As anyone will know if you live on the South Coast – most of the open spaces and wooded parts we have left today to explore were once part of the ancient Forest of Bere. In fact I think everywhere I have recently walked with The Hound has been a part of it – even my house is built on land which was once part of this Royal Forest!
So I was interested to discover what was for me, and The Hound, a new part of it to explore. Not only that, it’s the largest remaining area to explore. It is, of course, West Walk, close to the village of Wickham – some 350 hectares of walks and adventures just waiting to be enjoyed.
It seems to be hugely popular – especially with rugrats as there are two enormous dog free play areas available and judging by the volume of the screams, great enjoyment was to be had. For those of us without a little one (at least on two legs), the forest paths lay full steam ahead.
There’s quite a few trails but newbies like myself are recommended to try either the moderate Forest of Bere Trail or the Old Oak Trail which includes some of the oak trees planted in Napoleonic times. There is also a trail from Upperford Copse (across 100 Acres Road) that joins the Meon Valley Railway Line, a disused line now open to walkers, cyclists and horse riders.
Once exhausted, there’s always the Great Big Food Company mobile cafe by the car park to enjoy a restorative cuppa – The Hound’s equivalent of a cuppa is a sausage roll of course! Come winter proper of course, the cafe may not be there so a thermos flask might have to suffice.
The name “Forest of Bere” originally came from the Saxon term for “swine pasture” – Baer. When the Normans invaded, the aristocracy designated areas for hunting estates from what was previously open ground – and it covered a wide swathe of Southern England. So Baer became Bere.
Designated a Royal Forest in 1088, rangers patrolled the area to protect the king’s beasts from poachers. Happily, the various kings didn’t particularly like the area so it became a little lawless and a haunt of highwaymen. The last monarch to hunt here was Charles I in 1628 in fact.
Up until the 1600s, it was popular for its timber – a source of oak and willow for making ships and longboats respectively for the Royal Navy. It was the last Royal Forest left in the country and in 1810, it was broken up like all the others. in 1919, The Forestry Commission took over the management of the Forest of Bere and run it today.
Getting here: There’s a big car park and an even bigger overflow one so you should be ok if coming by car (there’s a charge of GBP1.50 for two hours) and you should head for Wickham and 100 Acres Road – postcode PO17 6JD. The Hound rates this a whopping five star paw walk! And I felt like I might just catch sight of Robin Hood … magical.
Contributor & Photographer: Sue Lowry
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