Awake at 6.30 on a glorious morning. Woodpecker Cottage has an interesting collection of creaks upstairs. I think they are inbuilt so you think the cottage is quite old. It isn’t.
After writing up my journal I wandered down to the village shop to get a paper and bread. Managed to get the paper but the bread was unavailable as the baker sleeps in on a Monday…apparently.
Woodgreen is lovely. Lots of little lanes, tree lined and otherwise, lead down to and obviously, up from, the centre. The centre is the pub, the shop and a bus stand, by the way. Back at the cottage we sat round and talked (Bob is amazed I read the Times and thinks it can only ruin my cool image), had some breakfast and waited for Mirinda to join us. Her plan is to study each morning so we are left to our own devices. Today we went into Fordingbridge for some supplies.
We bought out the Co-op. Claire was very impressed with the £1 deposit shopping trolleys and will no doubt be pestering the Dural hypermart to introduce them. The day, so far, was blue and sunny and, upon our return from shopping, Mirinda suggested I go for my walk rather than wait for tomorrow when it’s supposed to rain. I agreed. I worked out a circular route back to Fordingbridge and set off at around 12:30.
A stile just up from the cottage, leading into the Godshill Inclosure beckoned me so this is where I started. The small path tunnelled through oak, beech and holly wood until reaching a small cemetery on the Woodgreen outskirts. It nestles into the woods and is serene and cared for and still used. I could think of worse places to spend eternity.
From here I followed the road to Castle Hill, stopping at the viewpoint to gaze across the Avon River plain before moving on to the ring and bailey marked on my OS map. It is only small and the outer defensive ring has been partly used as a driveway, and it’s covered in trees, but it’s still all pretty clear. It would have been quite small as Iron Age settlements go but in a very strong position. The land, at this point, falls away on three sides, creating a defensively strong location. I walked around it, tracing its ancient boundaries.
I continued following the Avon Valley Path until I reached Folds Farm when I turned off to find the mysteriously named Frankenbury.
This is a simple “univallate promontory for encompassing under 11 acres” which seems to mean it’s plonked on top of a very steep hill. I climbed up but the top was encircled by a barbed wire fence. I could hear kids squealing not far away, so I figured it was time to press on. For those that are wondering, ‘univallate’ actually means ‘single walled’. When referring to a fort, it basically means ‘a fort with one rampart’.
The Avon Valley path crosses the Avon Plain at this point, using a series of little footbridges to cross small streams which cut through the flat land. The river itself is forded by a large elaborate suspension footbridge which comes out at Burgate Manor Farm. Burgate was one of the three manors, which have now been subsumed into Fordingbridge. The current manor house was rebuilt in 1810 after the original was burnt down
Crossing the A338, I spotted the Tudor Rose Inn and realised it was well past time for a beer. A pint of 6X later and nicely refreshed, I started the walk into Fordingbridge along a sunken lane, leading into the outskirts of the town.
My first stop was the local museum, where I learnt about local smuggling and the fact that the last man killed in a duel in Britain is buried in Fordingbridge. His name was John Seton and he was shot by a Lieutenant Hawkey at Stokes Bay, Gosport in 1845. His sister, Elizabeth, had married John Coventry, and they became the couple who bought Catholicism to Fordingbridge, much to the annoyance of friends and family. I assume that’s why John Seton is mentioned at all! Apparently Lt Hawkey, as his name seems to imply, was a crack shot with a pistol. The Coventry’s eventually took over Burgate Manor on the death of his father. John Seton, however, remained in the ground.
I had a long chat with the guy in the museum about mining in South Africa and the rough and ready attitudes of Australian workers. The old lady, meanwhile, gave me a quick recital on the pianola. Eventually bidding my farewells, I wandered over to a countrywear and fishing outfitters to buy a much needed fleece – I’d left old faithful at home and the wind was seriously picking up and shredding my skin – then walked to St Mary’s church.
As usual the church has undergone a lot of rebuilding over the centuries. Although there wasn’t anything printed within the church, I managed to pick up a History of Fordingbridge, which states that the Saxon church was probably built between 1160 and 1170 and then rebuilt again around 1220-40. The tower dates from the mid 15th century.
Inside there’s not a lot of stained glass, obviously a major victim of Henry VIII but what there is, is quite fine. Just inside the porch are hung two charities, which I obviously snapped for Mirinda, in particular the interestingly named Sandy Balls Charity.
There’s a very lovely brass plate adorning a column near the centre aisle. It is dated 1568 and shows William Bulkeley, his wife Jane, three sons and five daughters. Apparently some mystery surrounds the date as it would normally signify his date of death, however two other sources claim he was still alive in 1573 and died in 1581…so who knows. Maybe there was a special price for plaques dated 1568 or perhaps a fortune teller advised he would die then and they ordered it early. Interestingly, the Bulkeley’s lived at Burgate Manor before the Coventry family mentioned above. Actually it’s not really much of a coincidence as Fordingbridge isn’t that big.
The roof beams in the church are supplanted with massive chestnut angels, beautifully carved though sadly without colour, which gives the whole ceiling area an air of Valkyrian majesty. Most magnificent, however, is a massive wooden screen rising up behind the alter. At its centre is the crucifixion, around it’s borders the 12 apostles and in the four corners, carved images of various scenes from Christ’s life.
After a short rest in the churchyard (beautifully fenced with old gravestones) I retraced my steps as far as the busy A338. I had intended to walk along a dismantled railway which runs parallel with the road but some company called S&C (Scummy and Crabby, perhaps) have declared it private property, complete with padlocked gate and unfriendly signage. I trudged the grass verge amid the almost continuous stream of cars and trucks, hurtling by. Ghastly! Eventually I found an overgrown stile, infested by nettles, which took every opportunity to attack my naked legs and knuckles. Still, it was better than the traffic. I did manage to walk across a tiny section of the ex-railway track as the path crossed it and I sadly looked back along its length and glimpsed what would have been a lovely stretch of countryside.
Hey ho, though, and off by a large mill…well it was a mill once, it’s now a very lovely residence…and over an ancient bridge and back up the hill to Woodpecker Cottage where I found everyone deeply involved in a granny nap. I’d been away almost five hours and my feet were a tad upset! After a lovely hot shower and coffee it was decided that a drive into Lyndhurst was in order.
On the way, we were momentarily held up in traffic by three resident donkeys. While two of them stood guard, holding up traffic for miles, the other one rolled over for a good scratch on the bitumen. We all waited patiently for it to stop waggling its feet in the air.
Lyndhurst is the capital of the New Forest. The name comes from ‘Linhest’ meaning a wooded hillock of either lime or linden trees. Situated in the Queen’s House is the Verderer’s Court which effectively holds sway over most things that happen in Bill the Bastard’s Nova Foresta. It is said that an ancient iron stirrup contained within the Verderer’s Court belonged to William Rufus and was used the day he died. And some nights his horse’s ghost can be heard as it clumps around in full armour, looking for it…actually I just made that last bit up!
Our first stop was the amazing pre-Raphaelite church of St Michael and All Angels. I accidentally stumbled on Alice Liddel’s grave (she of Wonderland inspiration). She lived in Lyndhurst after her marriage to Reginald Hargreaves in 1880. The grave is very simple and packed with roses. It’s also very wide, prompting Bob to remark “She must have been a big woman.”
The church is splendid! It was built by public subscription between 1856 & 69 and is the third on the site, itself a man-made prehistoric mound. It was designed (the church, not the mound) in the Gothic style, by William White, Gilbert White’s nephew, and consists of local bricks and Bath stone. At the time is was thought to be quite daring and I reckon it still is!
Inside it is bright and colourful, the eyes immediately sweeping up to the high altar to take in the huge mural The Wise and Foolish Virgins painted by Frederic Leighton free of charge in 1862. Such a thing had not been attempted since the Reformation and it was frowned on by the Bishop of Winchester. And it is beautiful, truly magnificent. As are the stained glass windows designed by some of the finest Pre-Raphaelites including Byrne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Ford Maddox Brown. One of the figures in a particularly beautiful window is said to have the head of William Morris as the P-R painters worked from life models.
The whole place is absolutely amazing and wonderful. One word of warning, however, as displayed at the foot of the steps (built from old grave stones, much to Claire’s distress) should be heeded. ‘The steps can be slippery so visitors should be careful, particularly when wet’. Fortunately we were all dry so care was little required but I can see the point.
The high street of Lyndhurst seems to be a one way drag strip to hell, where locals try to break the sound barrier. It’s a bit sad for what looks like quite a pleasant place. I’m going to formulate a theory about one way traffic systems through tiny towns as I think they only serve to frustrate and accelerate.
It was then back to Woodpecker Cottage for dinner. I made risotto and we all had an early night…especially my aching feet!