Otter poo smells like violets

Up at 6 and down for the paper at 7. Left the house for the New Forest Otter, Owl and Wildlife Park at 10. It was quite a long drive but we eventually arrived. Now, I’m not saying this had anything to do with Mirinda’s navigation…but it did, really.

The park is set in 25 acres of ancient mixed woodland. You wander through and in enclosures and some animals just wander around looking at the visitors. As the name implies there is a large contingent of Otters and Owls but there’s also badgers and foxes and stoats and invisible weasels. The place was started by the Heap family when their garden became home to Kizzie and Ferdie, a pair of Asian short-clawed otters. The Heaps decided to dedicate their lives to them and regularly take in wounded otters, repair and rehabilitate, and then release them, once recovered, back into the wild.

A wet otter

The fascination with owls came about courtesy of their son Charles. He was given a pair of tawny owls when he was 10 and this has grown into a collection of over 17 species! The family now works with other organisations to ensure that owls have a future here and around the world. Laudable indeed.

The otters are very entertaining (as you’d imagine) and unbearably cute. However, personally, I preferred the stoats. Being me, I was not happy about the owls in cages but Claire assured me they had a much longer life locked safely away where they are hand-fed and protected. I have to wonder what I would prefer – a longer life but in a cage or a shorter life and freedom – but then, I’m not an owl, so it’s impossible. Anyway, enough of that and back to the park!

Loki the deer

We were unfortunately not quick enough to see and hear the otter feeding but did mange to get front row ‘seats’ for the European lynx, which looks like a big cuddly house cat. The keeper insisted it was a vicious little monster that would have your head off the minute you entered the cage, which was a little hard to imagine. She (accompanied with other keepers) even had to resort to brooms when they enter. This is obviously something to do with the lynx’s inherent fear of bristles. Or maybe it’s the sound the broom makes on the concrete – sort of like fingernails down a blackboard for humans.

There is also an odd collection of red-necked wallabies – I don’t mean it’s their red-necks that are odd, this is the breed! Apparently they come from feral wallabies in the English countryside! I’ve done a lot of walking in this country and have seen many wild animals but NEVER come across a wallaby. I think I would freak out and think it was a malformed, hopping deer.

I felt a bit sorry for the demented hedgehog which had been rescued after a road accident and was partially blind and ran around like a total lunatic.

Apparently otter poo smells like violets but all I could smell as we wandered around was poo that smelled like poo. This smell maybe comes from the oddest mammal in the park. This is the Scottish wild cat which is EXACTLY like a normal tabby cat. This is held up by the fact that a lot have been mistakenly killed when confused with feral cats. It is housed in this massive cage and just sits and looks ready to rub itself against a handy leg. If it walked into a cat lover’s house, it would be instantly adopted.

After seeing all there was to see and, temporarily, playing the part of a warden for a school group of very tiny kids, we headed out for the Bakehouse for chicken burgers, tea/coffee and Eccles cakes, a delicacy not yet tried by Bob & Claire. Eventually we returned to the car and set off for a garden centre where Mirinda and Claire purchased a couple of acers and Bob & I sat in the car discussing guy things. It was then back to the cottage.

Mirinda and Claire decided to stay at Woodpeckers so I dragged Bob off to see Rockbourne Roman Villa. This is like a mini Fishbourne and very nicely set out. The museum is set up in a light airy building and the villa is marked out either with gravel or the original Roman foundations. There’s two impressive mosaics one with a flaw, which I assume was deliberate and, therefore the designer’s mark.

The villa was discovered in 1942 when oyster shells and tiles were found by a farmer digging out a ferret! The late AT Morley-Hewitt realised the import and, after digging an exploratory hole found mosaics, then had to wait until 1956 when he could afford to buy the land. After that he dug each year until 1974. Over 70 rooms were identified and excavated by Morley-Hewett though they represent different stages of habitation. Even so, the villa was very big at the height of its use.

Rockbourne Roman villa hypocaust

In the museum I came across an interesting connection: during the excavation a door lintel was unearthed and the stone from which it was carved, originated in Chilmark! Vintage readers of our exploits will, no doubt remember the church at Chilmark from our trip to the Tamar Valley.

After a lovely (for me) stroll around the remains of the villa, we made it back to the cottage at about 7pm and Mirinda decided a walk in Godshill Inclosure was called for so, without further (or any) ado, we set off.

It was lovely in amongst the trees with the dappled light falling through and over the piles of Forestry Commission logs. An hour later we emerged at the other end of the common and spied Bob & Claire watching cricket practice on a seat. How very English! The thwack of leather on willow, dogs running around, a chap painting the boundary lines in preparation for the weekend and a hot air balloon rising majestically from behind the inclosure and floating away. We felt as if we were in a painting.

For dinner tonight we decided to go local and try the Horse and Groom where we were entertained by Steve, the publican and his exploits with the local cricket team.

We all had pies and all were very nice. Even Bob’s, which looked decidedly stodgy, was heralded as one of the best pies he’d ever eaten! The beer went down well too, it must be said.

In bed by 10, I left the Stockwells watching TV. I’m going to walk across to Studely Castle tomorrow and need an early start.

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