In which I take a short walk round my home town
Go down the winding, wooded hill which comes to the Avon’s edge and, bearing right, cross the river by Fordingbridge’s old stone bridge, for the little town is well worth seeing. It has ancient charm still in spite of enamel signs and orange tea-umbrellas, it lies in water-meadows and is surrounded by wooded hills.Joan Begbie, Walking in the New Forest, published in 1934
I’m now free of COVID, but not yet of the accompanying tiredness. Nevertheless, the sun has been shining, the trees have been calling, and I managed to get out for some short walks round my home town. Fordingbridge sits on the western edge of the New Forest, and is an old market town, recorded as Forde in the Domesday Book of 1086. It has a splendid mediaeval seven-arched bridge over the Avon, which is wide and slow here and beloved of wild swimmers, canoeists, and families just splashing around in the summer months. There is also the lovely mediaeval church of St. Mary’s surrounded by a peaceful graveyard, which is a good place to retreat with a good book on a warm Sunday afternoon, sitting on a lichened bench near an old Yew. I’ve done that often.
Joan Begbie, who lived not far down the road in Ringwood, knew and visited Fordingbridge, so I don’t feel bereft of her company, or that of her two dogs Bill, a white bull terrier, and Mr Bundy, a diminutive griffon. She describes the town, its bridge and its church, albeit briefly, in a later section of her book Walking in the New Forest in which she sets out routes suitable for those who prefer walking along roads (probably a less scary undertaking than it might be in today’s busier traffic). She describes a road walking route from Fritham to Godshill, that then passes through Fordingbridge on the way to Bickton before heading into the Forest at Moyles Court and back to Fritham along the Linwood road. I worked out that this is some twenty miles, which is a long way. Joan states that:
People who like road walking are, we have noticed, inclined to sniff pityingly at a mere ten miles or so, therefore we have mapped out a few routes averaging about twenty miles.Joan Begbie, Walking in the New Forest
I’ll be sticking to the no-more-than-ten mile routes along the tracks and footpaths, thank you very much.
Marl Lane and Puddleslosh Lane
When I’m feeling fit and healthy, I can walk into the Forest, being within its boundaries in half an hour. There are also many lovely walks within five minutes of my front door, along old, tree-lined lanes that run between hedges and fields. One of my favourite routes heads up Marl Lane, an unmade and old track between fields and gloriously twisty old oaks. The walk eventually turns right up the wonderfully named Puddleslosh Lane (I call it Puddlesplosh Lane, because in the wetter months it has lots of deep puddles that stretch right across the track, so you either have to edge round them on perilously narrow lips of slippy mud, or be brave and splosh through them).
This is a walk I do often, not just when I’m feeling under the weather, so its ways and quirks and small beauties are building memories in my soul. There are places along its route where I always pause and remember, yes, that’s where I saw that, or here’s where this grows, or here’s where I fell in a puddle. A little way along Marl Lane is where I stood for ages watching a small group of Swallows dipping and diving over a large puddle, swooping to feed on the midges and other insects in the muddy water. Along Puddleslosh Lane, just where a track (a very squelchy, flooded track in winter, so one for the summer months) branches off towards Rockbourne and Whitsbury, is where I saw Orange-tip butterflies dancing among the tall blooms of Garlic Mustard. There’s the stretch where the white stars of Stitchwort take over the verge in late spring, and the spot where I once saw cows lying down contentedly next to feathery Cow Parsley.
My short walks this week laid down some new memories: Lesser Celandine, glowing yellow in its heart-shaped leaves; Snowdrops opening along the hedgerows; the earliest Blackthorn blossom; and fresh, green moss, growing along the red brick of old bridges.
I don’t know if Joan Begbie ever walked along Marl and Puddleslosh Lanes with Bill and Mr. Bundy, but I’m sure she’d have loved them.