Earlier this month I headed down to Southampton for tea. I do this at least a couple of times a year because, well, sometimes keeping in touch on the internet is just not good enough and you have to see friends in person. Rather than heading down just in time for dinner, I got up and drove the four hours first thing in the morning, giving me the whole afternoon for a walk in the New Forest.
Muddy footpath in Ashen Wood, near Beaulieu.
Whenever I travel somewhere for work or leisure, that is, when I have to spend time sitting in the car on the motorway for more than normal, I do my best to combine this with some time exploring on foot. I hate it when I spend an age getting somewhere, have a meeting or a meal or do whatever I’m meant to be doing there, and simply get back in the car and go home again straight away. I like to see the place I’m visiting, and so would rather get up earlier or get home later so I can spend some time seeing the place properly.
The Solent Way leaving Beaulieu towards Buckler’s Hard.
I love the New Forest, it is a very special National Park with some awesome places to explore on foot. Even with the ponies worrying me! Outdoor blogging and Get Outside Champion friend Kate recommended I headed to the Beaulieu River at Buckler’s Hard, which turned out to be a really great shout. With her recommendation and my three hour time limit in mind I searched the OS Maps route directory and found a couple of options – a there and back route along the river and a longer and more interesting looking circular walk that started by heading off into woodland before returning along the river path. Naturally I picked the latter, because I’m a sucker for some nice woodland and a potentially less busy path. I definitely got both.
Wandering along to see where I end up.
I parked in the public carpark in Beaulieu, which cost me a couple of quid for the afternoon and had a handy toilet block, and headed through the village and towards the river path. The path is waymarked as the Solent Way, and you can follow this all the way along the river to Buckler’s Hard, just over two miles direct, but I walked along there for a little over than a mile before turning along a track away from the river and into woodland.
Following the route on OS Maps, which had been added by a user rather than OS themselves, I had to walk along a road for a short while before heading off into Ashen Wood. The path I was promised was blocked thanks to a barbed wire fence that I couldn’t see a way through and didn’t fancy fighting with, so I ended up walking along the road for a little longer than I’d have liked; it is a reasonably quiet 40mph country road, but cars coming along were definitely doing more than that and I upped my pace for sure to speed up that part of my walk. I was very pleased when I could turn up a track and get away from the side of the road.
Ashen Wood near Beaulieu, New Forest.
On paper there were a plethora of paths through Ashen Wood and into Foul Bush and Tyler’s Copse (yes, yes). However the area is clearly being worked, both in terms of woodland management and hunting. There were fences criss-crossing the area, lookout towers, fire pits, shelters and piles of rubbish. It felt like I was walking through private land, I may well have been, but according to the map I was perfectly entitled to be here and I did not see any warning signs to suggest otherwise. I saw no-one else the entire time I was in the area, and while the fences (crossing over footpaths marked on the OS Map, although always with open gates to allow access through), and terrain made the woodland a little difficult to navigate, it was wonderful to be wandering through this beautiful woodland on my own. I hoped I might see some deer or rabbits or other wildlife, but I had to make do with the few pheasants I startled, and what I am sure was a fully-grown turkey that looked as shocked to see me as I was to see it. A little boggy in places, I was pleased I’d dressed appropriately, and took my time make my way through the area.
Wood management in the New Forest.
Fences (thankfully with open gates to allow me through) in the New Forest.
Look out! (Sorry.)
Once back on more solid ground I re-joined the Solent Way along a very quiet single track lane and headed into Buckler’s Hard. I admit that I didn’t really know anything about Buckler’s Hard, and was a little surprised by all the signs along this lovely narrow country lane saying “no parking” and the like. As I arrived at the village I found the whole place was in essence a museum and, if you travel by car, you have to pay to get in. Thankfully walkers can wander around the village without paying the fee. The village is really lovely with its beautiful row of old houses, pub and museum. Shame the café and ice cream stand was closed though 😉
I took the weight off my feet on a bench overlooking the river; I’m not sure if this part was officially the marina or the ship builder’s yard, but either way it was super pretty and the perfect place for a rest, a cereal bar and a cup of tea (or two, or three). While I was sat there I had a conversation with my family and learnt this was where Nelson’s ships were built – ah so it is rather famous then! Of course if I had paid to go in the museum, I’d have known, but when you have a historian for a father it’s often better just to ask him!
Drinking tea from my Christmas present mug in Buckler’s Hard.
The path back to Beaulieu is well marked and a popular walk; even on this first Saturday in January there were a lot of other walkers enjoying the route. I took the riverside path rather than the most direct route, and while it was very muddy in places, it was much less busy and I think more interesting. I say very muddy, this is marshland so it’s to be expected, but there are boardwalks in the most squelchy patches and if you’re wearing boots and walking trousers you’ll be happy enough; if you’re wearing bright white trainers maybe stick to the well made and maintained gravel path.
Riverside path from Buckler’s Hard to Beaulieu.
Boardwalk along the Beaulieu River
Back at the car I changed my boots and checked out my route. Just shy of seven miles in a wiggly circle through woodland, along farm tracks, along a river and with some beautiful scenery to keep me busy. The section on the road was a but unfortunate but as long as you face oncoming traffic and keep your wits about you it’s okay. The section through the woodland that was being worked on felt a teeny bit dodgy, but still beautiful and it was only a small area. But the best bit was definitely arriving at Buckler’s Hard and walking back along the river. Lovely.
Tyler’s Copse, New Forest
A screenshot of my walk on OS Maps. A great tool for any walker.
I shall be down in the New Forest at least one or two more times this year – what would you recommend as your “must walk” routes? I’m thinking 2-3 hours, 5-7 miles and some decent scenery to photograph. Comment below 🙂