Small fir tree surrounded by much taller ones
England,  Monday walks,  Nature Photo Challenge,  Trees, forests and woodland

A stroll around Blackwater Arboretum

In this County [Hantshire] is New-Forest, formerly called Ytene, being about 30 miles in compass; in which said tract William the Conqueror (for the making of the said Forest a harbour for Wild-beasts for his Game) caused 36 Parish Churches, with all the Houses thereto belonging, to be pulled down, and the poor Inhabitants left succourless of house or home.

Richard Blome, writing in the 17th century

Despite its name, the New Forest isn’t a densely forested area. Yes, there are plenty of trees but also wide open spaces of heathland. The name is historic, dating back to the Domesday Book of 1086. Back then it was the Nova Foresta, declared a royal hunting forest by William the Conqueror.

Many of its trees were cut down to build ships, at Buckler’s Hard and elsewhere, although many were also planted to replace them. Nature too played its part; many oaks were lost in the Great Storm of 1703, for instance. And as broadleaf trees were felled, by man or nature, often it was fast-growing conifers that were planted in their place.

All of which is to say that like everywhere, the New Forest is constantly evolving. Today it is a National Park, much of the land owned by the Crown. But local people still retain their historic ‘common rights’, allowing them to turn out cattle and the typical New Forest ponies for grazing. These help to maintain the traditional heathlands and are an attraction (and sometimes a driving hazard!) for visiting tourists.

Horses grazing near trees
New Forest ponies grazing near Hatchet Pond

Visiting for the first time in years we were pleasantly surprised to find the area well supplied with parking areas. We were even more surprised to find no charges for using these. One that we made use of was at Blackwater Arboretum, which is, as the name suggests, an area where there are trees aplenty. Let me show you around on a Monday Walk.

Trails at Blackwater Arboretum

There are two marked trails here. The longer Tall Trees trail is a shady path among Douglas fir trees and redwoods that were planted during the reign of Queen Victoria. The shorter Arboretum trail is a loop through an area planted with a wide variety of trees and dotted with tactile sculptures.

We were torn which to choose. I was keen to see the tall trees, Wellingtonia coast redwoods aka giant sequoia. But our time here was limited as we’d already spent most of the day at Hurst Castle (a post on that will be along shortly, no doubt!) and we wanted to see the other trees too. Plus, the Tall Trees trail runs parallel to the road; a quiet road admittedly but still with the noise of traffic. The Arboretum trail would allow us to immerse ourselves fully in the peaceful atmosphere. So we compromised. A short walk along part of the Tall Trees trail before retracing our steps to do all of the one through the arboretum.

Tall Trees

We didn’t have to walk far along this trail before encountering a small grove of the sequoias. While they don’t grow as tall here as their Californian cousins, they are very impressive nevertheless.

As well as staring up at them I enjoyed exploring the textures of their bark and looking down at lichen-covered stumps and fallen branches.

There were some fallen trees too, looking almost sculptural. Gentle undulations in the ground had me wondering if they concealed earlier demises?

Fallen tree seen from the roots end
Fallen giant

The Arboretum trail

After some time wandering around the grove of sequoias and taking plenty of photos, we retraced our steps to where the paths had diverged. There we turned into the arboretum itself through a gate adorned with a cute woodpecker carving.

Simple wooden carving of a woodpecker
Gate to Blackwater Arboretum

This is a loop trail designed to take you past a variety of trees. Many date back to 1859 when it was the vogue to grow exotic trees. Most were labelled and I became fascinated with the variations in bark between each species. Some names I noted, others unfortunately not. And some of those I did note I find I can’t accurately match to the photos! So one of these is unlabelled but I’m including it as it was a favourite. Maybe someone can help identify the tree? Anyway, these make lovely abstracts as well as botanical specimens.

Click on any image to open a slideshow and reveal the names of those I did identify. Edited to add a link to Denzil’s Nature Photo challenge on the theme of tree bark.

The sculptures here depict the seeds of various trees found here and help to emphasise the role of the forest environment in supporting well-being. We didn’t spot them all but my favourite of those we did see was the acorn. The observant among you will spot the little champagne cork painted as a fly agaric which featured in my recent Small is beautiful post. The cork also helps to show the scale of the carving.

Large sculpture of an acorn with a painted cork balanced on it
Acorn sculpture
Small cork painted as a toadstool
The champagne cork in its setting

But sculptures are hardly needed when the trees themselves take on such interesting forms.

Curved tree branches
l see a camel’s head; what do you see?

And of course there were lots of small details to pick out and photograph, in addition to those already shared in that Small is beautiful post.

I visited the New Forest in July 2023


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