You know the old hackneyed expression about not seeing the wood for the trees? Well this week the Archaeologist and I set out on a quest to find one tree (actually two) in a wood. The wood in question is Woodfidley, in the New Forest. For those who are not familiar with the New Forest it is not new – it is over 900 year old – and it is not a forest in the sense of a dense covering of trees. There are trees but there’s more bog and heather and open heathland. The trees tend to be in Inclosures of which Woodfidley is one. The New Forest is situated in southern England between Southampton and Bournemouth and covers about 100 square miles. It is now a National Park.
I spent my formative years growing up there when we moved to Sway, just on its edge, in 1970 and the family home was there until my mum died (in 2010).
During those early years we (Dad, the Archaeologist and me) tramped the heath and heather covering miles and miles. Usually there was a purpose. One day, forty years or so ago, and prompted by the Archaeologist reading some pamphlet or dusty book he picked up in a second hand bookshop no doubt, we went to find Woodfidley Man. That’s him below.
This image was carved into a beech tree in the middle of the nineteenth century by the workers building the railway that still crosses the Forest alongside Woodfidley. From the mid 1840s throughout the next 40 years various railways across the New Forest were planned and some built. Only one remains; this one. Here’s what the Archaeologist told me about it:
Back in the 1970s we found the tree (plus one with his comrade, a man with a bowler). Sadly this time our hunt didn’t succeed, but we did find a number of other contemporary carvings. As we had some time (after a very fine lunch) we headed to Sloden Inclosure near Fritham in the north of the Forest to see if we could find one of the Roman pottery kilns that dot the Forest. Did we? You’ll have to read on.
Woodfidley first. To find Woodfidley we parked next to Beaulieu Road station, an odd place as there’s hardly anything there. Why does it exist, you wonder? It’s because here, once a year, the Commoners sell their ponies at auction (and other horse flesh). This is an advert for the sales this November. New Forest ponies still exist, not that I’ve ever had much fondness for the walking dog food. Here’s a piccie from our walk. Say ‘Ahh’ and move on.
Together with Spud the Archaeologist’s dog, the Archaeologist, the Maternity Nurse and I headed off alongside the railway. We passed the Bishop’s Dyke, reputedly having been built around an area given to the Bishop of Winchester by the Edward 1 in 1289. Local legend has it the Bishop was granted what he could crawl around in a day. This map, drawn in 1914 by local archaeologist Heywood Sumner shows its dimensions. It isn’t clear what was its original use. A hunting ground for snipe, a deer park? The earthwork is still there in places even if the railway slices through it. Here are some pictures of the walk to Woodfidley, including when we crossed the dyke
We split up, trying to cover as many beech trees as possible. Some had fallen; maybe the ones we were after were amongst them. Here’s the sort of thing we found
And here’s a selection of other carvings:
Interesting and all that but not quite the full cigar. So, not being of the sort to be daunted, we had a pub lunch and headed up to Sloden Inclosure. Here’s another extract from Heywood Sumner on Sloden Inclosure and the Roman potteries.
It was wet by now and we battled along the ridge line to the wood. Once inside the Archaeologist sniffed out a dip in the ground and set us looking for places where the earth had been disturbed. It took about half an hour but eventually, by a tree root, some animal had been digging and we found some spoils from broken pots. Here are pictures of the walk to the wood, and, at the end some of the pottery shards we found.
And the pottery, both in situ and cleaned up
I find it extraordinary to think the last time these pieces were touched by human hand the Romans controlled England. 2000 years ago. Mind boggling. Tummy tingling. Fingers like mine.
I must take a moment to thank the Archaeologist for his company, guidance and constant education; the Maternity Nurse for ditto and dousing the Archaeologist’s enthusiasm when it began to get out of hand and Spud for being Spud. Our walk ended on a bummer; parked in the Forest car park miles for anywhere, while we headed off to the kilns, some hoodlum broke the car window and snatched a bag. One of those dark clouds that sometimes pass even on the finest of days.