The New Forest has been hitting bicycle-related headlines a bit lately. It was the usual thing.. someone with a chip on their shoulder about cyclists and a loud mouth somehow gets their voice in a paper, and drivel ensues.
I guess the Commoners Defence Association don’t care about the tourism that all the cyclists bring, then? Or that most of the cyclists of the New Forest are actually families rather than hoards of mamils? This time, some people took it into their own hands to go a step further, and dropped pins on the road and took down signs that were for directing the cyclists. Think about that for a sec.. pins that are more likely to hurt animals than anyone else, and sign changes that’ll make cyclists get lost and probably slow down.. doesn’t that just make all the percieved problems even worse? The stupidity involved makes me think it was probably local kids wot done it. At least it stopped them from crank-calling 999 for a bit.
The New Forest isn’t far from Southampton – it’s right next door! A 15 minute drive will get you to the outskirts of the forest, but that’s the slow way of doing it. The roads of the New Forest mostly converge on Lyndhurst, which is a lovely little town that’s ruined by being more like a giant roundabout than a town, due to it’s one-way system. The result of that is that when the weather is nice, and people decide to go visit the ponies or go camping or something, they almost all have to get through Lyndhurst, and they get stuck in a massive queue of traffic. It’s no wonder Lyndhurst has a bit of a pollution issue..
My preferred method of visiting the forest is/was to go via the Hythe Ferry.
It’s a ferry service that runs between Southampton and the village of Hythe, just across the river Test. The ferries are small affairs, designed for a couple of dozen foot passengers, but the river Test is no small stream.. it’s the route that all ships entering and leaving Southampton have to use, so there’s a good chance you’ll see a few container ships on the way, and possibly even a liner. You’ll almost certainly see one or more of the Red Funnel ferries, on their way to the Isle of Wight.
At the Hythe end, the boats dock at a pier, which has a little train to take passengers to land. Apparently the train is the oldest pier train in the world, although I’m not sure how many pier trains there are in the world – it’s probably pretty close to being the only pier train in the world!
Hythe is technically in the New Forest, but it’s a bit too far on the outskirts to be of too much interest. On lazy days (most days), I used to cycle to Fawley power station to stand in awe of the chimbley for a bit, then I headed across to Lepe Country Park to skim stones on the beach and read a book while eating an ice cream.. On not-so-lazy days, I used to head toward Brockenhurst, and then cycle through the singletrack paths of the forest for a bit, followed by paddling my feet in the river (no idea what river it was) before heading back. oh, and I had an ice cream. You can’t go into the New Forest and not have an ice cream – it’s against the law! (if you ever come across a store selling New Forest ice cream, buy it – it’s lovely stuff, especially the rum & raisin!)
On some days, I skipped the boat ride and just headed straight to Lyndhurst (going via Hythe was a bit too out of the way). If you can blot out or avoid the traffic, it’s a lovely place, with lots of paths into various bits of the forest. The town itself looks quite nice, but I’ve never investigated it. It’s a shame someone can’t sort the traffic out, but I imagine people would rather have traffic jams than have new roads built across a national park. It sucks to be stuck in the traffic, but at least it’s confined.
I often ponder what it is about the New Forest, and the south generally, that doesn’t seem to be emulated up here. There’s one thing that I keep hitting on, but it’s so weird that I think I’m going nuts, or maybe I’m remembering things wrong, or maybe it’s me, and I’m getting old..
I think the sun is more oppressive up here.
I can’t explain how.. it just is. I don’t mean the heat (although that’s also different), I mean the light. Down south, the sun seems kind’ve passive, and the scenery eats it up and throws out colours of it’s own. Up here, it seems like the sun overrides everything. It blazes in the sky, and instead of making colours more vibrant, it makes them more washed-out. It’s like there’s an invisible white haze in the air that sends light in all the wrong directions. Maybe there really is a haze, caused by the Peak District’s micro climate or something, which is acting like a polarizing filter.
I’m going to see if I can capture the effect with my camera. If I compare a photo of the New Forest to a similar scene up here, my eyes won’t be able to lie to me. I’m not sure if I’d prefer it to be my eyes or the location. :s