Normally when on a trip with Guillaume, our first breakfast is a good old fry up of eggs, bacon (smoked, of course), mushrooms and toast. Somehow, though, with the rain still pattering on Guillaume’s roof, this morning just didn’t seem like the right time. I settled for toast and marmite. On the brighter side, Guillaume was joined for breakfast by a couple of the more endearing New Forest inhabitants: ponies. One was nibbling fresh, young leaves from a nearby tree while another was helping itself to a small patch of (very wet) grass beside Guillaume’s pitch.
It’s comforting seeing New Forest ponies sauntering about in the campsite. Apparently, the keeping of them is not as popular as it once was because there’s less of a market for them these days. There is a round-up every year to sell them. It would be a tragedy if they were to become a sight of the past and such rich traditions were to fall by the wayside. I must say, though, that there appears to be no shortage of ponies in and around Setthorns at the moment.
First job after petit déjeuner was a spin into Brockenhurst for some essential supplies. Brockenhurst still sports plenty of traditional small local shops, as well as the almost inevitable Tesco Express. We prefer to support the smaller local traders where possible. I missed a trick, though, looking for a tin of coconut milk to make a Thai curry. Tesco didn’t appear to have any so I breathed a sigh of relief when I found one over the road in a Nisa. It was expensive but needs must, so I bought it. On to the local greengrocer for some veggie content to go with out Thai chicken. Lo and behold, amongst all the veggies, a tin of coconut milk, and considerably cheaper, too. I’d never have dreamt of getting coconut milk in a small, local greengrocer.
With clouds being the order of the day, at 1:30 PM we set off to walk to Roydon Woods in search of bluebells. Rain started at 2:00 PM. At 2:15 the rain increased in ferocity to a serious thrash so we deployed the waterproof cover on Francine’s camera rucksack and did an about turn. My attempts at trudging back through the downpour zoned out, in a zombie-like daze pretending the rain didn’t exist, were destroyed by an unexpected and very loud crack of thunder at 2:30 PM. The subsequent rumbling lasted for about 30 seconds. I cannot ever remember hearing a peal of thunder last quite as long in my life. We had spotted a few bluebells but not in the masses required for a vista – they look more impressive at home.
We have excellent Paramo waterproof jackets. The trouble with a good waterproof jacket is that all the water runs off it onto your legs beneath. Unless you’re also wearing good waterproof trousers, it’s a bit pointless. We were not. We got back to the car drenched from the thighs down; apart from our feet which were inside wellies, that is – at least we’d had the sense to don wellies, given the saturated nature of the forest floor.
The coast, about four miles distant, looked brighter so we headed that way, to Keyhaven to be precise. We had to pay to park but we were prepared to do anything to get some meteorological respite. We found what was clearly a working harbour with no airs and graces. A local pedestrian ferry plodded back and forth between here and Hurst Castle. The clearer skies produced by the coastal effect made a very refreshing change.
Birdlife provided my main distraction. I’d never managed to get very close to an Oystercatcher before but one was posing whilst listening for tasty snacks in the seaweed. Neither had I ever managed anything like a close approach to a Whitethroat – indeed, I’ve only seen one once before – but, as we wandered back along the dyke, one alighted just in front of me and sat just long enough for a snap.
The sides of a dyke were lined with Alexanders, many of which were being used as perches by St. Mark’s-flies. A few pairs were using them to good effect – doing what comes naturally. When the sun eventually appeared – remember that, sun? – the flies took to the air and swarmed.
The sun was coastal only; it did not reach inland, Inland remained dark and foreboding. The forecast for the remaining week does not look much different. Not good.