It had been raining hard, now it was freezing cold and the wind was howling, but a wise person once said that “there’s no such thing as Bad Weather, only inappropriate clothing!” With this in mind we layered up our clothing, got out our boots, waterproof jackets and trousers, located our hats and gloves and zipped out to the rain soaked bog that used to be the New Forest.
I always have a look at an Ordinance Survey map before we go for a walk. I normally try to find places along the route with quirky names, to amuse the children. My daughter once commented that I always take them to places named after the Devil, Hell or other gruesome things.* This is largely true but it’s not because I worship the Devil (I don’t).
On this little trip I managed to find Deadman’s Hill, Claypits Bottom, Burnt Balls and the Butts (which did indeed made the kids laugh). I wanted to explore Studely Castle, the site of a royal hunting lodge. There are quite a few sites like this in the New Forest and they always seem to be in good locations - fit for a king, I guess. We did find the remains of the embankments and it commanded a great view. The children were duly pleased to know that kings had once tramped through the same sodden swamp that we had.
Once we got out of the woods the kids delighted in finding large sheets of ice, picking them out of puddles, then hurling them headlong to shatter, sending shimmering shards of ice, skittering across frozen water. Very entertaining! Their waterproof gloves were being sorely tested but it kept everyone happy and motivated to move on in the hunt for ice.
We only went as far as the Butts (a tumulus actually) before we felt the need for food and warmth, and started to think about heading home. Around here we found a nice frozen pond, which looked perilously dark and bottomless. We had to restrain the children from wading in too deep but it made a good full-stop for final ice smashing activities, before turning back along the boggy quagmire that was our path.
*As I explained to my daughter, this is due to the old Christian habit of renaming ancient pre-christian places of burial, worship or habitation as wicked or evil. Knowlton Henge is a classic example. Many churches were built on top of, or on the site of prehistoric antiquities, in an attempt to usurp the existing religious association. Twyford Church near Shawford was apparently built on top of a Stone Circle - and a Sarsen stone can still be found in the lane that leads up to it. The Hell Stone is a Neolithic burial chamber and the Devil’s Coits is another Stone Circle.