Following our recent presentation on the history of the New Forest we were able to expand our knowledge with a visit to Pondhead inclosure near Lyndhurst.
The link with history was not intended when our programme was arranged and it was also a coincidence that we met Dave Dibden shortly after our arrival.
Dave has been appointed by the Forestry Commision to look after Pondhead inclosure and he was happy to go through the history and management of the area.
Pondhead inclosure includes a large part of the ‘Lyndhurst Old Park’.
This was formed by the Plantaganet King Edward 1in 1291 and became to be regarded as the first park in a forest.
The Plantaganets had war in their genes. They fought against the French King, went on the Crusades and bashed the Barons in this country.
The Queen and Princes all had their own armies and in the periods between wars they fought against each other.
In spite of this, or maybe because of it, they managed to introduce common law to the country when the Magna Carta was produced.
In this area they also produced the ‘Charter of the Forest’ which specified the land ownership and gave commoners the right to live off the land instead of being hung on it.
The name Plantaganet derives from ‘planta genista’ referring to the sprig of Broom that supporters wore in their hats.
We came across a plaque at the side of the path which was erected in 1979 when a stand of Oak trees was planted to commemorate the nine hundredth anniversary of the formation of the New Forest.
The forest was created as a Royal Hunting Ground by William 1 in 1079.
Other historical evidence of Lyndhurst Old Park is the Park Pale.
This consisted of two man made embankments with a wooden pale fence on the top that gradually came together in a narrow neck.
Deer were chased into the wide opening and shot for sport by huntsmen waiting at the neck.
The wooden fence has long since rotted away but the embankment remains and can be seen running along the road side of Matley Ridge before it turns to cross the road opposite Pondhead Farm.
The earthworks have deteriorated over the years and are dwarfed by the ridge but thousands of people must have walked along the ridge path without realising that history runs a few yards away.
The intention of the Forestry Commision at the moment is to return Pondhead inclosure to a working forest and to be commercially sustainable.
Charcoal is to be produced and woodland products such as besoms and clothes pegs manufactured and sold.
This is a commendable project and Dave Dibden deserves all the support he can get.
The woodland in Pondhead inclosure is a mixture of Oak, Beech and coppiced Hazel.
The Hazel is allowed to grow for about seven years before being chopped back to the ground and the sticks used for charcoal or garden supports.
The Hazel then regrows and the cycle continues.
We were fortunate to enjoy warm sunny spring weather for our visit in March but we had difficulty finding a parking spot near Boltons Bench and when we returned in the middle of the afternoon cars had parked all along the access roads.
Nevertheless we did not have to walk far into the forest before the only noise was that of the church bells in Lyndhurst.
There are few signs of spring in the forest at the moment.
Celandines are the only ground flowers but in the tree canopy Blackthorn blossom and Pussy Willow cover the bushes.
Pussy Willow is used instead of palm on Palm Sunday as this is not available in northern Europe.
Many of the tree leaf buds are swelling and the Beech buds are turning pink.
Bluebells are not yet in flower but the green pointed leaf shoots cover the ground in parts of Pondhead inclosure.
The recent wet weather has been good news for mosses and the ditches and embankments at the side of paths are covered in a variety of green shades of moss.
There are many varieties of moss but there are basically three types.
These are the branched and unbranched types found in the woodland together with the Sphagnum mosses found in bogs and water courses.
Bracken dies back in the winter but other ferns remain green and can be seen among the mosses.
Polypody fern can also be found above head height on the branches of trees such as Oak.
Our walk started at the cemetery car park near Boltons Bench and we entered Pondhead inclosure at the north eastern corner.
At Clayhill we took a left turn to walk along Beechen Lane and followed the wide path almost to Denny Lodge.
Turning left again we eventually reached the Beaulieu road which we crossed and turned left to walk along Matley Ridge back to the car park.
A distance of about five miles took us at least four hours which gives some indication of the leisurely pace of our walk.
The warm sunny weather with no wind made it a pleasure to be outdoors.
Anyone wishing to attend our meetings or even rich benefactors should contact our secretary Ron Mintrum at 023 8089 3803.