Bluebells in the New Forest, Hampshire

Julia Bradbury goes in search of bluebells and coastal critters, and experiences a bit of luxury camping

Bluebells

THIS MONTH
How do you judge when spring has sprung? Is it seeing the first daffodil? Finding frogspawn? With climate change, identifying the first day of spring isn’t as easy as it used to be. Our intrepid writers have shaken off the icy grip of winter and ventured into the blooming countryside on the hunt for glimpses of bursting daffodils, snowdrops and lambs saying hello to the world. Me? I headed to the New Forest to seek out bluebells and lobsters.

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BLUEBELLS
New Forest Hampshire

MIGRANT BIRDS
Inversnaid Loch Lomond

DAFFODILS
Brigsteer Woods Cumbria

DAWN CHORUS
Whitlingham Country Park Norfolk

WOODLAND FLOWERS
Machno Valley Conwy

SNOWDROPS
Hodsock Priory Notts

SPRING LAMBS
Chapel Amble Cornwall

EASTER BUNNIES
Braunton Burrows Devon

CUCKOO FESTIVAL
Marsden West Yorkshire

BLOSSOM
Brogdale Farm Kent

TOP 10
Spring wildlife spectacles

When we filmed a Countryfile Spring Special in the New Forest I was genuinely excited. I adore this place. It was originally created as a hunting playground for William the Conqueror, and was granted national park status in 2005. It lies mainly in southwest Hampshire, from east of the Avon Valley to Southampton Water and from The Solent to the edge of the Wiltshire chalk downs. It is a titillating, varied landscape of ancient woodland, heath, boggy mires, gentle farmland, coastal salt marsh, mudflats and picturesque villages. It’s got everything. And it’s the largest remaining area of lowland heath in Europe. A fully-fledged breathing space in my book. I rocked up in my vintage VW camper van (there is only one good thing about these old style campers and that is the way they look), ready for a full-on glamping experience. Matt Baker turned up with a scrappy looking tent. No way was I sleeping in that.

Camping in style

I had arranged for something far more interesting (well, the crew had) to allow us to enjoy the delights of the forest in modest comfort – a geodesic dome. Geodesic domes have been used in earthquake zones, but as a camping accessory they are relatively new to the UK. We were certainly the first to be using one in the New Forest. I was rather keen on the fact that their geometric design offers more space (for my bags, you understand) and a stove! Very Carry On Glamping. But before we got comfy, we had work to do. We were on a mission to find signs of spring for the programme.

My blue heaven

Roydon Woods, with its New Forest ponies, cattle and deer roaming among ancient beeches and oaks, moss-clad wood banks and tiny streams, is the perfect place for a spring walk, and for bluebell hunting. The soil here has never been ploughed, so it’s prime environment for them. I filmed a piece to camera surrounded by the much-awaited pendulous blooms, a mass of shimmering blue. Whenever I’m surrounded by a bluebell carpet, I feel as if I’m in a herbal shampoo advert.
Then, Matt and I (under guidance of a warden, of course) had to coax seven very pregnant cows through the woods to their summer grazing pasture. Not an easy task when the cows don’t know their left from their right. Mission accomplished after some blood, sweat and tears, it was time for me to head to the sea.
Lobsters might not equal spring to many people but when the waters of The Solent start to warm up, the lobsters are on the move, and fisherman Stephen Turner is ready for them. He’s been fishing on The Solent for nearly 30 years. We set off from Lymington (a gorgeous little port town)in a tiny boat and chugged towards his pots about half an hour away.
There’s a real demand for local produce in the New Forest and Stephen tends to fish-to-order, so we were heading out to catch my lunch and a few more crustaceans for other customers.
The pots are split in two halves – the ‘kitchen’, where the tasty bait (mackerel) lies in temptation and the ‘parlour’, where the lobster is trapped. Pulling up to a bobbing blue buoy we hauled on the rope, which had about 15 pots dangling from it. Twenty lobsters later we were on our way back to shore, stomachs grumbling.
I’d like to say Matt was thrilled by my sophisticated spring food offering but I think he was more excited by the camping that lay ahead of us. Did we sleep well? I can’t tell you – we had to get up at 4am to record the dawn chorus (turn to page 84 to learn more about this spring spectacle). All I can say is that it didn’t feel very much like a spring night – it was chuffing freezing, even with a stove. The redstarts and wrens sounded on good form, though.
 

Useful Information

HOW TO GET THERE
From London follow the M3, then the M23 from Southampton and Portsmouth. From Reading take the A33 to Basingstoke and then the M3 from Basingstoke onwards. From Bristol follow the A4 then A36 to the National Park.

FIND OUT MORE
Roydon Woods
Church Lane, Brockenhurst
Tel: 01489 774400
www.hwt.org.uk
www.thenewforest.co.uk
newforestnpa.gov.uk

EAT/STAY
The Mill at Gordleton
Silver Street, Hordle
SO41 6DJ
Tel: 01590 682219
A 17th-century mill serving seasonal New Forest venison by the River Avon. Accommodation available.

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STAY
Rye Hill Cottage
Lyndhurst Road, Beaulieu
SO42 7YE
Tel: 01590 612143
If glamorous camping really isn’t your thing, this 300-year-old thatched B&B within walking distance of Beaulieu should provide all your home comforts.