Tag Archive | Southern England

The New Forest, Hampshire, UK


In early March, my mother and I took a short vacation to the south of England and spent a day visiting the New Forest National Park.  This large tract of reserved land, mostly in Hampshire, is home to the famous New Forest pony breed.n1  Soon after we entered the park, we turned unto a scenic drive and found the three ponies, above, standing right beside the road.  They grazed peacefully and showed minimal interest in our presence.

The park is largely common ground and is grazed by the ponies, and by cattle, wild deer and at certain times of the year by pigs.  This grazing of grassland and shrubs helps to keep the land open rather than thickly forested.  The landowners within the New Forest have the right to graze their animals in the common areas.

The animals are given the right of way in the park and the speed limit is 40 mph.  It is not unusual to come around a bend or over a hill and find one or several ponies in the road.  Driving slowly saves the lives of animals and people.

The New Forest comprises 145 square miles according to the Forestry Commission of England.  It was created in 1079 by William the Conqueror as royal hunting grounds.  The land was maintained for production of deer to satisfy the hunting requirements of the nobility.  Commoners faced grievous punishment for tampering with the deer.

The modern New Forest contains many acres of low-land heath, rivers, wetlands, sea coast and woodlands. This area has some of the biggest remnants of primeval forest.  Here grow oaks believed to be as old as 800 years and yew trees of 1000 years.  Broadleaf deciduous, various conifers and birch are the primary trees. The most obvious landscape is the open heath:  land of low rolling hillsides covered with grass, heather, bracken fern and gorse bush.  The soil is sandy and acidic.

For our visit, we drove up from Bournemouth on the busy A35 and turned onto scenic Bolderwood Ornamental Drive.  This is where we first saw ponies.  The scenic drive passes mainly through forest that is cut by narrow swaths of grazing land.  We went on to Lyndhurst where there is a very helpful visitor’s center.  From Lyndhurst we traveled across heathland for several miles toward Beaulieu.  n3We spotted many wild ponies and some cattle roaming loose.  In one place a couple male pheasants were having a wrestling contest in the middle of the road and could barely be bothered to move aside for traffic.


Giant Douglas firs dwarf our rental car


Pair of giant Sequoias

After, we went along the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive to the Blackwater Arboretum.  This area is planted to towering Douglas fir, and contains species of trees from around the world.  A pair of giant Sequoia trees from the northwest US flank one of the wide grassy avenues maintained for easy passage and grazing of animals.  The arboretum is a small area surrounded by a high fence to protect the trees from animal feeding.  Outside the fence, huge trees abound and can be viewed from a 1.5 mile graded trail so well maintained that it is wheelchair accessible.

The New Forest is an extensive area impossible to fully enjoy in one day, or maybe even a whole week. Walking and biking trails lace the park.  Small hamlets with thatched-roof cottages wait to be explored. Roadside inns beckon, promising pub lunches and liquid refreshment.  Narrow roads, barely passable when two small cars meet, wander over miles of scenic open land populated only by wild animals. This is a place I would like to visit again one day.


Reculver, Kent, Roman Ruins

aEngland was conquered by the Romans in A.D. 43.  Signs of the Roman invasion remain in many places.  Near where my mom lives in Kent, there is a place called Reculver.  At one time, the entire area was the island of Thanet, surrounded by sea.  The Romans built a fort on headlands overlooking the water around A.D. 300.  It is believed a harbor existed there and the area required defense from the Celts, who itched to overthrow their foreign lords.  Below-ground evidence exists of a fort, barracks, a bath and a headquarters building.  All that remains visible of the Roman works is the southern wall of the fort, standing as high as nine feet in some places.

Constructed of locally made concrete and once faced with stone, the wall is now greatly eroded and slowly falling back into the earth.  I collected this sample of Roman made concrete from the ground at the base of the wall.  Its composition perfectly matches the standing rampart and I could even find the spot in the wall where it broke away.  This concrete is a fascinating mix of sand, small stones and shells held together with limestone adhesive.

Today the place is quite lonely and always windswept.  The harbor and channels that separated Thanet from the mainland have all silted in.  The violent Atlantic slowly works away at the cliffs beneath the ruins.  One day it will all be gone.  The most arresting monument there today is the remains of a 12th century church built on the site.  Two tall, square towers dominate the landscape and can be seen from many miles away along the coast.  The church and the even earlier monastery that existed there after the Romans left are now all ruins as well.


My daughter, very pregnant, standing inside the remains of the Norman church at Reculver. These towers can be seen for miles.

Still, I enjoy visiting there, imagining life as an Italian far from a sunny home, garrisoned on a hostile shore.  Holding the bits of crumbling concrete, I think of the hands that nearly two thousand years ago smoothed this liquid concretion into place.  All slowly falls to dust and wild rabbits make warrens where once Roman soldiers tramped.



Rye, UK


Since my mother lives in Kent, in England, I fly over from Boston to visit her at least once a year.  My mum doesn’t drive anymore and depends on mass transit or a helpful neighbor to get around.  For a little excitement when I visit, we rent a car and I run us around the countryside sightseeing.

Three times we’ve been to Rye, a small town in East Sussex, near the coast in southern England.  I love this place, so steeped in history and still retaining architecture from ages gone.  You enter the town through one of the gates of the old wall, a very narrow opening that limits the size of vehicles in Rye.  Pictured above is one of several towers from the old walls.  Because Rye was once on the English Channel, it had to be fortified against attack, especially from the French.

We always eat at a sweet little tea shop called The Runcible Spoon where I have my obligatory fish and chips, always with lemon for the fish and salt and malt vinegar for the chips, and a few nice cups of tea.  Thus fortified, my mum and I explore the old city.  rye5

Located on a chalky hill above the marshland and rivers, the town has stood since before Roman times.  Once a sea port in a sheltered harbor, the town is now more than two miles from the Channel.  The harbor silted in ages ago.  Rye sits at the confluence of three rivers and has a river port now.  Some of the best very old architecture is on Mermaid Street, including the Mermaid Inn.  The streets in the old town are mostly cobbled and rather hard walking.  Here’s a shot of my mum on the “sidewalk” of the street.rye3

There are many interesting little shops and tea rooms in Rye and once we caught a flea market in one of the church halls where I found a lovely ring and a porcelain box.  Here’s my mum checking out a tea shop.  She’s an inveterate shopper as is her daughter!rye7 Some buildings have leaded windows or tunnels leading through the buildings to courtyards at the back.  The Tudor construction is very evident.rye2rye1rye8

The Mermaid Inn is particularly popular with tourists due to its age. The original building has been attributed to 1156.  Today what remains of that building are the cellars.  In 1379 the town was sacked and burned by the French and the Mermaid was rebuilt in 1420.  Much of that building still stands.  The inside has low ceilings, heavy beams and dark woodwork.  An ancient vine grows by the front door.  This inn is reputedly haunted by several ghosts and has been featured on television programs about famous hauntings.  With 31 rooms for lodgers, there are ample places for specters to hide.  The inn was used in the 1700s by smugglers, a rough and violent bunch with many untimely deaths among their members.  The hauntings are mostly supposed to be of these smugglers.

Main entrance of the Mermaid Inn.

Main entrance of the Mermaid Inn.

I so enjoy visiting Rye that I wouldn’t mind going again.  The situation in a sparsely populated area of narrow roads, farm land, marsh and woods makes for interesting driving.  I even got into my only accident of my many years of driving on the “wrong side” of the road while going to Rye.  I took my eyes off the road for an instant too long and rubbed up against a guard rail.  No lasting damage was done to human or vehicle.  I hope to enjoy another memorable meal at the Runcible and further explore the little shops with my mum.