As the Hampshire fire and resue service whizz by, I’m hoping it’s not Shorty or one of his pals to blame. A couple of years ago, Shorty (nickname) the New Forest pony received visits from the rescue services amounting to thousands of pounds prompted by…his extremely short legs. Viewing him from afar his tiny legs led members of the public to conclude that he had sunk into the mud. There were at least four callouts in one week. Although Shorty is an extreme example of tiny leg gene syndrome and probably the result of a one night stand between a Shetland and New Forest pony, several of these mini-legged creatures wander around the forest and I have on occasion had to reassure visiting tourists that all is well.
As I stepped on to the rolling expanse of Wilverley Plain just outside the village of Burley (think witches, smugglers, ice cream and fudge) I had my day’s route firmly in mind. As every hiker worth her salt knows, one must always have a Plan B. This was rolled out as I approached a cow hell bent on barring my passage. I know the photo is of very poor quality (a steady hand was not a priority at the time) but look closely and you can see that wild eye. Nuff said.
So I turned on my heel and sought consolation by heading for The Naked Man. This is represented on my OS map as a dot with the caption “Naked Man (site of)”. The day is suddenly full of potential.
What was once a magnificent oak, The Naked Man is now a weathered stump wreathed in ivy. This tree was supposedly used as a gallows for highwaymen and smugglers. Various stories tell how the tree got it’s name – ranging from the poor chap awaiting hanging who was struck by lightening which whipped off all his clothes through to the suggestion that bodies were left hanging on the tree until they were thoroughly beaten by the weather and flocks of birds had picked their bones clean. Interesting; I’m wondering if I could have a tree like this installed in my garden. Husband, are you listening? Be afraid…
My only companion was this proud-looking bird hopping around the tree – does anyone know what it is?
Apologies again for poor photo quality – I think I was a little unnerved by the macabre tree and then to top it all as I turned and entered the woodland this fallen branch scared me half to death.
High time to head into Burley for some company.
In times past, smuggling was big business across areas of the New Forest. Even bigger business than Amazon. The 17th century Queen’s Head pub in the village of Burley was a favourite stop off for smugglers en route from the coast and during renovation work the builders discovered a hidden cellar beneath the stable restaurant which contained pistols, bottles and coins.
The smugglers had an ally in Lovey Warne. When danger surfaced in the appearance of the revenue men this brazen lass would parade across highpoints in the forest wearing a scarlet red cloak as a warning to smugglers on the coast to stay away. I used to live near Burley village in Crow Hill, and I remember once discussing the bravery of Miss Warne with some completely sozzled old boys at a garden party. According to them, she was a ‘bit of a sort’ and ‘very good to the boys’. No more information was forthcoming unfortunately as by then the old chaps had collectively glazed over and started drooling.
Burley is your typically quaint, overly touristy Hampshire village crammed with souvenir shops with hardly a store of any real use to the villagers. I’ve heard it said many times that the locals are an unfriendly lot who resent outsiders moving in. I think they’re just fiercely protective of their little bit of England…and do we blame them?
I decide to add to the village coffers by buying a sackload of Burley fudge. This is quite simply the best fudge I’ve ever tasted. I have to time my visits to Burley carefully to ensure they don’t coincide with an imminent dental appointment. He knows, he always knows.
As I strolled through the village before heading off into the forest again, an elderly dog wandered into the middle of the road and remained there panting and inevitably blocking all the traffic. Nobody gave a hoot. A growing queue of car drivers waited patiently for the old chap to finish sniffing around until he ambled slowly off towards the pub. As old chaps do. Made my day.