I’m Amanda Scott, and it’s my good fortune to live at the edge of the beautiful New Forest National Park in the south of England.
Many people say their dream is to live by the sea. I can understand that – the ocean is inspiring. However, my dream has always been to live in the woods. I grew up and worked in London, where choosing to live in places named Forest Hill or Penge (from the Anglo-Saxon ‘pen-ceat’, meaning ‘edge of the wood’) was, perhaps, my subconscious telling me something.
Well, I listened, and in 2018 moved to Fordingbridge, the ‘northern gateway’ to the New Forest. Since then, I have been exploring the wonderful ecology and history of the woods now on my doorstep – and, of course, the sea isn’t so far away. I’m no expert naturalist or historian: I’m learning all the time. I’m also fortunate to have a walking companion: Joan Begbie and her book of New Forest walks.
Discovering Joan Begbie
Just before I moved here, my sister and I were sorting through my parents’ books after they had died, and I claimed for myself one by Joan Begbie, published in 1934, called Walking in the New Forest. It sat on my bookshelves unopened for several months, but more recently I opened it up and met the marvellous and adventurous Joan for the very first time. She marches through the pages, describing her ‘no-more-than-ten-mile-walks’ with a wealth of knowledge and enjoyment, while calling her two dogs to heel or chasing them across the heaths. (I’ve written more about that initial encounter with Joan in my first post on this blog.)
So, I thought, how interesting it would be to follow in Joan Begbie’s footsteps through the New Forest. In Walking in the New Forest, Joan describes her various tramps accompanied by Bill, her white bull-terrier (who sounds quite a handful), and Mr. Bundy, “a rough-haired brindled griffon of diminutive size and choleric disposition” (who sounds like everyone’s favourite grumpy pooch). Now, she has me tagging along as well. I am walking her tracks and ways to discover how and where our worlds of different times overlap. Of course, as a recent ‘incomer’ to the Forest, it’s also good to have a guide, especially one as knowledgeable and good-hearted as Joan.
In this blog I’m therefore recounting my New Forest walks with Joan Begbie. We may not be walking physically side-by-side, but in another sense we are. These are Joan’s walks, after all. I’m going to follow her along liminal paths in which we can peer through the almost-a-century of years that lie between us to happily converse and compare notes as we tramp along together. I may from time to time describe other walks, by myself or with other people, but most of the time it will be Joan, Bill and Mr. Bundy at my side.
Find out more about Joan Begbie.
Following Joan’s walks
Although much of the general layout of the New Forest is very similar to when Joan was walking, there are some differences. Boundaries, footpaths and features, as well as forestry practices, may have changed, for example. For those curious how I work out Joan’s routes from the 1930s, here’s my (low-tech) method.
I first follow Joan’s description of a walk on both an up-to-date Ordnance Survey map (OS Explorer OL22) and an OS map dating from the time Joan wrote her book (thanks to the excellent New Forest Knowledge website, from which you can access New Forest national mapping data, with the ability to overlay maps from different time periods). I have downloaded the modern OS map on to my phone to use when walking: this has the advantage that a little red arrow follows you around on the screen so you know exactly where you are – good for folk like me with a propensity for getting lost. I work out which modern route best approximates to whichever of Joan’s walks I’m going to follow. I then set out, armed with maps, phone, camera, and binoculars. I use a journaling app to take notes (I started with a notebook, as an app seemed far too modern for walking in Joan’s company, but it proved rather time-consuming: the practical Joan would have understood).
All photography used on this blog is my own and copyrighted to me, unless otherwise indicated.