The New Forest

The foyer of our hotel in Southampton

Day 13 – Sunday, October 9, 2022

Goodbye to The Cotswolds today as we drove 140km south towards Southampton and then onto New Forest for lunch with friends.

After crawling through Sunday morning traffic in Southampton we called in at our hotel (Leonardo Royal Hotel Southampton Grand Harbour) to leave our luggage with the concierge before heading down to Hampshire and the pub in the New Forest where we were to catch up with friends for Sunday lunch.

Mainly because of the New Forest ponies which seem to be, spoiler alert, everywhere, I’ve long wanted to have a look around the New Forest – which, having been declared a Royal Forest in 1079, was actually quite old.

While they appear to be wild and roaming freely, the ponies are (as are the cows), in fact, owned by New Forest Commoners. Each year, the ponies are rounded up in what are called drifts. Over thirty of these drifts take place during the summer and autumn giving the commoners a chance to check the health of their animals and wean and handle the foals.

The ancient tradition of commoning dates back to the days when William the Conqueror made this area his private hunting reserve and imposed strict laws on the locals to preserve the New Forest as a location for royal deer hunting. As part of these laws, any interference with the King’s deer or its forage was punished. In return for this, the locals were given the right to graze their animals on the common – the land now known as the New Forest.

There were various other permissions granted to Commoners around the gathering of wood and cutting of peat for fuel, the right to dig clay, and to also, turn out their pigs between September and November to eat fallen acorns and beechnuts. This is a win-win in that acorns pose a poison risk to horses and the pigs like the nuts. The sow in the pic below just idly wandered across the road in front of the car.

It’s a lovely area and we’d love to have had the time to check out some of the villages and walks down here. One day…

Anyways, it’s not long before we pull up at the pub – the Fleur de Lys in Pilley. It’s a gorgeous-looking building with white walls and a thatched roof and as the oldest pub in the New Forest (there’s been an inn in this spot since 1096) is everything a pub should be – except open. We’re 10 minutes early to meet our friends but there are no cars in the car park and a sign on the door proclaims them to be closed – and not just today… they’re closed for good.

I check again the details on my spreadsheet (yes, our itinerary is on a spreadsheet – I am that person) and it’s definitely the one. But…I seem to vaguely recall half-reading an email from my friends a few days before we left Australia… I was stressed out about the relocation in Melbourne I was doing for work and maybe, just maybe, our plans had changed and (heaven forbid) I hadn’t updated the spreadsheet… The problem is, I have a new phone and that email is on the old one. Ignoring the grumbling of my husband I call Shirley who confirms that yes, I have got it wrong and the pub we’re supposed to be at is 9 miles north in Brockenhurst.

Telling Grant that it’s a good thing we were early, we’re back in the car and soon at the correct meeting place and having a good laugh about it over wine and a very good Sunday roast. Although we haven’t seen these friends in years, it feels as though it was only yesterday. The best kind of catch-up. Next time, I tell them rashly, we’ll spend time in their part of the world and really have a good look around.

Back in Southampton it’s time to drop the rental car back at Europcar (it’s served us well) and walk back to the hotel where after a lunch like that we opt for a few drinks in the bar and call it a night.

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

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