Brockenhurst, New Forest: Wilverley Plain

10.5 miles (17 kilometres) round trip. June, sunny and warm. With family and silly dog

TL;DR We go on a nature spotting walk in the New Forest: moor, plain, forest, we have it all.

There’s something terrific about opening up your back door and walking across a cattle grid and straight out into the New Forest. If you have never been you may be forgiven for thinking it is all trees, but it’s heaths and rivers, woodland and wetland, and enclosures for Royal Navy ship timber. It’s a glorious place to roam like a red deer and get lost in the trees.

Brockenhurst in the New Forest is a great walking base: It’s easy to get to by train, you can camp in the middle of the forest, you are surrounded by the most beautiful scenery and the wildlife will come and find you. It doesn’t matter what the weather is like, forests are fantastic in the rain too. You can even go forest bathing, letting the ‘essence of tree’ wash over you, but haven’t we been doing that for years before it became a ‘thing’? Maybe I should market essence of tree wellness products…

This walk had a purpose: observe the flora and fauna and learn what makes a good field note. So we decided to hike to Wilverley Plain. This was going to take us through several habitats and we would learn about the wildlife as we go. Oh and there’s an ice cream van at Wilverley enclosure.

We were staying near Balmer Lawn so we walked out from our stable and onto Butts Lawn where we met some wild pony foals. The cows meanwhile watched us from their usual stronghold of the jubilee phone box. The animals have the run of the forest and they turn up everywhere. Inside your tent usually.

We walked over the lawn and followed Rhinefield Road. The Rhinefield ornamental drive is a decent walk in managed forest but that’s for another day. We’re heading out onto the huge expanse called White Moor and leaving the cars and people behind us. It’s great how quickly the town falls away into the peace of the open heathland. The paths are well trodden and with a compass or GPS it’s easy to follow the criss crossing routes. This is rabbit country: on our return lovely son lies down near a warren and gets a photo of a furry head sticking out. Patience, always patience is rewarded. From the softer green pasture of rabbit country, soon we are rising up with two buzzards for company. We’re on white chalk, from which the moor takes its name.

Hincheslea moor feels rougher still. On the map are labelled tumuli, but I can’t spot them, perhaps they are hidden behind the scrub. There’s no indication of whether they are evidence of prehistory, or maybe Norman rabbit warrens, the New Forest is after all a Norman takeover, William the Conqueror took it for his royal hunting ground.

When we reach the edge of Wilverley Plain we take a seat in the shade of three trees for our picnic. It’s rarely a good idea to introduce a hairy dog with no self control to conifers, i’ll be brushing pine needles out for days. The skylarks are giggling at us. We start to take some field notes, and right there the plants and insects are opened up to us like another world. I’m pretty good at plants but wildflowers are a weak point so I’m learning as much as he is. A nod here to two fantastic apps, PictureThis which helps id plants, and Chirpomatic for bird song, both pretty accurate. We spend an hour identifying stuff and I realise how much I enjoy this kind of thing, it reminds me of lockdown when we spent so much time learning together. Too many walks are about distance or altitude, a really good walk should be about time to observe. I need to practise this.

We eventually get up and walk over Wilverley Plain to the enclosure. It’s busy here, hundreds of people have come in cars to picnic around the edge of the trees, so we quickly get in the woods through the forest gate, and all is peaceful again. Shovell goes missing for five minutes but no one realises as we all assumed he was with the other.

A hundred years ago this wood would have been full of red squirrels. In fact squoyling (or squogging) was quite the new forest sport, essentially bringing them down from the trees with a weighted stick, and then eating them. Now you have to travel much further north to see them, or to little isolated pockets where we’ve managed to keep the grey squirrel out.

This little guy in Strathtay in Scotland came to our window sill each day

We spot deer in the wood in amongst the deciduous woodland, I don’t much like the barrenness of spruce plantations, but this enclosure is mixed, and the broadleaf trees are noisy with birds. It’s cool in here. But after an hour we still need lemonade sparkle lollies and ice cream before retracing our steps back over the moor and home, so off we canter to the ice cream van, playing jeopardy as it’s getting late. We should embrisken. Three minutes after we get ours, the van drives off. A little too close for comfort, imagine the disappointment if we’d wasted five minutes on some ants on a log? I mean nature’s important but not that important.

More walks in this area

Walk info

This is an easy walk which covers a bit of ground and can be started from Brockenhurst. Our GPX is here. If you prefer a traditional map the Ordnance Survey for the New Forest is OL22.

2 responses to “Brockenhurst, New Forest: Wilverley Plain”

  1. That photo of the “little guy” is adorable!


    1. He came each day and sat there posing about 2 feet away from me. What a poser

      Liked by 1 person

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