An English Forest Weekend

The New Forest, in Hampshire, southern England featured in a lot of my childhood. We were all three born in a village on the edge of it. My father travelled across it every day for work in Southampton and we went often for picnics and recreational activities like those family cricket games of the fifties or accompanying scout camping trips.

Of course as children we were accustomed to seeing the animals of the Forest roaming free and were used to marauding bands of ponies invading our garden and enraging my father, who would storm outside in the middle of the night with objects like biscuit tins to bash and banish them from his precious vegetable beds. They always returned-until cattle grids were installed across all the entrances to the village, when to my immense disappointment the night visits ceased.

What a contrast East Anglia seemed when we re-located there! Even as a young child I was shocked at the impoverished fenland landscape, my mother compounding the sensation by telling me I’d have had my own pony ‘if we’d stayed in The New Forest’.

I was not to return to live next to The New Forest for another nineteen years, during which time it had altered considerably and had begun to assume its reputation as a tourist magnet.

Nowadays the Forest has National Park status and is thronged with visitors of all nationalities. Cheffy restaurants, trendy hotels, gastro-pubs, tea shops and costly gift emporia have proliferated in the towns and villages but it remains, to us a precious resource that we still love to walk, cycle and camp in.

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What better location to spend a weekend celebrating an anniversary and birthday? We park up, go for a hot, dusty cycle, return, shower and make for the convenient station where we take a tiny train to yachty Lymington. Here there are ferries to the Isle of Wight but we are interested only in the Lobster and Burger Bar where we feast-but not on burgers.

Next morning we have guests expecting breakfast:

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And we retreat inside the van until they give up. The ponies, cows, donkeys, deer and pigs of the Forest are a delight but need to be treated with caution. The Forest roads, terrain and flora are all theirs and humans must bow to their superiority, whether it means waiting in a traffic queue for them to shift from the centre of the road or going the long way around to the shower block on the campsite.

After another sweaty bike ride we get ready and set off to The Pig, favourite for Sunday supplement features and writers of restaurant columns.

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I’d say we aren’t The Pig’s average customers as a quick glance reveals that few would have travelled here from the camp site-many will be staying in one of the artfully ‘shabby chic’ rooms or have arrived in convertible sports cars, their pastel sweaters slung casually around their shoulders, their stilettos tap-tapping on the wood floors.

It’s nice, although the food is not quite as stunning as I’d been led to believe. But outside the gardens alone are worth the visit, immaculate, symmetrical veg beds and a path leading to a voluptuous pond area.

Next day we BBQ with old friends and enjoy a good gossip under the shade of the pull-out. All good!

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Overdone

                When does something cool, new and edgy become tedious and boring? I’d say within moments, or as soon as it gets copied. I’ve no doubt whoever thought of the idea, creation or saying will have long moved on to more innovative thoughts, by the time the original takes off. Trends continue long past the tired level. Travelling gives you a perspective on how novelty has been eroded everywhere. Here are some of my current, personal pet yawns:

Decorated animals

                A few years ago we stopped to spend a few days in Bordeaux, en route to the West coast of France. Bordeaux is a beautiful, old, elegant city and a world heritage site, with a wide, curving river and streets lined with gorgeous edifices. It also has chic modern touches like a plateau of water spouting intermittent fountains, ideal for the warm climate. Whilst visiting this lovely place I was much taken by the cows. These were life-sized statues, dotted around in a random fashion in various poses and painted in a variety of styles and colours. One sported a portrait of Marilyn Monroe. I’d seriously never seen anything like it before.

                Now though, it seems as if no town or city can bear to be without some sort of decorated creatures littering the streets. In my own home town it is lions. I read that even Sydney, that most symbolic of modern, stylish cool, is getting ‘snails’. Why? When Sydney has such iconic and beautiful attractions?  

Knitting all over everything

                I appreciate that knitters like to have an outlet for their skills. Whatever happened to blanket squares for refugees? Or why not clothing items for charity shops? [which have struggled to compete in recession ridden times]. I fail to see how knitted sheaths enhance tree trunks or stone columns. I’m happy to see exhibitions of cleverly knitted objects in my local library, but I’m unutterably tired of seeing everything outside covered in woolly wrappers.

‘Keep Calm’ etc

                I honestly believe whoever started this one needs to be charged with crimes against sanity. Posters, mugs, aprons, tea towels-it is all a gift shop nightmare. What on earth are tat-touters going to do when this one finally dies a death? Maybe there could be a new trend of the antithesis of Keep Calm. Panic and… followed by any number of suggestions; faint? Throw up? Take valium? Binge eat?

                In starting this list I’ve deliberately kept off fashions in clothing, because once I began I’d never be able to stop-but scruffy, bum skimming denim shorts would be there alongside those jeans so low slung they all but fall down [when are they ever going away?]-

                I’m sure there are many more overdone trends and welcome suggestions-on a postcard-or in the comments section?