The Ponies, the People and the Sea – Lymington and the New Forest

The traffic is horrible, parking nigh impossible, the average age older than most. Why then, is Lymington so popular as a holiday place and retirement spot? The latter can be credited to a low crime rate, the former to the fact that it’s nestled between nature and the sea with less of the wind Bournemouth has to cope with due to the Isle of Wight right there as a buffer against the elements of the English Channel.

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So what? These are just facts but you have to go there to find out more. When we finally found a parking spot away from the High Street but within walking distance, we noticed the cobble stones and the varied shops from Henri Lloyd to less expensive ones at the top of this steep road. Walking down to the Marina, you’re faced with picturesque quaintness and then a myriad yachts and boats that give it its maritime charm.

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My first run took me along the Solent to the mud flats with salty sea air, an elixir for the lungs, through a forest area and then back to town. This place has it all and the tourists that invade it in the summer months know that even though there is no beach, there’s one close by and the open-air swimming pool with the masts of boats as a view, cools you from the summer heat. On the other side there’s the New Forest, a green stretch of grasslands and trees where gentle hiking is the most indulged activity. And just to complete the picture, the Setley Ridge Vineyard makes a not-half-shabby Pinot Noir sparkling wine which is certainly worth quaffing.

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Driving through almost seems a shame especially when you notice the ponies that are everywhere to be seen, in towns and in fields along the roads. There are no fences and it’s plain that here, animals rule and humans are the ones that need to watch out. Not only ponies though but also cattle, grazing rights for the commoners who owned them, dating back to 1877. Even pigs do their bit in what is termed as pannage, scoffing away at the acorns and beechnuts between September and November, keeping the other animals from poisoning themselves on an overdose.

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‘Magical’ is an over-used phrase except in the New Forest. Legends, myths and real stories of witches, fairies and goblins have made their way into the annals of books, one of the most prominent ones being Sybil Leek. In Brockenhurst there’s a shop devoted to white magic where you’ll find witches on broomsticks and other paraphernalia as well as a photo and description of “Britain’s most famous witch” who spent time in this area after education from her father and grandmother in the knowledge of nature, herbs, divination, animals and astrology. She wrote several books on witchcraft and other esoteric subjects and learnt a lot from the Romany Gypsies that roamed the New Forest. However, antiques was her trade and she set up shops in Ringwood, Somerset and Burley refusing to sell anything to do with the craft she practiced, much to the disappointment of curious visitors. She wasn’t alone though and even though there seems to be much controversy surrounding this belief, a New Forest Coven consisting of Wiccans or Neopagan witches existed between the 1930’s and 40’s. The people in the shop confirm this and state that it’s still alive and well today.

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While I didn’t attend covens, I was privy to Christmas morning mass at St. Thomas which was startlingly open, warm and fresh in their approach. Peter the Vicar (his own choice of address) brought his brand new 3-D printer to demonstrate our lack of patience and love of one another. Even better, the many dogs welcomed into the church and treated to a Christmas luncheon in the hall afterwards!

Whether it’s fairies, witches or Christians you might encounter, this area with its tiny hamlets and larger towns has a sense of oldness and history about it made all the more real by the established rights of the animals and people that still inhabit it and the eagerness of newcomers to be a part of it.

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