In which I pause under trees in the rain
It was a grand day, with Hasley’s heart for its goal.Joan Begbie, Walking in the New Forest, published 1934
Today we are again following in the footsteps of Joan Begbie and, of course, in the pawprints of her two dogs, Bill, a white bull terrier, and Mr Bundy, a diminutive griffon. Joan’s walks across the length and breadth of the New Forest are described in her book, Walking in the New Forest, published in 1934, and I am finding it great fun, and illuminating, to follow them, to see what has changed and what has not in the Forest.
In this post, we are accompanying Joan through Hasley Inclosure; this is part of a route she walked on a sunny morning in early spring, while I am walking on a mid-summer day in July. She sets out from Fritham, going past Eyeworth Pond, through Amberwood and then westwards along Hampton Ridge, before turning left at Windmill Hill. I park at Abbotswell, and walk down the road to meet Joan, Bill and Mr Bundy at the foot of Windmill Hill, from where I join them in heading “over the tumbled heath to the western gate of Hasley”. If you have a copy of Walking in the New Forest to hand, then this short section of the walk is described on pages 41 to 42; the full walk from Fritham, including the Hasley section, is covered on pages 36 to 44.
Hasley gleams mysteriously in the early pages of Walking in the New Forest, before ever Joan and her dogs set boots and paws inside its enclosing fence. Joan marks its presence, a fixed point in the landscape, as she follows other routes, referring to “the big mass of Hasley”, “looming colourful Hasley”, “Hasley looked stern and aloof”, and “Hasley looming on the left looked kindly on us”.
It is as if the Hasley woods have always been there, perched on their hill, visible from the valleys of the Latchmore to the north and Dockenswater to the south, from Ogdens to the west and from Sloden to the east. Hasley was in fact first enclosed in 1846, and originally planted with Oak, Sweet Chestnut, Larch and Scots Pine. Now, there is much Western Hemlock planted and self-seeding beneath the taller trees, which must, after snow, lend an air of Narnia to the plantation.
Before the mid-nineteenth century planting, Hasley was simply a hill rising from the valleys to the north and south. The Drivers’ Map of the New Forest (Second Edition, 1814) records ‘Hasley Hills’ in the Inclosure’s current location, and marks the twin smaller hills of Great Witch and Little Witch, which now immediately flank the northern edge of Hasley Inclosure (the Drivers’ Map transposes the names of the ‘Witch’ hills, with Great Witch shown as the more easterly rather than more westerly of the pair).
Hasley would not have been without trees before 1846; its name means a ‘glade (ley) among hazels’. I wish I could have seen it then, early on a spring morning when the world was waking to another day and the soft hazel leaves were welcoming the sun. That’s not to say that Hasley does not still have its charms: it does.
I am, however, ahead of myself here, as we are still standing at the foot of Windmill Hill, taking in the view towards Hasley. On another, later, walk, Joan describes Hasley as “shimmering and dreamy in the distance”. She’s right: it does seem mysterious and inviting when seen from afar.
From Windmill Hill to the western gate of Hasley
Turning left on Windmill Hill we crossed the brook, Mr Bundy and Bill bathing and gulping in passing, and worked our way by irregular tracks over the tumbled heath to the western gate of Hasley.Joan Begbie, Walking in the New Forest
Joan is a little short on detail about her route from Windmill Hill to Hasley. She may have followed rough tracks and ‘pony paths’ all the way. There is now a good stony track down from Abbotswell past Ogdens (which must have been there in the 1930s, as it is the route to Ogdens Farm), which then bends east to meet Hasley; this is the way I go. It’s downhill all the way to Ogdens, the sun is warm, bees are humming on the bramble and hoverflies are spinning from flower to flower. The track crosses Latchmore Brook over a sturdy wooden footbridge (if you’re walking this way in autumn and winter, be aware the land to either side of the bridge becomes flooded, so be prepared for either wet feet or long-ish detours). After leaving Ogdens, the way crosses heathland and bends left towards Hasley, passing alongside some majestic Scots Pines (where Ravens sometimes perch) just outside the Inclosure, standing sentinel by its western entrance.
Within “dreamy” Hasley
Joan crosses Hasley from west to east along a track that follows the spine of the rising and then descending hill. This track is still shown on the OS map (OS Explorer 22), but the first half of it, from the fence to the crown of the hill, is no longer accessible: there isn’t even a locked gate at its entrance. Hasley Inclosure, like all the plantations across the New Forest, is under active forestry management and restoration. The paths through Hasley are not public rights of way, but the Forestry Commission allows access for ‘the purpose of peaceful enjoyment of air and exercise’ (as the delightfully old-fashioned wording on a sign at the eastern gate says). So instead I go through the gate a little further north (not shown on earlier maps, so presumably it replaces Joan’s way in) and walk up to join the track that travels all the way round within the wood’s border.
I do regret, just a little, not being able to walk Joan’s way to the top of the hill and Hasley’s centre.
It was a great moment when we first peered over that gate and up that green ride, which, impatient to reach the summit of the hill, soars up at a prodigious gradient, cutting its way through the trees with a fine scorn for the zig-zagging which a less ardent climber would have considered more restful.Joan Begbie, Walking in the New Forest
I might consider myself among the less ardent climbers, but climbing straight to Hasley’s heart would have been inspiring. Never mind. I walk anti-clockwise to the point where the original track crosses the path. It’s still visible. There is a large forestry gate across it as it climbs further eastwards, over which honeysuckle nestles, and a deer fence to either side guards the forest within. I imagine Joan climbing onwards, Mr Bundy at her heels and Bill bounding ahead. I have to be satisfied with continuing on anti-clockwise. To be fair, it’s still lovely, and a far gentler climb. Sweet Chestnuts and Oaks line the way, interspersed with pines, and there are birches beyond the deer fence. Grasses, brambles and ferns scramble in the verge, and there is a constant hum of bees.
The forestry gate preventing public access to the way Joan, Bill and Mr. Bundy would have walked up the hill to the top of Hasley. It is now a ride within an area where there is active forestry work (which includes mixed woodland restoration).
Eventually, I reach a point where another path heads northwards towards Hasley’s summit, so I turn there. The deer-fenced enclosure continues to the left. The sky is greying over, and there is a cool breeze. Other than rustles, drips, a little hesitant birdsong and those humming bees, it is very quiet. There is no traffic noise, nor any other human sounds apart from my own breath as I climb.
At the top, where crossing paths form a small clearing, it starts to rain quite heavily. I haven’t brought a waterproof coat with me, but I don’t mind. It’s not cold, the rain is refreshing, and I feel peaceful. A deer barks to my left, and some small creature scurries through the undergrowth. This is the most absorbed in nature I have felt for a while, so I stay for a few minutes, enclosed and nurtured by the falling rain, green smells and, of course, the trees. I think of Joan’s own description of the springtime scents of Hasley.
If the moorland scents were delicious the breath of Hasley was ravishing…What could be more lovely than the blend of bluebell, primrose, and pine? I doubt if even the Dorset nosegay whose fragrance up till then I had considered supreme (gorse-blossom, sea, and hay it was) could beat it.Joan Begbie, Walking in the New Forest
Eventually, I need to move on. Joan has already passed from west towards the east over the crossing, and is walking towards the far gate. This part of her route is still accessible today, and I have walked that way before. Towards its end it is now heavily lined by more recently planted Western Hemlock, with their fresh green leaves and Christmas tree shape, so is of a different feel to when Joan walked it in the 1930s. Today, I spurn it, waving to Joan and the dogs in the distance, and instead keep straight on northwards, still feeling calm and absorbed. Where the path crosses the circular route, I continue towards a northern exit from the wood. Slowly, I emerge from my contemplative mood. The rain has eased, I see the barking deer from earlier running further into the wood, and the sound of humming bees I have been hearing resolves into a far-off electric saw. I decide I am not ready to leave the wood and turn back to follow the path towards the eastern gate. On the way, I pass the point where another path into the heart of the wood is marked on the OS map, but it is no longer there, grown over by pines, bracken, grasses and ferns.
Beyond Hasley: Latchmore and Windmillhill Pond
The western gate is guarded by its Scots Pines, but the eastern gate is guarded by a pair of trees, one an Oak and the other a Sweet Chestnut. I briefly reconnoitre with Joan there, but she’s now off further east, towards Sloden and Fritham, whereas I’m off back to Abbotswell. Before I set off, though, I have to pause, because the deep pink of the Bell Heather over the heath is astonishing, colouring the landscape in all directions.
There are a few ways you can choose to return to Abbotswell from the eastern edge of Hasley Inclosure. You can follow the southward path outside the wood, and then continue back via Ogdens (retracing the way we came today). Alternatively, you can follow the northward path outside the wood, crossing the hills of Little Witch and Great Witch westwards before dropping down towards Latchmore Brook and so on to Ogdens. If you go this second way, look for the evidence of bomb explosions on Great Witch, dating to the time of the World War Two Ashley Walk bombing range: find out more in the April 2010 edition of the wonderful series of New Forest Notes written by Anthony Pasmore for the Lymington Times, and also published on the website of the New Forest History and Archaeology Group.
My favourite way back, however, and the way I go today, is to head northwards to where the path meets the wide ride that travels between Sloden, Amberwood and Alderhill Inclosures (somewhere we’ve been before in an earlier post). The heather is sparkling with Silver-studded Blue butterflies, flurrying their way from flower to flower, and I pass an isolated small Oak, growing among waves of bracken and magenta-hued Bell Heather. In a boggy patch, sitting among the sphagnum moss there is Sundew (already fruiting), Cottongrass and, joy of joys, the resplendent yellow-and-orange Bog Asphodel.
After stepping a little way west, I cross the Latchmore Brook to find another path (this takes a bit of doing, but it is achievable) that heads towards Windmillhill Pond, a delightful little pool of water skimmed by patrolling dragonflies and overlooked by the hill above. From there it’s a short way uphill back to Abbotswell, and the end of another lovely walk in the New Forest.