BY GEMMA BIANCHI SLATER
AZERI OBSERVER EDITOR
If you ever find yourself on the south-coast of England, and feel like taking a ninety minute detour south-west of London, why not take a trip to the New Forest? Here you will find an expansive national park spanning 300 square miles consisting of ancient oak trees, open moors, purple heather and cattle; particularly donkeys, pigs and New Forest ponies who are ubiquitous to the New Forest.
Once owned by legendary Viking, William the Conqueror, the New Forest is also famous for the death of his son, known as King Rufus, who was killed during a deer hunt by a stray arrow to the heart during the year 1100. He was killed by one of his own men, by the name of Sir Walter Tyrell. There is even a pub in the area named after him! The area in which he died has a stone monument known as ‘The Rufus Stone,’ which was erected in his honour. Rumour has it the woods surrounding The Rufus Stone are haunted.
There are over 4000 New Forest ponies roaming freely, all of which are locally owned by farmers – otherwise known as a commoner or non-royalty owner – but are allowed to graze under protection of the ancient forest laws. There are fines to pay (as much as £1000 per pony is charged) should you accidentally injure a horse or a deer or a cow, paid directly to the farmer.
All the animals have the right of way in the New Forest, and it is not uncommon to see many a traffic jam caused by a group of cows or ponies taking their time to cross the tree-lined roads. Like all the animals though, it is forbidden to feed them or even touch them – at your own peril! If you hit a pheasant with your car, you are not allowed to take it home to cook and eat. However, should the car behind you witness this, then they are allowed to scoop up their prize and enjoy the taste of roasted game that evening!
If you are lucky enough to be there during the autumn months, then you’ll be amused to see a fair number of pigs roaming and snuffling their trout’s along the forest floor, searching for acorns to eat. Hundreds of pigs are released from their farmers for ‘Pannage season’ for at least two months of the year; to feast on these acorns dropped from the towering ancient oak trees. To the pigs, these acorns are a delectable treat but for the New Forest ponies and cattle, they can be deadly if eaten in too great a quantity. The farmers ensure all the pigs have identity tags through their ears and a ring put through their noses, to prevent them from tearing up the forest due to rooting. The season of pannage is an old custom dating back to William the Conqueror’s era, and as many as 6,000 pigs could be released at any one time.
The New Forest is also home to the author of the famous book ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll. The White Rabbit pub, set in the quintessential English town of Lyndhurst is the perfect stop off for a traditional meal of shepherd’s pie or a Sunday roast, to be enjoyed with a glass of ale. There is also a nearby church where the real Alice – the inspiration for the book – is buried near Lyndhurst.
Don’t forget to drop in to the Beaulieu Tea Rooms, for a mouth-watering snack of scones with clotted cream and jam, and a cup of English tea. Here you can sit and watch the world go by; whether you’ll see trekkers on a walking trail or a donkey looking through the window at you, it’s a fine way to spend an afternoon.
Photos by Sarah Bianchi Duff