Bucklers Hard (sometimes also spelled Buckler's Hard) is a tiny hamlet on the Beaulieu River. Located close to the sea, but also in the middle of the New Forest, it made for an ideal place for ship-building. Using the timber from the New Forest, often sturdy oak wood and the like, many a ship was built here, including huge parts of Admiral Nelson's fleet who then sailed off to fight in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Back in those days, the village was bustling with people: ship-builders, merchants, craftsmen, as well as their wives and children. The houses were crammed with people, with a dozen or so squeezing into the tiny chambers. Bucklers Hard was also a smugglers' village. The wide mudflats of the tidal Beaulieu River made for a good terrain to hide barrels of alcohol and avoid being caught by the coast guards. In recent years, a small cellar was discovered under one of the buildings which was probably used as a room to store the booze - just under the nose of the authorities!
Nowadays, Bucklers Hard is a very popular tourist attraction in the New Forest. For an entry fee of £6.20 visitors can explore the Maritime Museum which brings Bucklers Hard's heyday back to life, as well as some of the cottages that line the hill down to the small harbour. There's also a nice-looking pub and a tea-room. River cruises start regularly from the pier at the lower end of the hamlet.
This centre is the seat of the tourist information, there is a very nice shop and there is the New Forest Museum.
The staff of the tourist information had helped me before we arrived there. I needed information brochures, books and a dvd, and they advised me.
The shop is one of these shops where I could easily spend hundreds of pounds. Apart from the usual souvenirs they offer high quality souvenirs like beautiful earthenware, very informative books and very nice jewelry.
The museum is a hand-on museum where you can learn much about the New Forest, its wildlife and its fascinating history. Who owns the ponies and who takes care of them is determined by a very old system unique in England.
A walk in the New Forest had long been on my wishlist, so when we had the opportunity to go there I started preparing for it:
I bought a dvd about the New Forest from the very helpful staff in the Lyndhurst tourist office, a book about walks there , a compass and on the morning of our walk the latest Ordnance Survey map of the area. That should be enough, I thought, we'd be well prepared.
We had carefully picked one of the walks described in the book and drove to the carpark from which it started.When we followed the instructions in the book we quickly realized we were wrong. We later learned it was the wrong carpark. In the book they had names, in reality they didn't, so we had to guess from the distance on the map.We had guessed wrong and had missed it by about 500 meters.So we gave up on our chosen walk and followed a path away from the road down into the valley.It was beautiful.
The New Forest near Fordingbridge is a mixture of open heathland, some muggy, boggy areas, some creeks and some parts in the wood. Soon after we started we saw the first ponies. I thought they 'd run off when we walked up to them, but they didn't. They were grazing right and left of the walking path. Even the mothers with new-born foals didn't act nervously when we passed them, they simply moved one or two meters away from the path.
Some places in the woods looked like an enchanted forest, we saw wild orchids and cotton grass, beautiful, large dragonflies -I think you can tell that I liked this walk very much.
But we weren't sure where exactly we were. We kept ckecking the map, we counted the turns we made and compared them with the ones on the map, we checked the compass to make sure we'd be going in the right direction and still we only had a vague idea of where we were.Just as we were debating if we should turn around and walk back the way we had come we met a group of hikers. They were very friendly and invited us to walk with them, so they could show us where to turn to get to our car.They also told us it's quite a common occurrence to get lost in the New Forest, even with map and compass. The map shows all the public paths, but there are some private ones in between . So when we thought we'd have to take the fifth path in south-western direction it could have been the eighth path in reality, since there were three private paths in between. And there are no signs whatsoever.
But what can I say: Getting lost in the New Forest is a great experience!
During the summer months, in 2013 from 29 June to 15 September, it would be great to tour around the New Forest in an open topped bus!
There are 3 routes to take in a wide range of what is on offer in this large area encompassing King Williams old hunting grounds, free roaming ponies and donkeys, large market towns and small villages, old parish churches where you can find notables buried such as Arthur Conan Doyle, and seaside quays and maritime villages.
As the website points out there are 3 passes you can buy - 1 day, 2 day and 5 day.....
a great way to take in a very quaint and interesting part of England.
The more we investigate here the more impressed Ive been with the area
A regular stop for the National Express coaches between London and Bournemouth I had only seen Ringwood as a bus stop with a large carpark - this time after driving to see the heather in bloom in the New Forest we drove into the town centre of Ringwood and what a lovely little centre with cute little shops, a large thatched pub restaurant, norman church, an old stone bridge and Georgian houses.
The website for the area www.thenewforest.co.uk is an excellent source of info for the area which highlights towns and villages and sites of historic interest to visit - much of which even my friend I visit in Bournemouth who has lived there for several years did not know about - including a hop on hop off tour bus with 3 itineraries between June and September.
The New Forest has over 143 miles of public footpath which take in woodlands, heaths, riversides and even the seashore. Walks can be as short or long as you wish and because there are no particularly steep gradients there's something to suit pretty much everyone (except masochists of course). As well as the regular trails there are now some which have been tarmac-covered for greater accessibilty and these have been surveyed and graded by the voluntary group New Forest Access For All who have maps with detailed descriptions on their website - "other", below.
The official New Forest website, link below, has a set of PDF trail maps which are also available at its Visitor Information Centre. You'll also find local trail maps on display at the various car parks or for a more detailed map use the OS New Forest "Explorer" (OL22).
And as a quick PS - the website below also has a section on Pub Walks :-)
It was the crazy ladies, the rather attractive crazy ladies, who I met in the Angel pub who endeared me to Lymington - both of whom insisted on giving me a kiss and I was supposed to judge who was best. OK they were both a little drunk but they WERE sexy. Unfortunately my discreet attempt at getting a photo of them didn't quite happen but they were fun - oh and by the way I managed to obfuscate around making a decision and told them that both were equally delish, just in different ways LOL.
They'd been out shopping, and judging by their profusion of bags had had a particularly strenuous time of it - which is probably why they needed a drink. Then their taxi arrived and I got a quick cuddle and peck as farewell and was left in a very good mood, all the better to appreciate what a pleasant little town Lymington is.
i only had a couple of hours - I had to get back to the hotel sometime that evening and with a four and a half mile cycle from Brockenhurst and a 6 am start couldn't let myself go too much - but that couple of hours was enough to convinvce me that a revisit is definitely required.
I loved the quirky mix of shops, the friendly pubs, the dock area where some Norwegian tourists asked me to take their pics and just generally enjoyed what is quite a classy little place.
For what is effectively still a small village Brockenhurst manages to cram a plethora of shops, services and other useful things clustered around its main drag of Brookley Road.
Here you'll find pretty much everything you need - banks with ATM's, a Post Office, convenience stores, gift shops, newsagents, a bookshop, a couple of bike hire places, a couple of garages, a chemist, hairdressers...
Then for sustenance there's several restaurants and cafes, a trio of fast food takeaways: an Indian, a Chinese and a Fish 'n Chip shop and a quintet of pubs (two of which slightly out of the village).
For accommodation the village offers no less than 18 establishments ranging from family B&B's to the stately manor of the 4-star Rhinefield House Hotel.
Not only that but there's regular train services to and from London, via Southampton, and onwards to Bournemouth, Poole and Weymouth. There's the local train to Lymington, and for the Isle of Wight ferry. From the train station local buses run to Southampton and Lymington and there are National Express service to Heathrow and Gatwick. So as well as being the shopping and services centre for the area it is also the public transport hub.
All this and you even quite often have the New Forest Ponies wandering the streets.
The ideal way of getting around the New Forest is by bike. There is over 100 miles of off- and on-road cycle routes connecting just about everywhere. Because the terrain is relatively level this makes cycling a pleasure and there's almost always a pub at the end of any journey.
South West Trains are very "bike-friendly" with ample racks on most services and so it is easy enough to bring your own. But if you do need to hire there are sevral hire places dotted around, including one behind Brockenhurst Railway Station.
One small warning though - off-road cycling is only allowed on the waymarked paths. There are fines of up to £500 for using foot-only paths.
Cycling does not get better than this! We've chosen to cycle from Brockenhurst to Beaulieu, return via Bucklar's Hard. This route takes you through woodland to Hatchet Pond and back on open heathland with views of the Isle of Wight.
Cycling through New Forest, you will see horses, cows, donkeys and deers! I was on a look out throughout my 23mile route!! Of course, you are not allowed to feed these lovely creatures and you should do as much as you could NOT to disturb them.
Apart from being so close to wildlife, you will be cycling through one of the most treasured National Park in the UK, all routes are extremely scenic and relatively flat. (Remember to research on your route or get the cycling hire shop to recommend one :)
It took us about 5/6 hrs to complete the route at a leisurely pace including the enjoyment of a serving of the lovely cream teas in Beaulieu Village.
We've hired 2 bikes from Country Lanes, who are friendly and very helpful. Hire costs include hire of bike, helmet, bike route and type/pumps!
Ashley Walk is a superb area for walking, with rolling hills, streams and if you're quiet, herds of deer. Most people do not realise just what they are walking through!
In the second world war, Ashley Walk was a major bombing range covering some 5,000 acres. Many top secret tests were performed here, including the dropping of a 'Grand Slam' earthquake bomb from a Lancaster bomber - this was the largest explosion ever to occur in the UK. Sir Barnes Wallis spent a lot of time at Ashley Walk.
Bouncing bombs were trialed here - both 'Upkeep' dropped by the Dambusters and 'highball' dropped from Mosquitos.
One of the Dambusters (Serial number ED765/G - the 'G' designating it top secret) crashed here, but luckily all the crew escaped unharmed.
There is still a lot of evidence of Range activities, though in some places it's easy to miss;
The base of a metal ship target.
Concrete submarine pens(!) - part buried but you can see this quite clearly.
Over 400 bomb craters. There are a couple of 'Tallboy' craters that are very obvious. One is full of water and makes a circular pond.
Many chalk targets still exist as huge crosses and circles. There is a 'Linear target' that is a straight line for a considerable distance.
The largest target is approx 1 mile across looking like a massive dartboard, and is easiest to view on google earth.
The sole remaining building is an observation shelter which overlooks the fragmentation bombing area, though it now stands somewhat forlornly alone.
I would recommend getting a copy of 'Ashely Walk - It's Bombing Range Landscape and History' by Anthony Pasmore & Norman Parker ISBN 0952388855, available from Lyndhurst Visitor Centre.
Beaulieu, pronounced "Bjuli", is a very picturesque village in the New Forest. While there is not too much to do in the village itself, except taking pictures of the lovely houses and street scenes or relax at the lakeshore and watch some of the wild ponies of the national park, there is one sight which makes Beaulieu quite unique: The National Motor Museum. Located on the grounds of a former monastery which dates back to the early 13th century and the premises of Lord Montagu's castle, the museum exhibits more than 250 vehicles from the very beginning of the era of automobiles to today's cars. It's especially great to see this place if you travel with children: they can drive little cars by themselves or go for a ride with the overhead railway that circles the grounds. Moreover, probably every boy is fascinated when he sees a real formula 1 race car just in front of him... - at least I was when I visited this place at the age of 10.
As the New Forest stretches all the way down to the sea, you can combine your visit with some swimming at one of the beaches. Most of the villages next to the sea seem to have at least a small strip of beach, although most of them are pebble or gravel beaches. We visited three beaches: Key Haven, Milford on Sea and Lepe.
1. Key Haven: This is a picturesque beach with pebbles of all sizes and colours. While not really convenient to walk on, it is very popular with fishermen who try to make a big catch here. It's also a nice place for a picknick on the beach - we saw several people having a barbecue there. A kilometer or so away on a spit is Hurst Castle, built in 1544 to defend the shore against enemies coming from the sea.
2. Milford on Sea: Milford is a popular tourism destination and can get quite full in summertime. We visited its beach for the sunset and really enjoyed the spectacular view. There is a parking lot just next to the beach where you can stop and get a good view on the groynes, the beach cottages and of course the Isle of Wight in the distance. Bear in mind, however, that the parking lot officially wants you to pay and display until 10pm! I doubt that any police officer would come and check at that time, but you never know...
3. Lepe: Lepe is a very small place hidden at the end of a side-road branching off of B3054. Nonetheless, it is apparently very popular with the locals - there were hundreds of people there when we visited. Lepe has got a relatively long strip of beach, mostly gravel beach. There is even a little restaurant, but beware: It's got the worst food you can imagine! (see my warnings tip) We enjoyed Lepe's beach very much because it is really picturesque.
Lymington is one of the biggest towns in the New Forest. It is a pleasant place for a little shopping or walking along its quai and marina. Hundreds of yachts of all sizes are found in the marina, most of them gleaming white and looking as though their owner is about to go on a world-trip with it. Sometimes lazy captains can be seen relaxing on the deck, sometimes people scrub off the last piece of dust to make the boat ready for a new tour.
A walk along the quai and marina should start on High Street. A little alley called Captain's Row takes you down to the harbour. From here on, the Solent Way is signposted. It can take you all the way to Beaulieu, if you are in the mood for a longer hike, but it also follows the shore to the west. From this path you can enjoy some beautiful vistas on the Isle of Wight in the distance as well as get some glimpses of birds nesting in the marshes between the shore and the town. It might be a good idea to bring your binoculars. Basically, you could walk on all the way to Key Haven (see my "beaches" tip), although this would probably take most of your day. Instead, you can alternatively return to Lymington when you reach a little basin where people practice sailing with dinghies.
The first time we saw the Ponies down here, made us laugh our heads off; there was a beautiful orange/red Pony sauntering down the right hand side of the road and there were two cars following behind him. The Pony just gaily walked slap bang in the middle of the road as the two cars had to dawdle along; one was a newish car and the other was a metallic pale blue Rolls Royce. The Pony didn't have a care in the world and was totally unaware of the impatient people behind his tail. I couldn't very well photograph the Pony as we were coming up on the left side and would have blinded the car drivers opposite, but the memory of this will always make me smile.