Over the green from the Royal Oak, park in the car park and begin walking along the public footpath through Fritham Plain. Either side you can see gorse, heather, oak and hawthorn, some with red berries. Look for browse lines on the broadleaf trees, as these are a good sign of nearby deer. December marks the end of the rutting season, when the fallow and roe deer tend only to roam the plains at dawn or dusk, so get up early to spot them. Follow the path into bizarrely-spelt Sloden Inclosure, the first wooded area on this walk, and keep going straight on. William the Conqueror first created enclosures when he designated the New Forest a royal hunting ground. Today they exist to keep deer away from the tree plantations, as they tend to nibble on the buds, preventing the growth of new trees. The footpath is lined with beech and gnarled oak trees, whose branches have sprawled out towards the sun as it spills through the gaps in the canopy.
2 ½ Miles
Exit the enclosure at the south end on to the open plains of Ragged Boys Hill. Look out for birds of prey and listen for the buzzard’s mew. The footpath winds downhill towards Holly Hatch Cottage where, from December to January, you can witness the annual spawning of sea trout, who travel up river from the sea in vast numbers. Sit by the bank and be patient-it’s well worth the wait.
3 ¾ Miles
Continue along the footpath past the cottage, keeping level with the stream, and turn left into the Holly Hatch Inclosure, filled with oaks and bracken. Shortly after take a right to join the cycle path, stay on it for 500m then turn right out of the enclosure and back into the open at the Splash Bridge. Look across the plains towards Sloden Inclosure and you may spot some roaming fallow deer, but be very still as they’ll bolt away if they catch your scent.
4.2 ½ Miles
Follow the footpath up towards Hallickhole Hill, then a sharp right leads you back into the Sloden Inclosure through a gate with a plaque fastened to it, which reads: “First enclosed in 1775”. Take the left fork heading for two gates which mark the point of the drift line, a place where ponies and other livestock are all gathered a few times a year to be branded by their keepers. Find it on the map, spanning the width of the enclosure.
5.4 MilesCross the drift line and a footbridge, and exit the enclosure out on to Hampton Ridge, joining a fairly flat cycle path lined with dead gorse and heather from controlled burning. The path naturally rolls into the grassy Amberwood Inclosure. You may see timber stacks piled at the side of the path, part of the Forestry Commission’s maintenance work. After 10 minutes the path enters Islands Thorns Inclosure before crossing another footbridge and heading back to the car park. Now warm yourself up with a pint and a pork pie.
Through open plains and shaded woodland along sandy paths. Some footbridges to cross. Good walking boots and warm clothes are essential.
How to get there
By car: Fritham is northwest of Ringwood off the A31.
Tel: 023 8081 2606
Ordnance Survey Explorer OL 22. Grid ref: SU 235 145