Friday, 13 March 2009


The A338 between Ringwood and Salisbury is one of those routes which takes you through a lot of open countryside interspersed with the occasional village along the way. One of these villages is Breamore and, to the average motorist on their way from A to B, it appears like most others of it's kind. A road sign giving a name, another advising of a 30mph speed limit followed by a mile of houses on each side of the road. There and gone in the blink of an eye. But if Breamore is your destination and you turn off the main road and into the village proper prepare yourself for a pleasant surprise: there just aint nowhere else like it!

Within seconds of leaving the A338 you will find yourself driving into a unique village scene, the layout of which has remained unchanged for centuries. There are no rows of houses, instead the cottages are dotted around in small clusters with wide open spaces between them. It is a culture-shock when you first see it and it never loses it's appeal through familiarity. This is probably because it does not fall into the picture-postcard category. The homes were built for agricultural workers and country tradesman and although it may now house a much more affluent section of society, there is still the rugged atmosphere of it's original purpose within it. Driving through this part of the village takes you up to Breamore House, a saxon church and, most importantly, the countryside beyond.

We park by the church and start walking up the footpath leading to the woods beyond. No ordinary footpath this, it is also at the start, the driveway for Breamore House: This imposing 16th C. Manor House is home to the Hulse family - apparantly there are three generations of them living there at any one time. They are Baronets, or some such similar but the riff-raff are permited to walk through their front garden and so close to the house we can almost see through their windows. And as these are titled people it does not seem like an invasion of their privacy to do so. It is what they are there for.

Once past the house the driveway becomes a bridleway which climbs steadily through an ancient woodland. Amongst the Beech, Horse Chestnut and Oaks are more Yew trees than are usually found in one place: old, proud and magnificent. The rugged atmosphere is more intense beyond the village, there is a rawness to this place which can be summed up by a sight we observed on one of our previous mudhops here: about five hundred yards ahead of us a rabbit had come out of the wood on the left. It was not in any particular hurry and we thought no more about it until, a couple of minutes later, a fox came out of the wood in the same spot. Following the trail of the rabbit, it disappeared in the direction of it's prey. Not long after a panicked squawking from the wood suggested that Reynard had come across a pheasant instead. To witness hunter, hunted and victim whilst out walking (as opposed to a wildlife programme ) is rare indeed, but it did not seem at all unusual to encounter it here. Breamore Woods has this wildness to it which is is palpable.

The path up through the woods eventually leads into farmland, wide corn growing fields on each side. The bridleway here is lined on each side with Yew and Hawthorn, like a processional leading to the last part of the hill. At it's summit is a small wood comprising almost entirely of yew trees, one of the comparatively few such woods in the country and the only one in Hampshire. This in itself makes the climb up this hill worthwhile but it has still more to offer, in the clearing in the middle of this wood is the Miz Maze.

The Miz Maze is not a maze in the sense that most folk understand the word, it is a labyrinth cut into turf. It's age is unknown, and open to a lot of debate, but what is certain is that such labyrinths (there are about eight known still remaining in these Isles) have a connection going way back to Brutus of Troy, by legend the first King of Britain. It is designed in such a way that a raised path can be followed through a series of twists and turns through a pattern which never crosses itself and leads you into its' centre. (The name "Miz" is almost certainly a shortened version of "mizzled" - a dialect word in some Southern counties which is derived from "mis-led" and is used to mean "confused".) This one now has a fence around it to prevent further erosion caused by it being walked.This is frustrating but , sadly, necessary. It would be even sadder to see it damaged even more than it is already, while to take measures to strengthen it would also destroy it.

Today we mudhoppers follow the bridleways and footpaths on the other side of the Yew wood which take us on a circuitous route back to Breamore woods. In doing so we pass a field where last year we saw a pair of hares ears. This field was a sea of ripened corn at the time and as we passed a pair of ears suddenly popped up. The hare had no doubt heard us and was using it's ears radar-like to check on our progress. For a full five minutes as we walked close to where it, probably, had a few leverets to protect, it's ears remained stuck out over the height of the crops. This is the longest that either os us has been able to study a hare in the wild, though it would have been more satisfying to see the rest of it too. It was during this walk that the month of March decided to give a display of it's contrasts: the day had started in it's lamb aspect with sunshine and a breeze. The breeze became suddenly a wind which grew in strength until, by the time we got back to the wood, it had become the lion. The sound of it howling through the trees was incredible, almost deafening: this is real Durogante weather and to experience it here was a highlight of the day. The topmost branches of the trees were being bent to such an angle that you wondered why they did not break, whilst lower down in the fields dried leaves were being thrown into the air: here they swirled around as if performing a crazy dance in mid-air like so many whirling dervishes.

We made our way back to the village following a path on the far side of the woods to the one which we normaly use. Not knowing this path, nor even caring whether or not it would take us back to where we'd parked up the car, eventually meant that we had to do a few short cuts across fields. This turned out to be a good thing. It took us past the other side of the Manor House - different windows to try and look into. It finally lead us into the churchyard, where stands a Yew tree to top them all, the trunk at its base must be about five foot across and from this trunk grows a ring of individual trees. They say that Yews hold the spirits of the dead and that their faces can be seen in the bark of the trees; looking at this one you can see where they got that idea, it's full of them.

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