I don’t know about you, but I have a handful of routes that I run over and over again. We’re very lucky to live near some really beautiful places, like the New Forest, and yet, I’ve never really explored them properly. Over the next few months I’m going to be doing a winter base training set where I don’t need to worry about the pace of my long runs, so it seems like the perfect opportunity to go adventuring. Today I started with a half marathon around the New Forest.
Burley is a really quaint, pre historic village famous for it’s association with witchcraft, smugglers and English folklore. Until the 1950’s a self styled witch named Sybil Leek (not Trelawney- that’s a Harry Potter reference for those of you who don’t share my geek streak!) wandered around the village with her pet jackdaw perched on her shoulder! A secret cellar was also discovered in the Queens Head pub during renovation works, where pistols, coins and other items had been hidden. I love quirky history like this, and for such a tiny place, Burley has a lot to explore. Keen to get underway however, I parked and decided I’d better get running.
The first two-three miles were an easy, flat run along Castleman’s corkscrew. It’s part of the old, disused Southampton to Dorchester railway line, but is now a gravelled, treelined path. The colours were really autumnal and because it was such a beautiful day in half term there were a fair few people walking and cycling. One guy even shouted “excellent job runner, keep going” as he overtook me on his bike. I felt like I was in a race that only I was taking part in!
The Wilverley Inclosure
This was the next notable section. Wilverley is a gated inclosure, meaning that there were no New Forest ponies in the inclosure itself. There’s an easy to follow, wide track that winds its way through the dense forest, which is surprisingly hilly.
I left the inclosure at the Northern point, and immediately found some ponies. From this point onwards onwards, I didn’t see another soul until I got to Rhinefield though. The New Forest really is such a diverse place. One minute you’re running along a man-made track with other walkers unable to see beyond the 150 year old trees, and the next you’re completely alone in the exposed plains that look like you could be on safari!
The Descent to Puttle’s Bridge
From this point on, I was winging it! There was no real path through the open expanse of the Forest, with the welcomed exception of this bridge over a river. I decided to just keep heading in the direction of the cutely named, Puttle’s Bridge. Or at least, the direction I hoped it was in! The weather had started to change, and with the stormy clouds in the sky and a bit of light drizzle setting in, I was really thankful to find the road again and know that I was definitely on the right track.
Rhinefield House Hotel
After a short run along the elegantly named Rhinefield Ornamental Drive, I arrived at Rhinefield House. Apparently in 1859 many, non-native trees were planted in the area, including giant redwoods and Douglas firs. The two tallest trees in the whole of the new forest are here, a pair of redwoods. Disappointingly, in the US, redwoods are known to be up to 3000 years old, so this pair are positive babies at only 160!
I’ve never been to Rhinefield House, but I’d definitely like to come back wearing a little less lycra, perhaps for an afternoon tea! I believe it used to be a privately owned manor house, before being converted to a luxury hotel. It’s a bit of a hidden secret to be honest, you could easily miss it because it’s hidden so deeply in the forest. I snuck a quick peak around the beautifully manicured gardens before heading back to Burley. Thankfully, the sun had made another appearance too.
Return to Burley
I was back to winging it. Having found my way out of the hotel grounds, I pointed my nose in the direction of Burley and went for it! This section was uneven and off road, but there was always some sort of trail to pick out and follow. I also found what looked like two shaggy highland cows complete with horns. They were lying down, sleeping, and I thought it was probably best they stayed that way so I didn’t brave a picture!
Back in Burley
Burley has such a bizarre, but brilliant collection of shops. I feel like it probably celebrates halloween 365 days a year! In the end, I didn’t go into many as I was a bit of a sweaty mess by this point. I did nip into the fudge shop for a scoop of salted caramel ice cream to fuel my final mile. The lady definitely looked at me like I was mad because it was only 8 degrees outside and everyone else with hugging a hot chocolate! The perks of running.
I made it back to the car just as my watch hit 13.1 miles. What a perfect way to run a half marathon. Tons of variety, beautifully scenic and a splash of witchcraft thrown in for good measure. It was such a lovely change not to be worrying about my split times and just running to explore. It’s definitely something I’d like to do more of over the next few months. As I imagine they might say in Burley, if the broom fits, ride it!