A milder day of low light and grey clouds over the heath. A small group from our village met up to walk for an hour or two. The path across the heath followed a stream along the valley bottom. In the wet stream borders there are thickets of alder, willow and blackthorn, where birds will nest when spring arrives.
Bullrushes in the bog were starting to seed.
Little Black J , part Labrador, enjoyed the water.
Hampshire has now been designated an area of drought, because rainfall has been so low over the past two years. This stream should have been much fuller at this time of year.
Lowering grey skies above winter trees, lightened by occasional patches of blue sky between the clouds.
We crossed the valley and found the old, broken, red-bricked railway bridge that used to cross the now abandoned railway line. Now a footpath and bridleway, the old railway was once part of the Castleman Corkscrew line that joined Brockenhurst to Dorchester, in the days when Bournemouth was a small settlement on heath-covered cliff tops and not worthy of a railway station of its own.
Walking along the railway line, we found ourselves raised above the bog and heath. Old brickwork, gate posts, bridges and fence posts remained in the undergrowth. A reminder of days when this line carried not just passengers, but wood from the Forest saw mills and gravel from the quarries.
This was the railway line where the soldiers of both Word Wars would enter and leave the New Forest training grounds. Before the D Day Landings in June 1944, soldiers and airmen camped, trained and waited in the New Forest airfields and around the villages. The Castleman Corkscrew would have carried many of them to Southampton along this line, on their way to the landing ships destined for the Normandy Beaches.
This was also the railway that took Forest people to work in the towns, to the Grammar School in Brockenhurst, to market and to long remembered days at the seaside, a few more miles along the tracks.
There was once a Victorian railway cottage on this site. The resident railwayman would have been responsible for opening and closing the gates of the manual level crossing here.
Now, after much controversy and a fire, a modern house has replaced the cottage. Apparently this house is "eco friendly" in its design, but it is not well regarded by local people and its modernist style seems out of keeping with the local vernacular architecture.
Beside the track, a pair of New Forest mares dozed. They looked well after the relatively mild winter.
Trees and shrubs beside the track would have been cleared in the days of the railway, to prevent Forest fires from sparks flying out of the steam engines` fires. Now vegetation is allowed to grow and provide shelter and habitat for wildlife.
Reinforced concrete posts from the old railway fence. When these crumble, the metalwork can prove dangerous to cattle and ponies, so a careful watch is made and broken posts removed.
Winter trees, green moss, reflections and a dog who loves to paddle.
Ironwork on the bridge above the old underpass, where livestock could cross underneath the railway line.......
...and where a well constructed causeway leads invitingly up into broad leafed woodland on the hill.
The New Forest is now a National Park and is popular with visitors. Most respect the Forest way of life, but the building of dams across natural steams is not so helpful.
Nor is this the way to dispose of your dog`s droppings!
We walked as far as Holmsley Tea Rooms today. Sadly, we found that they were closed when we arrived, so we shared some chocolate, turned round and set off back again along the track.
Here are the old railway platforms at what was Holmsley Station. A place that could tell so many human stories of arrivals and departures, until Dr Beeching closed the Castleman line in the 1950s.
We retraced our steps and cut back across the heath once more, only stopping to find the old steep well that had served several cottages on the village edge, until running water was installed in the post war years.
In the foreground is the bog where the water seeped into the well. In the valley beyond, a small herd of commoners` cattle was lumbering down the hill towards the stream banks. Pale golden beef cattle on their way to find a welcome, precious drink.