How to make the most of getting out and about…

 

Going for a walk can have a profound effect on us all. Whether it is the idea of getting some exercise, having time away from your desk or just taking in the sights and sounds of a new place. You don’t need to climb a mountain to feel the benefits of this simple activity.

What follows is a collection of suggestions compiled, simply, from years of walking. My suggestion to everyone is to find what works for you but above all; be comfortable. It is only when we feel comfortable physically and mentally that we can contemplate challenging ourselves.

Routes

The New Forest can present it’s own, unique challenges in navigating the various routes across the forest. Free roaming animals forge their own ‘footpaths’ through vegetation and it is easy to confuse these for the purpose built tracks for humans. While it is possible to go ‘off the beaten track’ in the forest through the right to roam, it is important to be aware of ground nesting birds, bogs, mires and other wildlife.

A few tips;

  • Trussocks and Cotton Grass are good indicators of water logged ground – stay clear.
  • The New Forest sits on a bed of clay with sand and gravel which means if it rains the streams and rivers can flood quickly.
  • Purpose built footpaths tend to be at least 3 feet wide. If you are having to squeeze one foot in front of another along a very clear track this is more than likely a pony track and could disappear in to a thicket of gorse at any moment.
  • If you are using a map make sure you can tell the difference between a path in the vegetation and a fire break. These path like clearances are designed to stop the spread of fire and can be misleading.

Wildlife

There is an abundance of wildlife in the New Forest National Park. It is home to all 6 of the native reptile species and the presence of the Dartford Warbler, Goshawk and many rare heathland plants have led to the National Park being classified as a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), National Nature Reserve and AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). One of the biggest draws is the free roaming ponies, not wild but owned by commoners these animals are best treated with caution.

A few tips…

  • Do not approach any animals on the forest. Whether wild or free roaming, none of the animals are used to human contact. Feeding the ponies and donkeys encourages them to stay on roads and car parks where humans are. Hundreds of animals are killed on the roads each year because they associate the presence of humans with food and spend more time in busy areas.
  • The best time to see wildlife is at dusk or dawn.
  • On a sunny day you can often see ponies grazing and sunbathing in the open. On a wet day you may be more likely to see them at the tree line.
  • If you walk quietly through the inclosures you are likely to be in the presence of deer. You are most likely to see Deer during the rutting season as they are more active in looking for mates.

Clothing

It would be easy to spend time talking about the amazing lightweight, breathable, extremely durable walking clothing available at the moment. Indeed this can be worth investing the money in if you know you are going to get lots of use out of it. However I think that there are a few fundamentals that wont break the bank and can really go along way to making a walk comfortable.

  • Comfortable shoes – anything that is going to support your feet and ankles, keep you dry and stop you from slipping about.
  • Waterproof Jacket/trousers – If we all waited for a beautiful sunny day in the Uk we would hardly leave the house. It is just as easy to walk for the day in rain as it is in sunshine as long as you can keep dry and warm.
  • Lots of layers – it is easy to over-dress or under-dress for a day out on the forest, especially on a cool autumn morning. As soon as the sun comes out the temperature rises. Similarly there can be a stark difference from walking in the open heathland in the sun to exploring the depths of one of the ancient woodlands.
  • A light scarf – not the first thing on everyone’s list but a surprisingly versatile piece of clothing. Its easy to turn a light scarf into a hat, or muff or wrap it around your waist when you don’t need it. A scarf can also be used as a sling or an alternative to rope in case of an emergency.

‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.’ – Alfred Wainwright

 

Don’t forget…

To truly explore the forest a map and a compass is a must have. With these items you will be able to discover the many hidden historical features and access parts of the forest away from the crowds to improve your chance of seeing the wildlife. If navigation is not a skill of yours then why not join us for a guided walk. You can learn the basics of navigation and explore areas rich in history and wildlife.