Today we headed west from Southampton into the New Forest. The area has a long history. Over 12,000 years ago the area was covered with woodland of birch, beech and oak. However some areas were cleared for cultivation from the Bronze Age onwards but as a result of the poor soil it became heath land with limited use except for grazing horses.
The New Forest was created as a royal forest by William I in about 1079 for the royal hunt, mainly of deer It was created at the expense of more than 20 small hamlets and isolated farmsteads. Fences to stop the deer’s progress in the forest were forbidden by the King and terrible punishments took place if anyone disturbed the deer!
The New Forest became a source of timber for the Royal Navy and plantations were created in the 18th century for this purpose.
Today the forest and moorlands is a national park enjoyed by millions. Over 90% of the land is Crown land managed by the Forestry Commission. There are still ancient Common Rights of locals to turn horses and cattle (but only rarely sheep) out into the Forest to graze, to gather fuel wood, to cut peat for fuel, to dig clay, and to turn out pigs between September and November to eat fallen acorns and beechnuts. The New Forest ponies are a common sight grazing on the moors, in the woods and along the roadsides.
Although not very scenic to enjoy the forest we again put on our hiking shoes and took a stroll across the moorland and the forest before taking a bit of a drive tour. It was very muddy underfoot and at one point Daisy looked as if she had black boots on! Although it was an enjoyable walk we must admit it was not our favourite part of the country.