The Forest Of Bere

Hop leaves 10.12 (2)

Tree surgeons visited The Firs today. The Laurel hedges have now been trimmed; acacias and firs tidied up; and a stubborn buddleia removed.  There is much more light available now to the new beds.

Jackie drove me to Wickham where I left her to the village and her book whilst I undertook the AA Wickham walk.  Beginning in what is termed the Station car park, although it hasn’t seen either a station or a railway train for about fifty years, I walked along the bridle path which was once the railway track, until directed to turn off it.  I speculated that the journey along this stretch of railway must have been a very attractive one; running alongside the wooded banks of the river Meon; before Dr. Beeching applied his particular surgery to Britain’s railways.

After only a few hundred yards I reached the first of the barriers across my path.  Two days ago I had learned my first countryside walks lesson concerning barriers, and today put it to good use.  The metal barrier left space at the side for pedestrians, so I knew it was  all right to go round it.  The next obstacle, a few hundred yards further on, was a fallen tree.  I’d like to say I took a leap and vaulted it.  In reality I struggled to straddle it, and carefully slid across and over to the other side. Crossing the dismantled railway, as this path is still termed, I passed Northfields Farm and Chiphall Lake, eventually reaching the A32 which I was to walk along for 200 yards.  Just a little scary, with no footpaths, this stretch reminded me of evading buses careering round bends in Barbados, speculating about diving into hedges, in 2004.  The farm track passed a trout farm which had obviously had trouble with satnavs leading drivers to its door.  A handmade sign bore witness to this.

The next, rather disconcerting, barrier was soon to present itself.  A right turn into the forest of Bere was required.  A wooden barrier had been described in the directions.  No-one had mentioned it would be a locked Forestry Commission fixture.  Full of dubious confidence, I slid in past the left side of it and entered the forest.  I soon began to feel like Mr. Toad contemplating The Wild Wood.  I wasn’t worried about weasels, but I was worried that the expected sign to West Walk and Woodend was not obviously visible.  I continued merrily along.  After all, it was a wide path, and seemed to be going in approximately the right direction.  Some way along this path, which began to undulate, I began to see why the directions had stated that the bridleway and forest paths would be muddy after rain.  As the ooze was doing its best to inhale my shoes, a gentleman with two dogs approached me.  He seemed rather aghast when he saw the state of the path.  He wasn’t wearing nice warm waterproof footwear which he had recently bought in Cotswolds in Hedge End.

When the quagmire did succeed in slurping up my right shoe , I was forced into a rather ungainly manoeuvre.  Attempting to slip your foot back into a mud-locked shoe whilst standing on the other leg when a terrier is doing its best to decorate your, fortunately, gardening trousers with a paw-print pattern, is not an exercise to be recommended.

The dog-owner was able to confirm that I was heading for West Walk.  I had thought I was already on it.  Eventually I came to signs for West Walk and Woodend.  All over the place.  At every junction, sometimes multiple, there were signs to these places.  The puzzling thing was that each of these signs bore usually four-figure numbers to each place followed by m.  Having grown up with m meaning ‘miles’, I had to remind myself that this probably indicated ‘metres’, especially as it was only a small forest.  What was more confusing was that some of these were only yards apart yet bore vastly different numbers. Before long I was thoroughly lost.  I came to a junction offering a path that looked as if it could take motor vehicles.  I thought that if I followed it I was bound to come to a road and perhaps get my bearings.  Left or right was the choice.  I decided left was the most likely, and set off.  Eventually, passing a cottage, I did reach a road, the gate to which was locked.  Again I slipped between two posts, being rather grateful I didn’t have a paunch, otherwise I’d never have managed it.  Since the cottage was named Woodend Cottage I felt sure I was on a road which would take me to the A32.  The road, named Heath Road, led onto that major thoroughfare and I now knew where I was.  Passing an entrance to the forest named Woodend, I was tempted to try to pick up the trail on my map.  Only tempted.  No way was I going back in there.  You can’t turn a septuagenarian townie into a country boy overnight.

I was able to leave the A32 fairly soon and get back onto the bridlepath which left me a couple of miles to do.  This was a section further up than the one I had left earlier.  It had a strong rivulet running down the middle of it.  As it was now raining quite hard, I was grateful for the canopy of overhanging trees which turned the route into a different kind of railway tunnel.  I was also quite grateful for Jackie waiting to drive me back to The Firs, where, for the second time in three days, my gardening trousers went into the washing machine.  I’ll scrape the mud off my shoes when they are dry.

Later, Paul rang seeking help to unload a piece of furniture from his car.  I popped round and helped him.  He offered to lend me his satnav to help stop me getting lost.

Danni joined us for an evening meal of Jackie’s succulent boeuf bourgignon followed by the Co-op’ s scrummy sticky toffee pudding.  Except for the cook, we drank Fairtrade Argentinian Malbec 2011.  She, of course, enjoyed a small Hoegaarden blanche.

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