Mrs Burlace ran a Dame’s School

Up at 6am, went to the shop for the paper then off on my walk to Studley Castle at 7:30. By the way, the guy at the shop now recognises me and says a cheery “‘mornin’.”

Walked through Godshill Inclosure to Densome Corner then to Roger Penny Way via Millers Ford and Cunninger Bottom. As I walked down through the woods a long line of ponies passed by on the way up, like a mining crew on its way to work.

Walking along the Roger Penny Way is a major difference to the A338, though it is a busy and well used road. It’s the 40mph speed limit and the frequent ponies on the road which assure no zooming! I love the fact that the ponies have right of way!

I walked across Deadman Hill. The only reason I can see for this name is a solitary tree growing on a bend of the road. It’s not big enough to hang anyone (except maybe Crikit) so maybe it looks dead by moonlight…or something.

I turned off the road, finally, and headed down Black Gutter Bottom (as opposed to the much more comical Black Bottom Gutter) where the path became somewhat waterlogged due to the spread of the rivulet. Because of my wild course adjustments, it meant I was somewhat off course as I climbed up to the plateau that runs across the heathland. It didn’t take long before I was back on track and standing amid the very strange grassed area near Leaden Hill. Moving from heathland, with its heather and gorse onto a large cricket pitch like area was quite odd.

Island Thorns inclosure

Lots of white birds (not gulls) were swooping and crying out on the edge of the grassy area. Obviously ground nesters, they seemed to be yelling for me to POQ! I have tried to find out what these birds were (as an ornithologist, I’m an excellent archaeologist) without success. From here it was a long open track to the edge of the Islands Thorns Inclosure, which, oddly, had no fence ‘inclosing’ it. I gradually made my way up to the site of Studley Castle, a royal hunting lodge or, rather, the site of it.

I’ve been unable to find any information regarding Studley castle but have read that in the reign of Edward III (1312-1377) a few wooden hunting lodges were constructed in the forest and this may have been one of those.

The ditch is still very much in evidence but the large flat centre is now dotted with trees and there’s nothing to see. I stopped here for my sandwich, sitting on a fallen log, bridging the ditch, surrounded by noisy birds and falling spiders. After half an hour, I put my boots back on and set off again. I saw someone walking through the woods as I left – the first sign of human life so far (it was now 10am).

I walked back to Leaden Hall and across Little Lockley Plain, now passing bird watchers and dog walkers aplenty. I was followed constantly across this area by a big Chinook helicopter, painted in camouflage paint – not that effective against the blue skies. It seemed to be zigzagging across the plain as if taking a series of photographs – if this is the case then the pics will have me popping up in most of them as they flew over me about a million times. Every now and then the chopper would almost land then shoot back up. Maybe it was just a young guy practicing for his licence. Whatever it was, it was totally annoying for me directly underneath it!

Eventually I reached the Roger Penny Way and recrossed it, starting a woody descent into Godshillwood. Here I made the only navigational mistake of the day. I turned left instead of right, at the ford. I started climbing up to, what I thought would be the Godshill Inclosure. Halfway up, Bob & Claire drove passed. I thought they were returning from a mornings jaunt. When I spotted the Fighting Cocks ahead of me, I realised a number of things. Firstly Bob & Claire had actually been setting off, secondly I should have turned right at Godshillwood and thirdly, how important it is to read your map properly!!

I retraced my steps and eventually reached the inclosure which I bisected, emerging on the Woodgreen common and just a stones throw from Woodpecker Cottage. By the way, how far can a stone throw?

I arrived back at about 12:30, scaring Mirinda who thought I was Sarah, come to mow the lawn. Myself, I just jumped into the shower, divested myself of mud and sweat then sat in the conservatory resting my feet. I figured I walked about 12 miles but my feet thought it closer to 50.

Harbour at Bucklers Hard

Bob & Claire returned at about 3pm and we set off for Buckler’s Hard. Owing to bad traffic, we took an amazing roundabout route, avoiding Lyndhurst but seeing some beautiful woodland and many, many ponies. At the end of a particularly long traffic jam we also saw a car being airlifted off the road.

Eventually we arrived at Buckler’s Hard and immediately ordered refreshments before venturing in. The girl on the desk (who was remarkably pretty) informed us that the museum would close at 5pm and the last boat ride was at 4pm – it was about six minutes to. The extra cost of the boat ride didn’t seem worth not seeing the museum so we opted for the museum and two display houses. As it turned out, we could have gone on the boat AND had time for the museum but it would have been very rushed so better in the long run. The pretty girl on the desk did not seem too keen on us going on the boat but then she is there to sell the museum, I guess.

Buckler’s Hard is an 18th century shipbuilding village which started life as an ambitious plan by John, 2nd Duke of Montagu (1690 – 1749). In the early 1700s, John decided to build a town and port to receive sugar from the West Indies. It was a VERY ambitious project which, by 1731, only saw seven houses built and inhabited by three tax collectors, a widow, a night watchman, a blacksmith and a retired parson. And so Montagu Town started…and ended.

Though it failed in sugar, it became a major shipbuilding port. Back in 1698 the 48 gun Salisbury had been built about a mile up river so it was only natural that the admiralty would choose Montagu Town as the perfect place to build the Agamemnon, Nelson’s favourite ship. It was launched in 1781. Coincidentally, one of the original crew members was Thomas “kiss me” Hardy.

After 100 years of successful ship building, Buckler’s Hard became a farming community. A painting of c1900 by Walter Tyndale shows no evidence of the mighty industry which once dominated it. Today a few residents still live in some of the small cottages along the beautiful single road which leads to the Beaulieu River.

The museum is very well laid out and well worth the visit. This is especially so for the reconstruction of the Ship Inn with its mannequin inhabitants. It shows, if nothing else, how little pubs have changed in 300 years!

Down the main (and only) street, two of the cottages are open for inspection. The first is the shipwright’s cottage. There was a shortage of shipwrights so, not only were they paid well but they also lived in a lot more comfort than ordinary workers. The cottage we visited was home to one Thomas Burlace and his family. Although prosperous and successful, an injury to his leg in 1812 saw him applying for poor relief – and we complain about the NHS!

While they waited for the money to come through, Mrs Burlace ran a Dame’s School! And I managed to find out what these were. When a small town or village had no schoolhouse, it was not unusual for older women to set up a school in their front room and townsfolk would pay to send their kids there. This ensured a regular source of income as well as an education (of sorts) for the local kids.

St Mary’s chapel, Bucklers Hard

The second cottage is still very much a part of Buckler’s Hard. It is the Chapel of St Mary. At number 82, it started life as a residence, then an infant’s school in 1846. The local vicar started holding Sunday services in the school and, in 1886, an altar was installed and the room dedicated to St Mary. The tiny chapel seats around 40 people and is gorgeous.

Even though it is small, there are some lovely pieces in the Chapel. The statue of the Virgin Mary is a 300 year old French sculpture which stands on a block of wood which was once a chopping block owned by the monks of Beaulieu Abbey. A 300 year old Spanish altar frontal found in Florence stands at the front. The hymn board is made from oak dug up in the old ship-building yard and made by members of the Royal Navy stationed at Buckler’s Hard.

Why the Chapel is number 82 I cannot fathom as there’s actually less than 20 houses in Buckler’s Hard. Wishful thinking, perhaps.

We then strolled down to the waters edge and along the bank, admiring the duck, then returned to find Bob and Claire seated outside the Yachtsman’s (or Yachtsmen’s depending on which sign you believe) Bar so, naturally I went in and bought beers, cider and lemonade. You’d be hard pressed to find a lovelier location for a beer garden, especially on a main street!

We left the carpark with the intention of retracing our picturesque steps but Bob made a turning too soon and we ended up at the Rufus Stone at Canterton Glen for an unscheduled photo op. This stone marks the supposed spot where William II (Rufus, the bastard’s second son) was shot with a possibly accidental arrow from the bow of a Mr Tyrell. Interesting how Rufus gets a stone while Tyrell gets a very large pub doing a great trade. Ah, infamy has its strange rewards. The jury is still out on whether the killing was accidental.

The Rufus stone

According to the Saxon Chronicle, Rufus was a wicked oppressor of the church and the poor and came to a fitting end. He was a pretty tough knight, well skilled in the lance with a fierce will to win, though not very good at dodging arrows. He was apparently generous to his men and they followed him always and everywhere. He sounds a lot like his dad, if you ask me. His death came at an opportune time for his brother, Henry who was also hunting in the forest at the time. He was crowned King Henry I three days after Rufus’s death. You may make of that what you will.

Having read the three sides of the stone and snapped some pics, we retraced our wheel treads, took the correct turn and ended up back at Woodpecker Cottage. Mirinda put Tom Brown’s School Days (the new version with Stephen Fry) on the TV so dinner wasn’t until 9:30. I made my signature dish of baked salmon on spinach, which was very well received and duly devoured.

Bed at a sort of early 10:30.

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