Quite typical to me I started something last year but did not quite commit to it. Though this is somehow a continuation of last year idea to share some of the moments in nature. This is a day walk in New Forest to immerse in nature and fully rest from the city.
Something that was supposed to be a generic day in nature turned out to be a nice little adventure with some foraging, wild life and river crossing.
I always wanted to go and scout New Forest, never been there and didn’t know what to expect. In summary I am a little bit underwhelmed by lack of actual forest. But I only seen a part of it, and maybe real forest was somewhere around a corner. Another reason to go there was to find two sticks for my shamanic circle. We were supposed to make a ceremony of setting intentions by burning a stick that represents old/unwanted stuff in our lives and a stick that invites new/wanted stuff into our lives. Finally, there is a wildlife centre in the New Forest, and they had a lynx and wolves, I just could not miss that!
Getting there was easy, I took a train from Waterloo to Brockenhurst and my extraction point was from Ashurst. It is the same line and is very convenient. I don’t like looped hikes, for me it is less interesting to go in circles, so I prefer to have a destination in mind.Preparation wise I plotted a route in ViewRanger, it was about 16km, perfect. I took with me rain gear, battery pack for phone, some food and 2l of water (also for emergency I took a folding saw, a whistle and a fire-starting kit). Wearing leather hiking boots, thermal under trousers, walking trousers, walking t-shirt, fleece jumper, some generic warm jacket (not for hiking), warm gloves and a hat. For navigation I used my phone ViewRanger app.
I took 8:30am train and at about 11am was in Brockenhurst, lovely quite village. Weather was beautiful, sun was still low and temperature was about -4°C. Very fresh. The lighting in the forest is absolutely stunning when sun is low. Long shadows of trees and very crispy contrast of greens and browns.
It took some time walking a tarmac road to get out from Brockenhurst, but it was nice to warm up on a suburban road. Roads, even small ones, are pretty busy out there, so look out for cars. Though on tracks I met just several groups of people, mainly dog walkers. As soon as I had a chance I sneaked into a forest and stayed there for as much as I could. Which was not easy. First of all, the forest has a grid of logging roads, it is very difficult to stay away from them. Then there are fences, maybe against animals, so they are sometimes in your way and you may need to climb over or walk along seeking for a gate. It was still possible to stay off the track and enjoy the forest. There are many ponies out there (or just small horses) roaming around. They are not very social unfortunately. I saw a couple of deers too but they saw me earlier and hurried away.
I started out in the oak forest, some of the trees were there for a while. You could tell by how thick their trunks are and how wide are the branches. Only after the hike I learned that new forest was initially an oak forest to supply for for ship building. I always thought that ships are made of pines, apparently not. Then there were some poplars and birches and pines.
Somewhere in the oak forest I found very old oak branch on the forest floor. It was there for a while, you could tell by how dark it was, almost started to rot. Its bark was flaking and it attracted my attention. I decided that it is a great stick to represent things I want to let go. So I took out my folding saw and took a piece of that branch. The idea then came to me that a birch branch will represent a new beginning. But I did not want to collect an old branch instead I needed a sapling. I was very aware that to take a sapling is a big deal, it is a new life and normally I never fall/damage young trees. But I took the decision and was going to find a place where birch saplings are too dense, and wouldn’t survive all. It took me a long time to find one, but finally I got both branches.
After about 7km of walking I found myself sitting on a fallen tree having lunch. Some salami sausages, nuts, dried berries and a protein bar. Next part of the hike was supposed to bring me to yew tree heath. Unfortunately the trail led to somebodies farm with gated entrance. I wasn’t sure if I can go through because it wasn’t a normal farm gates but more of a courtyard and houses. So I went around and ultimately my way was blocked by a river (well, a wide stream, about 3-4m wide). And this is when the fun began.
Just to set the scene: in June 2016 in Scotland (smh that I need to write up too) my mates and me crossed a lot of streams wider and wilder than the one I was looking at, so I was determined that I can cross it. The fact that it was -4oC and I was alone didn’t hinder my enthusiasm. I found a large log laying across the stream and conveniently there was a branch hanging to hold while crossing. The crossing began with almost an immediate failure. The seemingly stable log was in fact semi-floating and went directly under the water and the branch, that was supposed to save me, betrayed me and broke off.
Suddenly what was quite an ordinary walk became an adventure. I found myself down to my waist line in ice-cold water. Then my mind started playing tricks with me and I lost some of the memory. Last thing I remember while being in the water was “**** I am in water”, next memory was when I was already on the shore “hypothermia, I need to keep myself warm”, next memory was of me running across the stream trying to warm-up and scaring whole crap out of wild ponies, who were grazing on some bushes. Once I got warmer I thanked myself for wearing thermal skiing under-trousers which started to work like a wet-suit letting my body to warm up retained in them water.
Shortly after a stroll I stopped to quickly take off hiking trousers and get the water out from them. Once done I put them back on. Boots were soaked, obviously, but I decided just to tie them tighter and go ahead. Surprisingly I didn’t feel too cold. My phone survived only by luck, it was in my jacket pocket. I ate some stuff to keep that fuel burning. And. I was still on the wrong side of the stream. I was angry and still on adrenaline, so I ran. Like a wild animal through bushes and forest jumping from rock to rock, avoiding bogs. Two more crossing points were not good enough and I ran further. Finally I wound a stoney-island in the middle of the stream and crossed it in two jumps. All the way with two sticks. It was like a price for my future, a little challenge the forest decided to give me, to spice up the walk. Once on the other side I faced a field and wind, which meant – more food and more running. In about half an hour I reached a road to the wildlife centre, at that moment I was very warm and already calmed down.
The centre is quite cool, they have typical European animals, but I came to see two of them. I saw a tail of lynx, because it decided to be nasty and stayed in the furthest part of her enclosure. But wolves were marvellous. Three girls and two boys, I think all brothers and sisters. They were waiting for food and there was some electricity in the air. They were so focussed and were tracking people walking in distance to see staff with their raw chickens. I had an hour of my time to watch them, and only then I started to feel cold.
It was time to go back, exhausted, happy, with two sticks.
P.S. lessons learned
- prepare accordingly, if it an off-trail walk alone, take more emergency gear
- if reliant on phone to navigate, definitely put it in waterproof sleeve
- thermal under trousers and synthetic trousers still perform when wet
- when crossing: use long stick to check that debris are stable
- when crossing: use dry bag to each your gear before crossing
- if in water: if possible exit the side you need to be not where you came from
- if in water: depending on the depth, decide whether you can keep yourself warm
- if in water: burn food to get heat, do exercises while looking for help