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Day 1 2022: Arrive in New Forest - Eat, walk, repeat

The bucolic setting of the New Forest

When we started planning our trip to England this year, it was fairly straightforward. Grainne and I would spend a few days in the countryside for a late celebration of our 35th wedding anniversary. Then we’d head up to London to meet up with the kids and engage in more matrimonial festivities for our nephew Jonathan.

Then the queen died and the nation went into mourning.

All of a sudden, our Monday night plans for seeing Hamilton were disrupted as all West End theater performances were canceled.That had a domino effect on the rest of our planned activities.

Look - I get it.

First, as much as I hate to admit it, it’s not all about me.

Secondly, QE II was a cultural icon. I lived in the UK for 10 years, and even if you were not particularly interested in the royals, she was a part of your everyday life. Her image was on currency and stamps. The Sex Pistols’s “God Save the Queen” song and image was burned into every Brit’s cerebral cortex. Heck, even Kellogg’s Corn Flakes had a royal warrant: “By Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen” emblazoned upon the box.

And if you’re a tourist, you’ve probably seen the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London, enjoyed the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace or perhaps ventured out to Windsor Palace.

After all, the royals are big drivers of tourism dollars.

So it was no surprise to see people queueing up for four hours to pay their respects. Every British website I visited had created a splash page honoring the late queen. And when we arrived at our hotel in the New Forest this morning, we were greeted by a photo memorializing her majesty.

Images of the late queen are everywhere in Britain

As a family we have decided to embrace this historical moment, and simply be flexible in our schedules. It is, after all, an extraordinary time to be in the U.K.

But enough about the Windsors for now. No doubt they will show up in surprising ways throughout our trip. Right now, Grainne and I are settled into our hotel in the New Forest - The Forest Park Country Hotel in Brockenhurst.

Despite living in the UK for a decade, we had never visited the New Forest. “New” is a relative term of course, William the Conqueror declared the area a royal forest around 1079. But hey - credit to the marketing team for keeping it fresh for 943 years.

New or old, the place is gorgeous. Ponies graze lazily in the open heath and pastures. Herds of deer can often be found roaming through the woods. I would not be surprised to see a Hobbit or Elf inhabiting the woodland.

With our flight arriving early at Heathrow at 6:30 am, we managed to get through immigration, collect our luggage, pick up a rental car and drive the 90 minutes to the New Forest by about 9:30 am. Of course that meant our hotel room was not ready, so we took a seat at the hotel restaurant and indulged in a fabulous breakfast of oatmeal, muesli, fresh bread and - of course - English bacon. Washed down with piping hot coffee and tea.

We then drove down to the village of Lyndhurst, where we wandered through antique shops and gazed through the windows of bakeries featuring exquisitely crafted pastries, pies and breads wishing for an infinite capacity to eat. We manage to control our glutenous impulses until we’ve walked off breakfast and pop into Forage, a local family-owned cafe recommended by our hotel staff.

Grainne and I are not exactly starving, so we share a main course of chicken with a mushroom sauce, a few skillet potatoes and a side salad. Believe me when I say there was plenty for two people on that plate.

We make our way back to the hotel, where we find our room clean and ready. An hour-long nap brings welcome relief to our weariness, brought on after missing a night’s sleep on our flight from Dallas to Atlanta to London.

We awake, still groggy but determined to get settled in the UK time zone. After a quick shower, we decided to indulge in the great English tradition of afternoon tea. This was not the grand high tea. Instead, a simple cream team with a couple of scones and a large steaming pot of tea. The scones - one fruit and one plain - were served with clotted cream and strawberry jam.

Scones and clotted cream and jam, oh my!

I do not recommend this as a daily ritual unless you’re trying to look like Brendan Fraser. But OH MY LORD it’s a great vacation treat.

And so the pattern of eating, walking, eating, walking, eating, walking continues as we stroll out of the hotel and down the road to see those ponies that roam free around the New Forest. I’m not sure it’s fair to call them “wild ponies” since they willingly came up to Grainne to have their ears scratched. Wild or not, they are beautiful, majestic creatures that populate the local landscape and make the New Forest a very special place indeed.

Grainne makes a new friend in the New Forest

Oh… since we finished the walk, I guess it’s time to eat again. So we dine again at the hotel restaurant. Grainne has fresh, local lamb with honeycomb. I stray from the English staples and order Bangladeshi Mug Dahl Bhuna, a savory curry-like dish that I enjoyed very much. Somehow, we manage to follow with strawberries and clotted cream and a brownie. We didn’t finish it all, but it just about finishes us.

There’s no more energy for walks. Only sleep. And the anticipation of what tomorrow will bring in this beautiful kingdom by the sea.


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