Brockenhurst, New Forest: Trolls, Trees and Orchids

8 miles (12.5 kilometres) October. Solo with silly dog

I have disappeared. Not in a puff of smoke, but in the whip end of a rainstorm. It’s autumn and my nest is empty, so I’ve abandoned it and headed for a walk in the woods with my idiot dog so don’t imagine for a second I’m relaxing.

I wake early and the rain has gone. Very early. The only time I see sunrise usually is on a nightshift. Sure it’s a little squelchy underfoot but walking on damp forest floor is pleasing and Shovell doesn’t mind. The only thing he likes more than getting his feet filthy is eating pony shit and barking at squirrels so he’s planning a full day’s entertainment.

There’s a lovely sky brewing up over the swimming spot in the River Lymington at Balmer Lawn. I’m following the river but instead of sticking my feet in it I’m heading into the trees over the road.

It is deer rutting season, there are Forestry Commission signs around so Shovell and I are treading carefully although any animal downwind of Shovell’s cheesy training nubbins will get plenty of warning. Water Copse Enclosure where we are walking always seems to have a lot of wildlife, today is no different.

There are plenty of ponies and in the next field I can see several fallow deer in the distance, but too far to get a decent photo. For once the dog is behaving. I had no idea he could read signs.

The sun is just coming through and making long shadows of us. There’s a beautiful mackerel ceiling and dew on the carpet.

As the sun filters through I can see the oak leaves are turning into gold, and May’s orchids have been replaced by so many types of mushroom in amongst the beech and birch. As Terry Pratchett said, all fungi are edible. Some fungi are only edible once. There are too many to bide and look up, but I don’t mind not knowing their names, for now. The squirrels are bounding and cascading over the trees. As we cross Poundhill heath the blanket over the sky is now remarkable.

Back under the trees and suddenly there are deer everywhere. Two smaller ones are standing in the path in front of us staring. Getting a whiff of nubbin they soon bolt but in the next ride I can see a family group of 6 watching us with suspicion. There’s no fighting or barking, not even from Shovell but they melt back into the ride.

There must be hundreds of eyes watching us. The peak time for rutting is now, as September turns into October and the three hours after dawn. But we don’t get to watch, although the woods are alive with animal noises and for once it’s not the dog.

By the time we reach the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive the smell of pine resin is strong. I’m getting hungry for breakfast, I’m almost out of the snacks I brought along. The drive is a great family walk, really busy in the summer but you can feel the heavy hands of design and land management. Here the trees have been tamed and tidied. But it is popular for good reason, there is a splendid mix of old tall trees and an arboretum. You could even drive through it as the name suggests, but this means the sound of traffic. Sadly there’s no food or ice cream van at this time of year, or perhaps I’ve arrived too early. There is, however, some absolutely corking fungus.

And it’s very cool to look up at some giant babies.

Like the deer we melt back into the wild woods and disappear, heading for Fletchers Water. Here it makes me a little kid-sick because this is where we stopped and had a picnic before, so I stop for a while to examine the waving fronds of river weed and Shovey has a drink.

From here on, Ober Heath and Black Knowle are wide open and welcoming. I pass two photographers with huge heavy lenses, but I tell them I think the deer have left for the trees over the way. Here on the gently treed heath is where you’ll find the eponymous trolls because there are several footbridges. Everyone knows that Norwegian trolls and trollops live under stone bridges, usually in the mountains, but Hampshire trolls are smaller, even shyer and live under wooden footbridges, usually in woods or scrubby heaths.

It’s just possible if you haven’t seen one you’ve been looking in the wrong place. And then it suddenly dawns on me: maybe the photographers with the huge lenses aren’t trying to get photos of rutting stags at all.

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Walk info

This walk is adapted from a beautiful spring walk we did called Trolls and Orchids, designed by lovely son on the OS map website. I added in the Rhinefield Drive which is spectacular in Autumn. The GPX is available here. If you prefer a traditional map look for Ordnance Survey OL22.

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