I have a lovely time this sunny Sunday. I can hardly believe my good fortune. Not since I sailed “west in the night” * across to Brazil in a 12m yacht have I experienced such pure unadulterated freedom. Whatever your circumstances I recommend you set out and make a long journey or voyage if you have ever felt hemmed in or overwhelmed with your life! I guarantee you won’t regret it.
I am in seventh heaven! I left my home town of Totnes believing it the most beautiful town in the country. I haves since fallen in love with every town and village I have walked through – what a magnificent isle we inhabit!
I have a lovely time in the home of Sarah & Duncan Fawkes and children Callum and Evie. We talk sailing, transition, walking, and football – Callum won his match 2:1 – well done, atta boy!
Sarah is in the food group and was recently called upon to go up to Winchester to be awarded first prize for best Hampshire local food website for the Transition New Forest website – www.newforesttransition.org/foodchallenge .
As with all Transition New Foresters Sarah is vibrant, happy, hugely enthusiastic and tireless! Sarah walks the start of the Solent Way, which I will take all the way to Hythe where I will overnight, with me. We pass bright fields of rape, see the Isle of Wight in the distance, and are outpaced by a 1000 cyclists on an 87-mile round trip from and to Brockenhurst. It is no race – they are all out to do their personal best – aiming at 4 hours, and the spirit of cooperation is lovely to see. One man stops to mend a puncture and everyone calls out to see if he needs help. I stop too and we exchange details of one another’s journeys.
Sarah has told me what to look out for; the old airstrip where flights in the second world war took off from, now just a beautiful field with a memorial and Bucklers Hard, a glorious old village that has a history of boat building, and now a tourist attraction. I can feel the change, from vibrant transitioners to the herd like behaviour of those on a day out. The folk I encounter here are louder, less aware of their surroundings, bent on having a good time, and strangely not of the landscape. The people who work there stand out as belonging simply by their way of being and again I marvel at what happens to us when we show up someplace having arrived by car or by coachload.
I stop for a picnic on Bucklers Hard green overlooking the river Beaulieu, and with the sun beaming down on me feel I am on a holiday of a lifetime! I am freer, more focussed, more available to really talk to people, and more myself than I can ever remember being.
I walk on to the showcase village of Beaulieu a few miles to the north. It is here that I will cross the river. The village is so exquisite I have trouble believing it is real! I have ice cream and wander the streets. I come across the village green by the river and find wild horses peacefully grazing amongst the tourists playing ball, sitting in the sun, and watching the boats.
There then follows the most frustrating episode of an otherwise perfect day. It involves land ownership. I am excited to read on my map of the 12th Century Cistern Abbey ruins. The Solent Way goes right past it. Only it doesn’t – not exactly. Footpath signs take you into the grounds all right – but then you are expected to pay for the privilege of visiting the Motor Museum, with the ruins and extensive grounds thrown in as an extra. I am horrified. I am also quite cross, and the girls on the help desk don’t deserve it, and fortunately are not fazed by my irritation and one of them, a local, tells me how to get through the forest further along the road and join the Solent Way nearer to my destination of Hythe, and avoiding views of the Oil Refinery until the last possible minute.
I have seen the Oil Refinery on my map; been amazed by its size relative to the town it neighbours. I am not however prepared for its monstrousness as I do eventually rejoin the Solent Way after more than an hour walking through forest and heathland, often quite edgy about how easy it would be to get lost in these. I emerge from ancient forest my left, pine plantation on my right and gorse and heathland ahead to be confronted by a huge conglomeration of tall cylindrical towers of all manner of heights and widths, spreading across the landscape as far the eye can see.
Again I have one of those sublime to the ridiculous moments; from nature grown to human made. There really is no competition! What were we thinking of?! I read in the paper today of the continued no fly policy of the airlines in the light, or should I say dust, of the erupting Icelandic volcano situation, and all I can say is perhaps now we will come to our senses!
I have to skirt right round the edge of the Oil Refinery to get to Hythe. It is in view the whole way, even as I am gingerly picking my way across the bog I have encountered right across the heathland path just outside of Hythe. I meet a couple of women coming the other way and between us we work out a wet, but non-dangerous path across it. I am relieved that this is the only bog I have met in the New Forest; I had been warned of many, and regaled with tales of panicking visiting Americans needing to be pulled out by patient local hosts!
Once I reach civilisation I am horrified to come face to face with the Oil Refinery Checkpoint with their lines of Shell lorries all lined up and ready to go. I have been clocked on CCTV camera and the guards come out to greet me. I am relieved. I can ask the way. They point out the pathway, fortunately leading away from the refinery and back into countryside. I continue on my way. The path takes me back into countryside, amazing considering its proximity to the refinery.
I amble along more slowly now, I must be on mile 14 or 15 and my feet are tired. I have opted against the 12 mile walk into Dibden Purlieu, the first point of contact with the forest, choosing instead to go the country side way to the estuary. I come across the Travellers Rest pub; perfect I think, and approach. The first thing I see and hear is a juke box. I change my mind. The last thing you want after a long country walk is an assault on the senses of that description! There’d be no room for your thoughts!
I reach Hythe, get to the ferry. Made it! I am not crossing tonight. Tonight I have promised myself a night off – the first on the 3 week walk I will have in anonymity. I am looking forward to being by myself and recharging. I find the only hotel – the Maple. No room at the inn! But Shirley, landlady, is lovely. She rings ahead, gets me a room in ….Dibden Purlieu….and takes me there by car. I end up a mile and a half back the way I had come but by road! Had I only walked in that way I would have been here an hour ago, and without the encounter with the oil refinery!!
I have a bath, dinner at the nearby pub, and settle in for an early night. I am in bed before it even goes dark!