Now You See Them……..

Oaks in mist
On this cold but crisp morning, the sun only managed to penetrate the mist at midday, by which time I was home. Gone were the delicately tinted skies of yesterday, but by the time we were lunching on Jackie’s sublime chicken broth, fluffy white clouds adorned a clear blue sky.
I walked directly through the forest from Upper Drive, turning right when I reached the road through London Minstead, and back up Running Hill.
Fallen tree
Shattered treeFallen beech boughThere was not much point in trying to reuse the paths I had discovered last summer, because there were many freshly fallen trees, or their recently amputated limbs. Consequently,as I sought new ones, I often had to extricate myself from the evergreen holly branches, which seem to have proliferated.
Forest mistStump in mistAs usual I followed pony tracks. Especially on the steep downhill slopes, when I had no skis, I found that the animals were surer footed than I. There was often a definite possibility that I would lose a Wellington boot to the suction of the mud.
The forest was silent, except for the squelching and crunching of my boots, the snapping of twigs, and the steady pit pat of moisture dripping from the trees. Mossy branchesFungus on rotten branchThe general dampness of the season had produced emerald green moss and golden orange fungus with incredible richness of colour.
Tree leaningHoles through trunkA tall beech tree had holes bored right through its trunk. It seemed to be surviving. Others, seemingly supported by their neighbours, lurched at alarming angles.
As I emerged from the forest and walked through London Minstead, I was aware of different sounds. The cackling of geese and hens, a cock crowing, a wood pigeon crying out for a mate, rooks cawing, and smaller birds chirruping. Boughs in MistUntil I reached the bottom of Running Hill I had seen nor heard no sign of human life. Then, a sound I recognised from last year, followed by fog lamps glowing in the distance, emanated from Jeremy’s hoover which he could only just squeeze through the railings by the stream opposite Hungerford Cottage. As friendly as ever, the man charged with clearing up the pony droppings, was only too pleased to turn off his engine, wind down his window, and have a chat.
In fact Jeremy was almost the only living creature I encountered this morning. But not quite. Through a gap in the holly bushes ahead of me in the forest I had seen the shadowy movement of possibly three deer. They are probably accustomed to the sight of my camera now, for they seem to enjoy a game of catch us if you can, as they prance fleetingly from view. Forest without the deerThis last picture had them in it when I pressed the shutter. I swear it did.
Helen's shortbreadWe had a brief, entertaining, visit from Jackie’s sister Helen, and niece Rachel early this afternoon. Rachel brought Jackie’s Christmas present and Helen brought some coffee and vanilla shortbread biscuits she had made. Artistic culinary expertise runs in the family.
This evening we dined at Totton’s very friendly Family House Chinese restaurant. The M3 set meal, which we chose, begins with plentiful starters of prawn toast, seaweed, and chunky lean spare ribs; shredded duck is then served with the usual additions, except that there are more pancakes than we are accustomed to; mixed vegetables, chicken and black bean sauce, shredded beef, and special fried rice share the top billing. That is quite enough for two. We both drank T’Sing Tao beer. We were the only diners, although the takeaway trade was, as we have noticed in more than one local restaurant, thriving.

A Woman Paid My Fare

A full moon illuminated the kitchen at 3.30 a.m. this morning. Baby blackbird and tits Somewhat later, but still too early for the sun to have turned the corner, a large fat baby blackbird monopolised the dish on the bird feeder, repelling all other boarders.  It confused us by attacking an adult blackbird that had at first been feeding it.  Was this the case of a tyro turning on its tutor?   Or just an ungrateful child?  Later, when it descended onto the lawn, and began calling for food that the parent provided from the dish, we realised it was the latter.

BerryOak 3I spent this morning on an ancient tree hunt (see 1st May) with Berry.  My friend was very excited because we found and recorded twelve suitable trees in a little under four hours. oak 4 Berry and AlderWalking under the Castle Malwood Farm underpass, we zigzagged across the forest in the vague direction of Sir Walter Tyrrell.  So fruitful was the trip that we didn’t quite reach the Rufus Stone car park before turning back for home.

Oak 5Oak 11Most of the trees were large oaks, some, like one that was a bit knackered, more notable than ancient.  Notable is acceptable.  An interesting rarity which almost caused Berry to get her feet wet, was, we think, an alder.  Growing by the stream, it proved quite difficult for Berry to get a tape round to measure its girth.

I, of course, did manage to get my feet well and truly wet, not by putting them in the stream, but by falling foul of a quagmire.  Jackie, who cleaned up my kit afterwards, had an opportunity to remember the time, during our first incarnation, when she had given my rugby kit similar treatment.

Perhaps the most fascinating example was found in a group of trees that had fallen in a storm. Berry at oak 10 A huge oak branch, at first looking like a whole tree, had brought a beech down with it when it snapped away from the trunk that was more than five metres in girth.  My task was to produce photographs for the Woodland Trust website.

So rich were our finds that we began to get a bit blasé, and say things like ‘we’ll do that one another time’, or ‘not really notable’.

There were an unusual number of other walkers about today.  In my previous excursions this way I have never seen another person.

After a late lunch we drove to The Firs for a gardening session.  Mum had come as well, and Elizabeth was already into weeding when we arrived.  Elizabeth and Jackie’s main task was extracting the weeds, and mine was mowing the lawn.  Danni helped all three of us in different ways.  Mum and lawnBefore mowing the lawns the edging had to be trimmed, and all encumbrances, like tables, chairs, gardening tools, and Mum, need to be moved out of the way.

Naturally, all were reinstated when I had finished.

Tree peonyOf all the plants which are now re-emerging in the garden, Elizabeth is possibly most pleased with the tree peony which, like others, has benefitted from the soil improvement undertaken last year.

Elizabeth produced an excellent roast chicken dinner for us all, followed by apple crumble. Jackie, as usual, drank Hoegaarden; Mum passed; and the rest of us enjoyed Prestige de Calvet Bordeaux 2011.

As always, when we are all together, reminiscing was embarked upon.  Mum reminded me of how Chris and I had collected wasps, drunk on the fruit of our grandparents’ trees, and stuffed them in a matchbox which we buried and kept unearthing to see if they were still alive.  This, naturally, led to the tale of the bees (see 29th May 2012).  In relating this, now, for the first time I remembered how I had completed the bus journey without any money.  A woman in the seat opposite had paid my fare.

All Is Right With The World

This warm, bright, morning I walked, with a little diversion, the two underpasses route via Sir Walter Tyrrell that I had discovered three days ago.


Pony droppingsI took a different diagonal across the, in parts still waterlogged, heathland towards the inn, as usual following pony droppings as a guide.  Woodland near Rufus StoneWhen I saw the Rufus Stone through the trees on my right, I realised I had a fair chance of emerging from the forest at the Sir Walter Tyrrell. Oak near Sir Walter Tyrrell Indeed, I did arrive at a magnificent oak alongside the pub.  I have photographed it to e-mail to Berry for consideration for the Ancient Tree Hunt.  My sense of direction continued to be devoid of error.  This encouraged me to take a much wider diversion to Castle Malwood Farm. Fallen trees

Such paths as there were through the forest were often completely blocked by fallen trees, and had a tendency to dissolve into a shoe sucking quagmire. Trees in leafElegant treeThe freshly leaved and sometimes elegantly shaped trees glowed in the mid-morning sun as I made my way, not exactly unerringly, through the woodland.  Woodland near Castle Malwood FarmMy reluctance to accept that a stream I crossed was an extension of the one I had forded the first time I did this trip brought about a minor error of judgement. Stream near Castle Malwood Lodge Perhaps it was a less than somewhat minor mistake, for I completely overshot the farm and found myself confronted by scattered cottages.  Whilst I walked along the road passing them, I came across two gentlemen on bicycles labouring up the hill.  As I wondered whether they would be able to tell me where I was, the one in the lead stopped and asked me: ‘Are you local?’.  Rightly thinking this was likely to prove a marginally embarrassing exchange, ‘sort of’, I replied.  His friend sported white warpaint on his nose, rather like an Australian cricketer.

I recovered a certain amount of self respect when they asked me whether they could cycle to the Sir Walter Tyrrell from there.  I told them I had just walked it, but I wouldn’t recommend cycling it.  Having glanced at their steeds which were rather more thoroughbred than wild pony in nature, I told them about the fallen trees and pointed to the mud on my shoes.  I described the first barrier they would find, and off they went, quipping that they might soon turn around and come back to me.  This they did.  I now felt it fair enough for me to ask where I was.  I was 500 yards from a pub at Brook.  So I retraced my steps as far as the stream, and followed it, which is of course what I should have done in the first place.  I found the approaching drone of the A31 surprisingly comforting.

So there you are, my faithful doubters.  A 50% failure rate.  Everything back to normal.  All is right with the world.


Speedwell greeted me on the verge of Lower Drive as I less than speedily clambered up from the farm underpass.

After lunch a further trip to Cadnam Garden Centre was required.  This was to buy more hanging baskets and plants that any self respecting rabbit would reject if they were served up in their freshly growing salad bar.  French marigolds and alysum are examples.  Unfortunately alysum was off.

This evening’s feast was Jackie’s delicious chicken curry and savoury rice followed by syrup sponge and ice cream.  With this I finished off the Lussac St. Emilion we had brought back from The Firs yesterday.  Taking it away with us was on the instructions of Danni who said that her mother should not be tempted to imbibe for another week.

Whose Road Is It Anyway?

Coal titsBack home in Minstead the coal tits on their feeder made up for the elusiveness of the small birds in Sigoules.  After a morning spent preparing my papers for Philip, my accountant, I took a later than usual ford loop walk.  Upper driveUpper drive was looking resplendent in the mid-afternoon sun.  The deciduous trees, not yet in leaf, displayed their shapely naked limbs.  Elsewhere, hedgerows and other, smaller, trees were producing young, yellow-green, budding leaves.  Daffodils still thrust their way through thorny hedges.  Susan Hill, in ‘The Magic Apple Tree’, her record of a year in the country which I began reading yesterday, calls spring a ‘yellow season’.  After the masses of dandelions, marigolds, and buttercups in and around Sigoules, and now us, too, being treated to its awakening, I see what she means.  On this very pleasant afternoon there were even a few brief April showers.

Ponies on roadA car that sped past me on the very narrow road to the ford, barely wide enough for a pony to straddle it, came to a sudden halt around the next bend.  Hearing its approach I had stepped smartly to the side.  No such courtesy was offered by the seven or eight ponies that idly blocked the road.  They ambled up and down and from side to side investigating possible fodder.  The driver just had to wait.  Also waiting, in a side road, was a tourist driver who wasn’t sure what to do.  I gave him the benefit of my vast, all of five months, experience, and helped him and his passengers on their way. Ponies on road (2) Mind you,  I was very wary about passing the rear end, by which was all the space that was available, of the first  horse.  Having negotiated this back passage safely, I arrived, after walking up from the ford, at what passes for the main road through the village.

Cow following meSusan Hill speaks of cattle being sent into Buttercup Field at the beginning of May, having been sheltered for the winter.  Obviously, in the New Forest the freedom to roam comes a bit earlier.  This was brought home to me as I started up the hill through Minstead.  A strange lowing sound from behind me alerted me to the fact that I was being followed up the road.  Indeed, the only sense I could make of the increasingly agitated, closer and closer, mooing was that the tagged cow wanted me out of the way.  I soon realised that it was keen to join its companions who had taken possession of the road and more or less covered Seamans Corner.  At a rough estimate half the bovine population of the New Forest now blocked the roads and stripped what was left of the foliage.Cows on road  As I approached the Corner, Cow in hedgeapart from the odd cow occupying the usual headless stance, pausing only to plop their own recycled fodder offerings, they were all following me up the road.  It was just a wee bit disconcerting.  I must admit that I did occasionally take a sneaky look to make sure there was no pizzle in sight.  Had I seen one, I’m not sure what I would have done. Cows on road (2) Watching tradesmen negotiating these natural obstacles I often wonder how their time-sheets are affected.

Jackie produced her usual excellent arabbiata with mixed pasta for our evening meal.  I had cherry pie for afters.  Jackie drank Peroni while I had some Marques de Montino  reserva rioja 2007.