A little way down Running Hill there is a Forestry Commission gateway bearing a notice enjoining people to keep it clear. I had today determined on walking the two fords Q. However, noticing a little track by the side of the gate, used by dog-walkers, I once again went in search of Dave’s path. The track petered out in about the length of time it takes to empty a dog. However, I persevered. Then, to mine and their surprise, I came across three walkers approaching me through the trees. The leader of the middle-aged group carried an Ordnance Survey map, a printed route in a booklet about Minstead, and a compass. He said: ‘We seem to be following an ill-defined path’. I said they were following a non-existent path, and proceeded to offer my assistance. The booklet map must have been ‘made earlier’. They sought what I recognised as Hungerford cottage, and were way off it. However, it was merely a marker to Running Hill, because what they actually wanted was the Castle Malwood Farm underpass so they could make their way – wait for it! – to Sir Walter Tyrrell and thence back to Minstead. Now, as my readers know, if you wish to find your way to Sir Walter, I’m your man. Their map did not tell them to hug the farm’s fence, nor did it mention the stream or sandbags. I probably bewildered them with information overload, but it is not often I get to display my knowledge of the forest.
In the midst of all this, the female walker noticed I was clutching a letter I had forgotten I was meant to be posting. My inquisitors suggested I may not find a postbox in middle of the forest. Having seen them on their way I walked diagonally through the forest to Suters Cottage and picked up the Shave Wood/Football Green loop, thus ensuring I would bear the readdressed envelope to the previous tenants of our flat for another hour, before posting it outside the village shop.
As I walked along the melting tarmac I felt refreshed by the sight of the bright green backlit leaves, to which the sun gave the glow of youth.
On the way to Football Green, being in need of a comfort break, I slipped into the boscage for light relief. Framed in a gap in the trees a group of ponies on the edge of an open stretch, slowly stirred from their grazing, turned, and first ambled, then trotted off. I followed them. As their pace quickened, had I not known it was unlikely, I might have thought they were fleeing from me.
The open field hosted a much larger than usual congregation of ponies. They even seemed to be summoning a few stragglers who had stayed by the roadside. At first, grazing, then walking, trotting, cantering, and finally galloping off, tails and manes flowing in the wind, they were gone. They disappeared into the trees and were out of sight. These often catatonic eerily silent animals, their hooves thundering as if in a stampede, their voices raised in loud whinnying, were actually quite an alarming prospect.
Well, I just had to see what was up, so I made my way through the trees, bracken, and holly, to see if I could trace them. Silence had descended, so either they were a long way off or had reached wherever they were going. Had I not known better, I might have thought someone had rung the dinner bell.
Then. There they all were, many with only their backs in view, through another gap in the undergrowth. Down a trench. The trench was a fairly dried up watercourse, where they were virtually queuing up to slake their thirst. I was later to realise that this was the stream that had fed the watering hole Jessica and Imogen had found on 11th May (see post). It now seems incredible that a pony, leaping from it, had showered my grandchildren when shaking himself dry.
As I reached the top of Running Hill, a drowsy looking woman wound down the window of a car parked on the forest verge. She asked how she could get back onto the A31 after she’d had the rest she needed to prevent herself from falling asleep. There being no fear that she would make a habit of it because she was on her way back to her home in Cornwall, I told her of the short cut through our garden. Having, in my youth, fallen asleep and scraped my Hillman Imp along the side of a classic Bentley, I knew of the need to stop and rest when tired. At the age of 25 I’d had no idea one could actually drop off at the wheel.
This evening we collected our friend Sheila who was staying at Manor House Hotel in Sway and took her to what Becky has described as our new-found local, The Plough Inn at Tiptoe. Jackie and I each consumed the same food and drink as we had on 5th, except that I also managed a creme brulee and a double espresso. Sheila enjoyed plentiful and delicious scampi and sparkling water.