The New Forest – Lyndhurst and Matley Woods

Water, water everywhere

A wet Sunday walk from Lyndhurst to Matley woods and back

Lyndhurst is the administrative capital of the New Forest, where the district council and the Court of the Verderers are based. The many interesting little shops, cafes, pubs and even art galleries make it very popular with tourists. Even so it’s a relatively small village with only around three thousand inhabitants. There are some great walks around Lyndhurst across the heathland and into Matley Woods and on one cold, damp November Sunday recently I tried one out.

Starting off at Lyndhurst, from the car park at Boltons Bench I took the forest trail, while Commando ran off in the other direction for his marathon training. In hindsight not such a good plan. Things didn’t start off too badly although, as I walked up the path towards the Parish Cemetery I could see that the poor horses grazing in the fields beside me were surrounded by big boggy puddles. The cemetary was standing in the middle of a small lake. As I passed a golden Labrador dived in for a bit of a swim, much to the dismay of its owners. At least their other little dog had more sense and stood at the edge of the water watching.

The island cemetery

Cemetery surrounded by a little lake

At this point there was still a nice wide gravel path and, although I had to skirt round some pretty big puddles, I was managing to keep my feet more or less dry. Then I got over the brow of the first hill, Boltons Bench, and the puddles got bigger and bigger. Bolton’s Bench is not actually a bench, although there are benches there, it’s a small yew topped hill, the name commemorates Lord Basing, warden of the forest in 1688, who was appointed Lord Bolton.

Soon I found myself having to walk on the boggy ground at the side of the path to get round them. At one point I had to walk behind a huge pile of logs just to find some solid ground. I’m not sure what they were there for but there were some impressive fungi growing on them. Some of them were hollowed out and it made me think of the mason bee homes I saw online a while back and was thinking of making to attract more bees to my garden.

Some impressive fungi

Mini lakes where the path should be

Everywhere I looked there was water, the path kept disappearing under mini lakes and I was forced to keep jumping from one patch of dryish ground to another. My poor Skechers were filthy and I could feel the icy water seeping into my socks. Not a pleasant feeling I can tell you. I came across a stand of gorse that looked like an island amidst all the water and mud. There was no choice but to press on, the road wasn’t too far to my right but the ground was far too boggy to attempt to get to it and the next part of the route was uphill so I was hopeful that I’d find some drier ground at the top.

Currents in the sand

Hopping from one grassy island to another

In this part of the forest the paths are a mixture of gravel, earth and sand and the path on this hill was sandy. It was dry but I could see the tracks made by currents of rain water flooding down. It almost looked like a dry river bed. What goes up must come down, it’s physics, so it wasn’t long before I was on lower ground again and this was even boggier. It was a case of walking on whatever little grassy islands I could find and I’d long since given up worrying about the state of my muddy Skechers. Then I came to a place with no

Running out of dry ground

islands. The puddle was deep and stretched right across the path. All I could do was squelch through the mud at the perimeter as quickly as I could and hope I didn’t lose a shoe in the process.

A little while later I could actually see the road and the ponies carelessly grazing beside it heedless of the traffic. Sadly the ground between it and me was too wet to risk trying to cross to get to it so I carried on. When I reached the campsite at

Ponies grazing beside the road

Matley Woods I was relieved to see another nice wide gravel path. All I had to worry about was skirting round all the ponies. I’m not a great fan of horses. It’s not that I don’t like them, they’re beautiful creatures, but they scare the living daylights out of me and having to walk so close to wild ones was pretty scary. Luckily the New Forest ponies don’t pay much attention to people, they hardly even glanced at me as I passed.

Skirting the ponies and a fork in the path

Ponies everywhere

After a while I came to a fork in the path. I had no idea which way to go but I was hoping they would all lead the same way in the end. At least I was on dry ground although either side of the path it was hard to see anything but mud and water. I’m surprised the ponies don’t have webbed feet. There were ponies everywhere I looked, in some cases blocking the path and I held my breath as I squeezed past them, expecting at any minute that one would charge right at me.

The path twisted and turned and I

Ponies blocking the path

carried on walking thinking I’d see tents and caravans at any moment. After a while I noticed the sound of traffic seemed to be coming from my left instead of my right and that confused me. I was sure there was only one road and it had been to my right throughout the walk. It soon became clear why. The path had led me round in a big circle and I was back at the entrance to the campsite. I looked at the map on my Walkmeter and could see it was true. When I looked closely I saw a third path, not as wide as

Squelching across the boggy ground to the road

the other two, but I thought maybe this was the path through the campsite so I took it. Five more minutes of walking and I was back where I started again. A while ago Commando and I walked from Deer Leap to Lyndhurst and came through the campsite so I knew there was a path there somewhere but where was anyone’s guess. Maybe it was under water.

I was just under an hour into my walk at this point and I wasn’t sure how long I’d been walking in circles which meant I wasn’t sure how much further I should walk before turning back. There was nothing else for it I had to squelch my way across the boggy ground and slip and slide up the bank to get to the road. At least there was a grassy path and in most places it was more or less dry. Before long I came to a little bridge, behind it on the forest path there was another bridge and the fast flowing stream was spilling out onto the surrounding land. Commando swears he saw fish in there when he crossed on his run. All I saw was water. The road ran between flooded woods, with trees emerging from the water. Even on the road there were places where the water encroached. I trod a careful path along the grassy bank going as quickly as I could past the standing water on the road and hoping no cars came past to soak me. I was lucky and managed to make it to one hour fifteen minutes without getting sprayed.

Commando saw fish in here

A new obstacle to get round

At this point I thought I’d better turn back. I knew I’d spent quite a bit of time going in circles and I was pretty sure it was quite a bit more than five minutes but I didn’t want to be late back to the car park at Lyndhurst and keep Commando waiting because I had the car keys so he wouldn’t even be able to get changed and sit in the car. I decided I’d stick to the road coming back, although I wasn’t sure if the distance was the same. If anything I guessed it would be less but at least I could wander around Lyndhurst if I was really early. At least the grass verges were relatively mud free but I did have a few other obstacles to contend with. I came upon some cows laying down in the heather and ferns right beside the road. At least I was hoping they were cows, I didn’t fancy an impromptu jog with a bull chasing after me. I needn’t have worried, they did watch me as I passed but none of them made a move to come after me. Not long after that I had to skirt round yet another pony, this one was right on the edge of the verge completely unperturbed by the cars whizzing past at forty miles an hour.

Funny little cottage

It wasn’t long before I started to see the odd house here and there beside the road so I knew I wasn’t far from Lyndhurst. There was one really quaint little thatched cottage that looked as if it might have been there as long as the forest, except it had a bright pink and green plastic Wendy house in the front garden and a car on the drive. It wasn’t long before I could see Lyndhurst Church in the distance and then I passed Bolton’s Bench and I was rounding the corner to the car park. There was a child blowing bubbles and a cloud of them drifted past me. I looked at my Walkmeter and I still had about fifteen minutes to go to reach the magic two hours twenty when Commando said he’d be back so I decided to have a little walk through Lyndhurst.

It might have been paved and puddle free but the little village was surprisingly crowded for a Sunday afternoon and the pavements are narrow. I ended up getting

Full of pubs

caught behind a succession of frustratingly slow walkers. It’s a funny little place, full of pubs and cafes but with very modern shops like the Sunglass Gallery complete with bright red ‘sale’ signs standing cheek by jowl with places like The Old Apothecary that could have been exactly the same a hundred years or more ago. The Mad Hatter Tea Rooms certainly bought a smile to my face, Alice In Wonderland has always been one of my favourite books and the window was decorated with pictures from the nineteen

Cafes

thirties version I had as a child.

Alice Liddell, the inspiration for the original, Lewis Carroll books spent most of her life in Lyndhurst and is actually buried in St Michael and All Angels church, just up the road from the tea rooms. I stopped at the church to take a few photos. It was built in the 1860’s, sadly I didn’t have time to check out the fresco by Lord Leighton or the famed stained glass windows. It was time to turn back to the car park.

St Michael and All Angels

St Michael and All Angels church

Alice in Wonderlad's grave stone

Alice in Wonderlad’s grave stone

Apart from anything else it was well past lunch time and the food smells wafting out from all the pubs, cafes and especially the fish and chip shop were too tempting. On my way back I spotted a shop called tasty pastries. The window display seemed to be attracting quite a bit of attention and I was intrigued by the sign on the brickwork beneath the window that said simply ‘strange.’ I crossed the road to see what all the fuss was about. I still have no idea what the sign meant but I know why there were so many people stopping to look in the window. The display of cakes was mouthwatering and even now I’m not sure how I peeled myself away.

What all the fuss was about

Strange?

I made it back to the car park at two hours twenty two and was quite relieved to see Commando’s bright yellow jacket as I made my way to the spot where we’d parked. Fourteen miles is a long way to run and with all the water everywhere I was a little worried about him. He’d been back for a while because he actually completed the fourteen miles in two hours fourteen minutes which is really impressive. In typical Commando fashion he wasn’t pleased with his time. He said

Old and new cheek by jowl

the run went well although he hit a bit of a wall at the ten mile mark which is only to be expected as ten miles is the longest distance he’d run until today. At least he now knows he won’t have any trouble with the half marathon. We stopped at the car park for a few minutes while Commando changed out of his wet t-shirt and dried himself off. Running is a sweaty business. He had his post run bottle of chocolate milkshake which I must admit to being a little envious of and I shared a packet of yogurt coated raspberries with him.

The amazing Commando!

After a bath and a late lunch Commando downloaded the stats from his Garmin watch and I checked out my Walkmeter. Despite all the stopping to work out how to get round puddles, the going round in circles and the slow people in Lyndhurst, I’d walked seven and a half miles which is slow but still a good walk. I burned almost eight hundred calories too which is a bonus.

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