England’s rolling hills, verdant colours and splendid pub-dotted vistas are the stuff of legend. And Dorset does it better than most shires. An ancient landscape, its idyllic glades, bluebell bedecked woodlands and sun-baked heathland are full of wildlife and gorgeous trails. Where better to celebrate the International Day of Forests, than Dorset’s woodlands, which make for the perfect day out when staying at the picturesque Acorn Inn or romantic Summer Lodge.
Spanning the land between Wareham and Sturminster Marshall, Wareham Forest’s 13 miles hold a great welter of wildlife. From lounges of sand lizards (who enjoy a spot of sunbathing) to roe deer, legions of woodlarks, tree pipits, kestrels and sparrowhawks that dart through the air. However, the rarest of creatures to be found here are the protected species of woodland bat.
One of the few animals missing from Wareham’s Forest are wild horses, which are the preserve of its “New” Forest counterpart to the east. Full of ponies, cattle, donkeys and deer that roam free, despite its name the last time the forest was “new” in any sense was in 1079, when William the Conqueror cordoned off the area as his personal hunting ground.
Somewhat surprisingly, the system he initiated, involving Verderers (judges), Agisters (stockmen) and Commoners (land users) remains in force today, ensuring this wondrous habitat remains intact. Similarly, the perfect way to journey through its sheltered arbours is still on horseback. Whether an expert or a beginner, there are plenty of stables all over the New Forest that provide a solid lesson – or a forest hack for any who want to canter off on its 140 miles of winding track.
If visitors prefer their woodland travels a to be a little more daring, they should seek out Moors Valley Country Park on the other side of Ringwood. Offering a fun selection of zip-wires and Tarzan-swings, obstacles and themed climbing frames (like the ants’ nests, snake pits and spiders’ webs), there’s lots of fun to be had by the young and young at heart. And it provides terrific leisure-time for adults too, with a golf course and narrow gauge steam railways on the grounds, as well as a country shop. One of the Park’s fun ideas, which gets entire families together, is the ‘Forest Segway’. Renting out bigger countryside versions of the dainty, urban Segway, zipping about on one of these futuristic machines is certainly a unique way to tackle Dorset’s woodland.
After all that walking, cycling, riding and segwaying, seek out the gorgeous village of Evershot, where The Acorn Inn offers the perfect retreat, or the nearby Summer Lodge. With plenty of historical character and charm, both offer the perfect place to hang up your boots and order a piping-hot meal.