Thursday, September 15, 2011

New Forest


New Forest Day 1 Sep 2011
I’ve never driven a car in my life and have always equated Harleys with people who have regrets. What I have enjoyed in my 50s is good, old-fashioned cycling. Not the head down, drop handlebars, lycra-clad grind of road cycling (though that looks great) but through woods or on back roads enjoying the landscape, flora and fauna. In fact, I like to go slow, stopping, looking, maybe a bite to eat in a field then off again.
So, with a keynote to the UKs General Practitioner conference in Torquay (never been there), we decided to stop in the New Forest (never been there either) for some cycle rides. The Burley Manor Hotel, is indeed a Manor House, with zigzag Tudor Brickwork, tall chimneys and a long drive but it’s really a mid-19th century copy of a Manor House, by some local who was desperate to be a Lord of the Manor. It also has the expected, hideous hotel carpets, chintzy chairs and rack of leaflets. Location-wise: perfect.

Three Tuns
Started with lunch at the Three Tuns Pub (recommended by local cycle shop)with spicy crab soup and a roast beef sandwich with horseradish sauce. Very tasty but am I being too picky to expect a spoon with soup? I had to go to the bar and wait to get one! Then there was the bore at the next table who, after gobbling down his sausage and mash, asked the waitress if they were beef or pork. “Toulouse” she replied. “Ah, French”, he snorted, “that says it all”. He then went on and on about the sausages, even complaining at the bar. This guy doesn’t come out for a meal, he comes out to make a meal of things.

Forest ride
After buying an excellent pack of cycling routes from the Burley cycle shop, off we went. The New Forest is anything but new. It’s been around for thousands of years, more recently as a hunting forest for the Normans (it was ‘new’ to William I) and subsequent kings. Stocked with deer for the hunt, it eventually became the source of oak for the British Fleet. The great curved boughs of the oak suited the bulwarks of big boats. What makes it such an enjoyable ride is the fact that it’s mixed woodland. You’re in old forest here, then fir trees, silver birches then a whole stretch of holly trees (winter fodder for deer). We went for miles hardly seeing a soul.

Deer. horses and shrooms
Once stocked by deer for the hunt, they were discouraged and culled when the forest became a source of wood for the Navy, as they ate the tree saplings, but although down they were never wiped out and have recovered to around 3000 today. Our first glimpse was a group of Fallow Deer in the dappled sunlight, spotted with horseshoe black framed backsides, through the trees - two stags and their family. Then in a field near the hotel an enormous Red Deer, a Landseer-like stag, who just stared back in defiance. A herd of Roe Deer added to the day.

Then there’s the horses, New Forest Ponies, perfectly tame, grazing and walking along the roads and paths. We were joined by one old nag when we sat under a tree in a village for a coffee and chocolate bar. I swear he spotted the fact that we had a Bounty Bar from 300 yards.
Another astonishing sight was the giant mushrooms. Always liked this poem….

Mushrooms
Silent aliens in the woods
Tiny white atomic bombs
Push up leaves in the night
Sentries to tall trees
Spreading spores
But they don’t belong

There’s nothing in nature quite like them. There were Fly Agarics nine inches across, puffballs galore and every species I know, and a couple I had never seen. We could have collected dustbin loads from the side of the path alone. There’s nothing quite like sunlight through the trees. Great first day, 20 odd miles covered.

New Forest Day 2
Second loop on the bikes, this time, however, it rained. No it crashed down. We took shelter in the forest and when we emerged the bonus was that peaty, earthy forest smell you get after a heavy rain shower and the increased intensity of colour. Back to the hotel for lunch and then off to Torquay. Now the hotel did a fine dinner, really good food and wine, but the “sorry it’s just gone 2pm, we don’t do food after that time” attitude in UK hotels is annoying.

Torquay Day 3
Never been here, but coming from Brighton I expected it to be similar. It wasn’t.  It’s more like an up-market Blackpool, as the pensioners down here are loaded. The two towns clearly use different drugs. It has that mix of fine villas and cheap architecture, typical of south coast towns.
The Palace Hotel is old-school; a panel next to the bed with knobs on, cheap aluminium fire doors  and pink décor. The huge grounds however, were fantastic, with a swimming pool, indoor tennis courts and nine hole golf course. Gil shopped while I talked. This time it was to the people who train GPs. Fascinating bunch and as we have a demographic time bomb with an increasing, ageing population, who live longer and live longer while sick (costs £370 for an 18-44 year old on NHS, £2700 for a retiree) they’re in the front line. However, their training budgets are being cut.

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