Last summer Ms B & I decided to venture to the New Forest again as it was the start of the pannage season when local farmers have permission for two months to let their pigs roam free around the woodlands. The idea is that the pigs eat all the acorns that are harmful for other animals like the free-roaming ponies, horses, and donkeys (in principle the acorns are harmful to pigs too, but these smart badasses simply spit out those bits). Anyhoooo.. didn’t see a single pig, so resorted to other activities.
Besides horseback riding (post here), the most fun activity was our 3h kayaking trip with New Forest Activities (£39.90 per person). The starting point is at the beautiful Buckler’s Hard Maritime Museum (open air, admission included) on the banks of the Beaulieu river.
At the start of the 18th century a highly ambitious and (following his marriage into one of the grandest families of the time, the Churchills) seriously loaded aristocrat called John, 2nd Duke of Montagu, turned Buckler’s Hard from a little landing place into one of the more productive shipbuilding yards of England. The oaks that still sustain the pigs with their acorns today were used to build more than 50 ships for the Royal Navy, including the Agamemnon, Euryalus and Swiftsure, all of which fought at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. ‘Montagu Town’, built around the various docks is a tiny but cute double row of redbrick houses descending towards the water. Today the river is bustling with yachts of all types, replica 18th century three-masters, hyper-modern 100ft luxury motor yachts, and anything inbetween.
While we were being briefed (including technique and safety briefing, what to do if you turn belly-up in your kayak etc.), yacht after yacht, often several at the same time, were passing by on the river next to the boat house. You are being given the option of taking a rubber spray deck (a flexible waterproof cover for kayaks with a hole for the passenger’s waist) and a waterproof bag for your valuables and we highly recommend taking them up on their offer, as it does get quite wet later on.
Then the group walks right down to the cobble-stone beach where the kayaks are being stored and everyone is responsible to turn their kayak upside down to remove any rain water, then, with the assistance of a partner, carry them down to the water. You sit down, place your belongings inside the kayak, adjust the foot rests, put on the spray deck, and wait until everyone’s done. Then the instructor assists you in pushing your kayak away from the beach and you start to paddle around and get a feel for your canoe (yep, kayaks are canoes).
Our guide was a chirpy, cheerful and bubbly lady in her twenties who had clearly been bitten by the outdoor travel bug, having worked as instructor in all types of different sports including skiing and mountain-climbing in all kinds of different countries including most Scandinavian ones, if I remember correctly (memory like a goldfish). She had just given notice to move to New Zealand, I think it was as a diving instructor. She made the whole group feel at ease and soon everyone started chatting with each other, sharing anecdotes of past adventures.
We learned a bit about the buildings, boats, fauna and flora along the way, but luckily it was not at all intrusive. Most of the time we were left to our own devices, able to enjoy the amazing nature around us. We passed by wetlands completely covered in samphire. It was strange to see this relatively pricey coveted fine dining ingredient grow in such abundance (it did not look quite as nice as the stuff you find on your plate at upmarket places across the country, probably a different variety).
One of the giant mansions along the Beaulieu was once considered as a holiday home by Johnny Depp after he had attended a party there together with plenty of other celebrities, but nothing much ever came of it. Plenty of the boats you pass by are being owned by celebrities, who enjoy the tranquillity here.
Close to the turning point our instructor asked us to look into the water below us and we couldn’t believe our eyes: there were moon jellyfish everywhere, hundreds of thousands of them or more. You could gently pick them up with your bare hands and then release them again into the water. They are the most common jelly in UK waters and about as weird as it gets in terms of creatures. They have no brain, blood or heart, but don’t be misled, they’re not Tories. During their short lives they go through two stages, starting out as polyps, small plant-like stalks attached to rock that divide into buds which then break free to become jellyfish-shaped adults. The characteristic four rings are their sex organs, who would have thought.
It was time to make our way back to Buckler’s Hard. We stopped a few more times and learned more interesting facts. For example, that the Beaulieu is one of just a handful of privately owned rivers in Western Europe. Truly horrific, but true: the Montagu family still own the river to this day. Their rights derive from those granted to the monks of Beaulieu Abbey by King John in 1204. Personally I’m much more a fan of the French approach to aristocracy, but never mind.
On the past few metres we had to get focused again. There was a lot of traffic on the river, so we were told to cross it all at the same time along the same line and to try to be quick. It all worked just fine and after 2.5h on the water we felt tired but very happy. So much fun paddling around on the water. Even Ms B, who had never done any kayaking before, found it very easy to get to grips with the basic technique. 5 out of 5 in our book. We’ll be back.
Looking for more New Forest posts? Check out our articles about our day trip from Brockenhurst to Poole to do some jetskiing, our visits to The Pig and to the Beresfords restaurant in Brockenhurst. For more adventure and fun activities, feel welcome to eyeball our posts about our ride on a hot air balloon over Wiltshire, a jetlev and a powerboat in Wyboston, and a Lamborghini on the Top Gear Racetrack just outside London. We’ve also done some rock-climbing, off-roading, and exploring Roman gold mines as well as some canyoning near Porto, and some skiing in Mayrhofen.