Shafts of morning sunlight cut through the canopy, scintillating motes of dust hang in the brilliant blades of still autumnal light and all is quiet for a golden moment before the distant belch of deer stags hacks through the silence. The deer rut, one of Britain’s great natural spectacles (turn to page 40 to find out more), has begun.
The rutting season, when stags face down and lock antlers with one another for the right to breed, starts in mid to late September and lasts until the end of October. As with all natural spectacles, it’s at its best at dawn and dusk and well away from people.
Needless to say, you shouldn’t approach any pair of large wild animals engaged in combat, but if you want to see deer rutting, you’ll probably have to lose yourself in some uncharted reach of the forest at crikey o’clock, wear muted clothes and be prepared to be quiet and patient.
The rest of us can derive the same sense of awe by just being in the presence of these magnificent beasts, and this short cycle trip in the New Forest is an easy way to spot our two most glorious species in a single afternoon. There’s even a cycle hire shop at the start of the route in Burley.
One of the prettiest villages in the Forest, Burley is also a great place to start a deer-spotting foray. The New Forest Deer Safari, a 30-minute guided tractor and trailer tour, runs on Sundays from noon until 5pm in Burley Park, and is the best way to get close to Britain’s largest land animal. If it was just their size that counted, red deer would easily win in the grandeur stakes, but it is their bearing – the stags, in particular, have a magisterial presence – that makes spotting one an unforgettable experience.
The safari over, it’s time to head off to see the smaller, but still impressive, fallow deer at Bolderwood to the north-east, a five-mile bike ride away over Forestry Commission roads. From the public car park behind the Queen’s Head pub, head north-east up Chapel Lane to the Commission’s car park at Wood’s Corner, where the road forks off to the right and you join a forestry track, dead straight ahead.
This permissive cycle route
is an easy family ride for most
of its length. The last mile is uphill, but it’s not long before you turn right towards the Bolderwood car park along a level, grassy path. Bolderwood, with its deer sanctuary and picnic spot, is popular all year round. In autumn, a cycle along the arboretum’s ornamental drive that runs south from the car park is an unmissable spectacle in itself.
Wild fallow deer are fed every day at Bolderwood and often accumulate in a small herd, obligingly, in full view of the deer watching platform a short walk from the car park. They are smaller than red deer but, like their larger cousins, getting this close to them is a rare treat.
HOW TO GET THERE
Burley is 2½ miles from
the A31 at Picket Post.
FIND OUT MORE
New Forest Deer Safari
Forest Leisure Cycling
Burley BH24 4AB
The Burley Manor Hotel
Burley BH24 4BS
Burley BH24 4AB