Week 182: In the mud of the New Forest

Exploring the New Forest, fighting off ponies and wading through endless mud.

Week 182: In the mud of the New Forest
New Forest Ponies

New Forest. What a typically English understatement. The New Forest was established in 1079 as a Royal Forest or Game Reserve for the exclusive use of the King – William the Conqueror. Perhaps the name needs to change?

Regardless, it's a spectacular area full of interesting history and lots of sights to see. We started the week south near "East End", a small hamlet in a large property with two sheep, eight chickens and two dogs, Myrtle and Mabel. The owners had already left when we arrived, but we found the key okay and let ourselves in. Our concerns that the dogs might be worried about these strange intruders were soon gone. They greeted us like long-lost friends. A burglar would only have to worry about being licked to death.

The sheep were good fun. They've been hand-reared and consider themselves people. If you don't scratch them between the ears fast enough, you'll get head-butted to remind you of your duty.

We were advised to walk the dogs through the forest, which we did, but with all the rain, the ground was a boggy mess – there were small streams running everywhere and huge tracts of mud churned up by the ever-present ponies and cattle roaming free in the forest.

Mary and Ken warned us of the ponies the prior week; they are ubiquitous and have a habit of eating people's gardens. We were dubious but hopeful that we'd see some. They are everywhere! When we arrived at the new house, we had a standoff for several minutes with a small herd of ponies that aggressively tried to enter the yard, preventing the automatic gate from closing. We finally got them to step back so we could protect the homeowner's garden.

Pushy ponies

With the boggy mess of the forest, we decided we needed to invest in proper wellington boots for ourselves. We headed to "Mole Country Stores", a kind of "Bunnings" or "Home Depot" for posh country folk in the UK. It's here you buy your fancy garden tools, expensive chicken feed and quality walking wellies. They weren't cheap, but we figure with a barge lifestyle on the cards, we'll need them anyway – towpaths are notoriously wet and muddy when it's been raining heavily. We did sign up for a membership card that immediately knocked 70 pounds off the purchase!

After two days there, we headed for our last sit of the visit, a couple of weeks up near Fordingbridge on the northern edge of the New Forest. Here, we have a cat (Google) and a small dog (Daphne). It's by far the easiest house sit we've done. Google is very self-sufficient (he will let you know when he thinks it's time for food by walking all over your keyboard), and Daphne is delightful and easy to please.

We've had a wonderful time so far, exploring the forest and the surrounding towns and villages. We're twenty minutes south of Salisbury, which, of course, has Salisbury Cathedral and a lot of shops in an old medieval shopping district.

Daphne is equally at home, walking through the mud in the forest or walking on the lead around the cities and towns. I think she might even prefer the cities and towns because people drop food a lot – she's always on the lookout for a stray chip or other food to eat.

Today we headed to Bournemouth to walk around the city centre and out along the pier, as well as getting a shoe repair done. It's a beautiful city centre and has one of the nicest beaches we've seen in the UK.

We're now hunkering down for the night and the next few days – there are heavy rain and flood warnings for Fordingbridge (and most of the UK). The Avon River, which runs through town, is already at the top of its banks, and the ground is saturated, which means any substantial rain will flood a lot of things.

Overall, the house sitting is going well and we're enjoying relaxing in a lovely house with two delightful pets.

Until next time.

Tim & Karina