June 2016: Walking the New Forest at night

The idea: Walk the width of the New Forest, from East to West, at night.
Location: The New Forest
Transport: Feet/paws, stolen rowing boat
Essential kit: Walking boots, mobile phone
Less-essential kit: 2kg of trail mix (to keep us going through the night)
Kit we wished we’d had: A stinger suit, night vision goggles, wire cutters
Cost per person: Free 

The boys (+girl +dog) are back in town

Finding at least one weekend a month for adventure has been harder to stick to than anticipated. Since this blog and these adventures began, we’ve moved house, got engaged, started new jobs, found a girlfriend, supported a family member through illness and conceived a child. Nevertheless, we’ve taken the occasional absence from trips in our stride and carried on as planned. This month, however, it looked as though an adventure might not happen. We couldn’t find a full weekend, or agree upon a trip, so settled, therefore, for a few stolen hours on a Saturday evening and a journey back to where it all began.

We met at Calshot Castle, the most easterly point of the New Forest, at around 6pm and began to walk due west. The plan was to walk through the night and finish our trip at the most westerly point of the Forest, somewhere north of Ringwood. Night walking isn’t something we’d ever done before, and we thought it’d be fun to see the forest where three of us grew up from a different perspective. We set off at an encouraging pace, knowing we had 30 miles to cover and doing everything we could to get out of sight of the depressingly ugly, Fawley Power Station Tower.

The Easternmost point of the new forest

important decisions are made regarding a river

Fortunately, there was more than enough nature to counter the tower’s industrial brutalism. The country lanes on which we walked took us past ponies, rabbits, and deer, and afforded us deep breaths of air scented by freshly cut grass that had baked in the sun all day. At risk of becoming lost in the nature and on the verge of quitting real life to become romantic poets, an important decision brought us back to earth. Nick, being Nick, had purposely led us to an unbridged section of the Beaulieu River and asked whether we’d rather swim across or walk upstream to the nearest bridge. After much deliberation, we gave in, deciding to cross the river here because we thought it might save us valuable time.

I spotted an unnatural amount of jellyfish while crossing the river, and thought better of it. A gentleman I may be, but I’m not a bloody idiot.

Approaching the river from an unorthodox entry point meant we had to either navigate our way around 50m of sludge or sneak onto the private jetty that lay out conveniently in front of us. The best thing about private jetties, as we soon discovered, is that they are often home to private rowing boats. We ran through the consequences of borrowing the boat that was loosely tied to the end of the jetty vs the consequences of not borrowing it and it became clear that it was the only sensible thing to do. So the first group (women, dogs and Joe) piled in and set off across the water, with Captain Nick on the oars.

Men stand together in the setting sun - completely heterosexual

Footpath sign in greenery

Sun setting walking through the forest

As highly responsible adventuring gentlemen (and women), there was never any question that we’d return the boat to where we found it, in exactly the same condition. What this meant though, of course, was that one of us (Nick) would have to row the boat back after the second drop and make the swim across. I briefly considered joining the swim, but I spotted an unnatural amount of jellyfish while crossing the river, and thought better of it. A gentleman I may be, but I’m not a bloody idiot.

Thankfully, Nick masterfully navigated the jellyfish obstacle course and also managed to return the boat in one piece. When he was back with us, we took a little break for dinner and looked at our watches. The sun had gone down unnoticed during all the excitement and we discovered that our little time saving detour had, in fact, taken over two hours. To make matters worse, we hit our second obstacle just 200m ahead: a huge perimeter fence with signs warning us to ‘beware of Alsatian guard dogs’. With no way around the fence, we put our faith in Maple the Adventure Dog to protect us in the event of multiple Alsatian attack, and jumped over. We made our way around the edge of the garden until spotting a footpath on the other side of the fence, and clambered back over. Crashing hard from the adrenaline rush of the last three hours, we took a moment to recompose, at which point Nick received a call from his girlfriend Alice, asking if we might need a lift home to sleep in warm, comfy, non-Alsatian/jellyfish infested, beds.

Babes in the woods

Matt filling the tank

Joe, Faye and Maple hitch a free ride

Now before I carry on, I want to explain that, as far as I’m concerned, failure is only really failure when nothing is gained from the experience. So, while calling Alice back to ask for a lift home after initially rejecting her offer might have felt like failure at the time, we learnt that sometimes it’s ok to change the plan if things don’t work out. After the first call, we’d spent an hour walking precariously along the edge of a B-road, slowly coming to terms with the fact that we’d have to spend the next 10 hours in the same manner, and took a group vote. Everyone apart from Joe (the silent hero of the group who voted to carry on through hell, high-water or dull B-roads) agreed that we’d had enough fun for one day.

Nick takes the boat back to its home before a slimy swim

Nick washes off his muddy feet after swimming

A small crab on the deck

We didn’t achieve our goal this time, but we eked as much adventure out of this trip as we felt necessary, and I’d never describe it as a failure. To have finished a day that began with no plans with a 10-mile hike, grand theft rowboat, dodging a swarm of jellyfish, punching a slimy sea beast, trespassing on private property, masking our scent from Alsatians and testing the breaking point of a much loving hero girlfriend/saviour, seems like a success to me.

A man and his dog call Alice for help.