Yesterday morning, I met a friend who now lives in Wales but who spent many happy days in the New Forest as she was growing up. It was a bitterly cold morning, with black ice, frozen puddles and a heavy frost. We planned a woodland walk before heading home to warm up again.
We turned off the Lyndhurst to Christchurch road and drove in shafts of sunlight through the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive. Huge Douglas Firs and Californian Redwoods tower over native trees along this narrow road. We left the car at Blackwater car park and crossed the road into Blackwater Arboretum.
The Rhinefield and Blackwater tree collections were once part of the estate of Rhinefield House, a grand old house which is now a hotel. The Redwoods were planted by 1860 and the older Blackwater trees during the later 1800s.
Both tree collections are now managed by the Forestry Commission. Blackwater is an enclosed collection of trees from across the world. High deer fencing protects them from New Forest deer and ponies. The access gates have been constructed from local trees.
On the top of the archway is a carved wooden bird.
With some imagination, he seems to be a woodpecker!
A gentle walk took us through mixed woodland. Tall conifers grow amongst deciduous trees.
I last visited in the autumn, when bright acers were in full autumn leaf. Today, delicate shapes of winter branches shone against a cold blue sky.
As older trees have died, new ones have been planted to replace them and to diversify the collection.
Another strange bird emerges from a carved tree stump.
Older branches are festooned with lichen. A sign of clean air.
Several varieties of Eucalyptus contrast their bright, white bark against the evergreens.
We saw a few small flocks of finches among the treetops. In spring and summer, the peaceful woodland and its variety of plants attract many birds and insects.
An elegant rustic gate, high as the deer fencing, allows access to foresters` vehicles when tree work needs to be done.
A dead tree skeleton rising stark in winter sunlight.
Other dead wood is sometimes left to provide food for invertebrates and then, in turn, for birds. These tree trunks were pock marked with holes made by greater spotted woodpeckers.
We emerged from the Arboretum to find a cross roads of Forest tracks. With more time, we would have followed one to see where it went. As it was, we turned towards the sun and let it warm our faces for a while, before a brisk walk back through the trees to find the car. By this time we were cold.
Rusty bracken, warmed by morning sun in a woodland glade, thawed and steamed in the light.
Tall, dense spruces, like giant Christmas trees, stood against a perfect winter sky.
Undercarpets of leaves would say frozen all day.
Even at midday, the winter sun shone low through cold stands of pines.
It had been a beautiful morning.