Early. Burley New was enclosed in 1810, though these conifers are a much later introduction, planted after the primary timber had been cropped. When you're used to the forest looking a certain way big chunks suddenly missing are a bit of a shock. That's the thing about the New Forest though, it's a living thing, it's not a historical scene set in aspic, it's a working and evolving landscape. Always changing, either moving forward with new cash crops to be planted, or travelling backwards restoring streams, encouraging the re-establishment of rare bog woodland and returning some former plantations back to open heath. I wonder what they'll do with this piece of land next? I noticed they've left the few scattered deciduous trees in situ.
Friday, 29 September 2017
A pair of young Larch Boletes (Suillus grevillei). The Larch Bolete, like 'most' of the others in the bolete family are edible, though care should be taken to remove the yellowy slimy coating which can cause stomach upset. When cut through, the caps flesh is light yellow and not that firm or appetizing. As their name suggests they're found near or in the vicinity of Larch (Larix decidua), with whom they share a symbiotic relationship. I'll be honest, I've never tried Larch Boletes, too much bother for the return, their cousins the Slipper Jack (Suillus luteus) yes, but there again they're not on my regular eats list. Still, groovy looking shrooms, they almost looked like ceramic representations of themselves, which was weird.
Thursday, 28 September 2017
I never forget how lucky we are living as we do in such a fantastically diverse party of England. At the weekend we were walking the world heritage landscape of the isle of Purbeck to our west, the area of outstanding natural beauty of Cranborne Chase is within easy access to our north, and of course, the wonder which is the New Forest stretching to our east, on our very doorstep. A golden triangle of landscapes. Today we were roaming the open woodland of Bratley Wood in the New Forest, an area of woodland pre-dating enclosure and filled with ancient pollarded Beech and Oak, venerable leviathans. The woodland is more open now, as over the last 30 years old trees have succumbed to the elements; there are rotted hulks scattered here which were felled in the Great Storm of '87. It's wonderful walking. Bratley's towering trees of ancient date have a majesty unlike any of the other forest woodland. That's a thing about the forest woodland, although usually a mix of similar species and often within a similar age range, each has a unique air and quality. Bratley is one of those with a timeless quality. Amongst the wooded fringes which flank Bratley Water (which flows below Brately Wood) I disturbed a resting stag, who startled, rose, barked and watched me intently. We stood watching each other for a few minutes, he'd occasionally bark and I'd reply, he'd stamp a foot and I'd do the same...stalemate. Eventually, we'd both had enough, and went our separate ways. It was an interesting interaction, though I fear I'm no Doolittle. Shortly after I found a shed antler bathed in Autumn sun, lying ready for me to find. Dropped amongst the thin straight trunks of a Beech and Birch block (one of several) planted some years back to fill the holes in Bratley's canopy. There was a lot of deer activity in the woods today. A lot of energy in the woods all round.
Pannage is well under way throughout the forest as the commoners pigs enjoy this years bumper crop of acorns. There was a sweet little group out near Knightwood Oak, about 10 or so piglets, in a variety of lovely colours, and with a very laid back mother. A mother who although keeping an eye on them, and you, was cool with you getting close to her little darlings. As for the piglets themselves, they weren't really bothered, too many tasty treats to be snuffled. I saw a group out last week, the piglets were a bit older and very skittish, the mother was protective and aggressive too. So much so that I stayed behind a fallen bough, and in the end decided I wasn't going to be able to get a photo and left them in peace. It's best not to be too complacent around the forest beasties. Fair enough really, being a human, I don't think we have a great reputation amongst the natural world.
All over the forest Autumn is turning and before we know it the stands will be decked in their most sumptuous 'last huzzah' finery, giving us, in infinite hues, a graphic representation of the sun they've absorbed since spring. They'll give us a grand show before they leave the stage, retiring within to rejuvenate and allow the Holly King his winter dominion.
Wednesday, 27 September 2017
The common Puff Ball (Lycoperdon perlatum), edible when young and still solid white throughout, and weirdly alien in appearance. And even weirder, researchers suggest that extracts from this fungus have anti-fungal properties; what's that about! They say that the button form of the common Puff Ball can be confused with the button form of the deadly Amanita species. You really don't want to make that mistake. So firstly, always know what you're picking, never collect anything you're not certain of and secondly, slice them through, they should be solid, no internal or undeveloped gills.