Just before mid-day I took the upper drive route down to Minstead; turned right by the red phone box; walked up through Fleetwater; took the right turn at the junction towards Stoney Cross; and right again on the A31 back to Castle Malwood Lodge.
The thatchers in Minstead continued their work. A house in Fleetwater had been demolished and a wooden structure was being built. I couldn’t tell whether it was a replacement house or a rather splendid shed.
Walking up from the ford by the school you encounter a fork in the road by a clearing at the edge of the forest. The left fork takes you nearer to Emery Down, and the right to Fleetwater. I was intrigued by a large perfect circle of twigs laid out, some way off the road, on the turf. Is this The New Forest’s answer to miraculous crop circles?
On the road past Fleetwater which runs between the A31 and Lyndhurst there were numerous ponies of varying sizes. One came trotting down the tarmac towards me, as if straight out of a Thelwell drawing. Its mane covered its eyes and almost reached the ground beneath its short, stubby, legs. I half expected to see a similarly shaped dazed schoolgirl in jodhpurs and a crash helmet, planted in the bracken festooned with saddle and trappings, having been dumped by her dumpy steed. Another silver haired grey-dappled horse, much taller than the others, blended beautifully with the forest birches. Many of the ponies were haloed against the light of the low winter sun.
Arriving at Stoney Cross, and not wishing to walk back along the scary A31 which has no footpath, I did my best to find a path running parallel to that road which should return me to upper drive. I was unsuccessful and therefore had to brave the buffeting of blasts from the vast vans speeding past.
In Fleetwater I spoke to a man who was blowing leaves from his drive. He was proud of the old LNER cast iron sign he had fixed to his gate. LNER was the London and North East Railway that had been one of the four major companies which ran UK’s pre-Nationalised railways in their earlier privatised incarnation. Forty shillings was a lot of money in those days. Once upon a time most street name signs were made of similar material painted black and white. They can still be found, but are gradually being replaced, in London at least, by lighter, less substantial signs put up by the Boroughs which came into being in 1965. In 1987, Gracedale Road, SW16, in Wandsworth, just before Jessica, Sam, Louisa, and I left it for Newark in Nottinghamshire, boasted such a sign at each end. Two weeks before our departure flimsy substitutes replaced them both. One old one was left in the gutter and never removed. Not until we departed, that is. With the sign in our car. Matthew cleaned up the trophy, gave it a fresh coat of suitable paint, and bolted it to the brick wall of the old boiler house attached to the back of Lindum House. I like to think that little part of Nottinghamshire still bears the legend:
For our evening meal Jackie produced an excellent chicken korai with an elaborate pilau rice which was eaten with paratas from Portswood International Stores. She drank Hoegaarden whilst I imbibed McGuigan Estate shiraz 2010. For sweet we had gulabjam. Jackie was a bit concerned that she hadn’t any cream to go with it, but the evaporated milk we used was a good complement. When I suggested cold custard she called me a philistine.