Burley, New Forest, Hampshire

24th - 26th February 2006


View the New Forest Official website.




I travelled down with Sandra on the Friday evening to Burley Youth Hostel near Ringwood, though we struggled to find the place after having left the A31 highway down to Bournemouth on the south coast.  Burley is a small village in the New Forest, with a wealth of tea-rooms, gift shops, art galleries and a Pick Your Own Farm. The New Forest is a former royal hunting area in the south of England, originally all woodland. It was created in 1079 by William I (known as William the Conqueror) as a hunting area, principally of deer. Parts were cleared for cultivation from the Stone Age and into the Bronze Age. However, the poor quality of the soil in the new forest meant that the cleared areas turned into heathland "waste". There are around 250 round barrows (archaeological burial monuments) within its boundaries, and scattered boiling mounds (rock fragments are thought to be the remains of stones heated in fires, which were used to heat water), and it also includes about 150 scheduled or protected monuments. The contiguous New Forest habitat covers south west Hampshire and some of south Wiltshire. It was first recorded as "Nova Foresta" in the Domesday Book in 1086. The inhabitants of thirty-six parishes were evicted. William's successor, William Rufus was killed in a suspicious accident while hunting in the New Forest in 1100. The reputed spot of the king's death is marked with a stone known as the Rufus Stone. As of 2005, roughly ninety per cent of the New Forest is still owned by the Crown. The Crown lands have been managed by the Forestry Commission since 1923. Around half of the Crown lands fall inside the new National Park.

The New Forest is indeed a special place but in all honesty, I think this weekend was a particularly forgettable experience for a number of reasons. I think the general consensus was that the walk itself, the details of which escape my memory (at this particular time somewhat fragile), was nothing spectacular.  The terrain is generally relatively flat. A nice area to cycle, which I did once before with Kavida, when I first arrived in the UK. The walk took us through villages in the New Forest, though unfortunately, also near the A31, which we had to cross on the outgoing and return routes. To use a euphemism to conceal my true purpose, I popped behind a tree "to see a man about a dog". Upon rejoining the path, I had lost the group entirely. Nowhere to be found, they were. Unbeknown to me, they had left the gravel road we were on and vanished into a woods and out of site. I continued down the road, thus, in reality, taking a wider berth in the process on the return to the youth hostel in the late afternoon. It was a weekend when a trio of German girls, all architects, joined us. Two of them, Daniela and in particular, Nadine, have been present on subsequent hikes. We ate  at a pub in the village in the evening and returned to the youth hostel, to be entertained, as is the case on odd occasions, by our singing guitar duo, comprising Dave and Rob.

Forest Laws were enacted to preserve the New Forest as a location for royal deer-hunting, and interference with the King's deer and its forage was severely punished. Over time, the local inhabitants or "Commoners" were granted or took on various "rights of common": to turn ponies, cattle, donkeys and sheep out into the Forest to graze ("common pasture"), to gather wood, to gather bracken after 29th September as litter for animals, to cut peat for fuel, to dig clay, and to turn out pigs between September and November to eat fallen acorns and beechnuts (referred to as "pannage"). Along with grazing, pannage is still an important part of the forest ecology. Pigs can eat acorns without a problem, whereas to ponies and cattle large numbers of acorns can be poisonous. Pannage always lasts 60 days but the start date varies according to the weather — and when the acorns fall. The Verderers (officials in Britain who deal with judicial affairs in certain forests which are the property of the British Royal Family) decide when pannage begins each year. New Forest Ponies, one of the recognised native pony breeds in the British Isles, which roam freely in the New Forest, are looked after by their owners or the assistants of Verderers, known as Agisters. There are references to these ponies as far  back as 1016. Although Thoroughbred and Arab blood has been bred into them from time to time, they have been purebred for 50 years.

There is evidence of Saxon occupation as the name Burley is composed of two Saxon words 'burgh', which means fortified palace ,and 'leah', which means an open meadow or clearing in a wood. Burley is also mentioned in the Doomsday book. Burley has a long connection with witches and during the late 1950's, Sybil Leek, a self-confessed white witch, lived in this village. Many of the gift shops now sell witch-related gifts and ornaments.






Images from our New Forest walk, leaving from Burley. New Forest Ponies, probably the most photographed item in the region.


On Sunday the weather deteriorated and it rained. Sandra and I drove on to the 13th century village Minstead, where we had lunch at The Trusty Servant, visiting the cemetery of the Minstead All Saints church, where the Scottish-born Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of numerous Sherlock Holmes novels, was reburied here in 1930, after a heart attack, at the age of 71. The tombstone bears the inscription "Steel Blue, Blade Straight, Arthur Conan Doyle".


The graveyard at Minstead Church, where Sir  Arthur Conan Doyle was buried, at the age of 71.



Dave and Rob, resident XHC singing duo; the tombstone of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.


View the New Forest Official website.


[UK - index] [Home Page]


Links to other websites: