Monday, 24 November 2008

The New(ish) Forest

The Boyfriend took me to a fancy English spa hotel a few weeks ago. This is extremely unlike him, as he usually makes a point of broadcasting that he hates "all that rubbish" and just wants his punk music and his computer and a bottle of wine. But he seemed to be actually feeling the stress of being a City professional in the current economic climate and, after encouragement from a workmate, booked this package at a hotel in the New Forest, Hampshire.

Soon after we arrived, The Boyfriend took in the embossed wallpaper, chintzy curtains and the spa treatment list that started at £60 for the most basic treatment, and realised his folly. While I was quite happy to book an overpriced massage and to recline in front of an open fire while the wind whistled outside, I'm pretty sure The Boyfriend was almost terminally bored. It was a nice experiment though. And also interesting to experience the dining room, which seemed to be a relic of English upper-class country life (no denim or t-shirts, attentive and polite service, no changes, excessive amounts of meat). There was actually a man at the next table on our first visit with a white bouffant, salmon sports coat and cream trousers looking snootily around at all us pretenders.

This was the hotel:

Not too bad really.

We decided to take a ramble through the New Forest itself, and on our way we came across actual livestock, roaming the streets and fields at their leisure. This seemed a bit unusual to me. Is this laid on for the tourists?

(OK, I've looked it up - this is another legal hangover from hundreds of years ago which gives the peasants the right to turn horses and cattle (and pigs, presumably) out to graze in this particular forest.)

The New Forest itself was uneventful, particularly because a large part of it is actually new, so that part is mostly scrubby bracken and young pine trees planted in neat rows. But deeper into the forest, things became older and more enchanting. (Click on these to see them properly.)

We decided to walk the 9 miles to Lyndhurst, the path to which the hotel receptionist ensured us was clearly signed. We saw one sign, which seemed to have no correlation with the map she'd given us. Other ramblers also seemed to be taking different paths from the ones that seemed logical. They were dressed in Gore-Tex from head to toe, wearing hi-tech footwear, and carrying those professional walking stick helper things. Maybe they were expecting to discover some as yet undetected mountains?

Anyway, somehow we made it to into the town, which seemed to consist almost entirely of antique stores and luxury car dealerships including Maserati and Porsche, so The Boyfriend was rewarded in the end by being allowed to gaze on the shiny, monstrous glory of European vehicle technology (until I couldn't bear it any longer and hauled him off).

The rest of the weekend was spent, frankly, eating and drinking, so I'm certainly not going to complain about that.

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