King William the First originally established the New Forest shortly after he invaded and conquered England in the year 1066. He set up the forest as his own personal hunting ground, and it has been a wild open space ever since.The New Forest is situated in west Hampshire stretching from the Wiltshire border in the north, right down to the sea just east of Lymington. The west side is bounded by the natural border of the river Avon. These days the Forest runs to something above 37,000 hectares and within that area thousands of wild ponies and deer run pretty much unhindered.
Add to them the hundreds of cattle that are turned out on the common land plus pigs at certain times of year to make the most of the acorn fall, plus the donkeys too, and the Forest is a rare oasis of wild life and something of a surprise in this modern age, surrounded as it is by the large cities of Southampton, Salisbury and Bournemouth.Driving through the New Forest, particularly at night can be a hazardous business, as animals often choose to doze in the middle of the roads, especially the newborn foals in May. Mandatory speed limits of 40 mph are imposed throughout the area, but they are not always abided by, and unfortunately accidents and casualties are still an all too common occurrence.Every autumn the ponies are rounded up, a practice that has gone on for centuries, and the roundup is known locally as The Drift.
The ponies are rounded up for several reasons. Firstly they are wormed, and branded to denote ownership and their tails are cut in a specific way to show from which area of the forest they have come. All the ponies are owned by Commoners who live within the bounds of the Forest.
These ownership rights are ancient and jealously guarded and are passed down from fathers to sons and daughters.The new season foals are weaned from their mothers and may be sold off and even exported. One of the best places to see The Drift is beside Beaulieu Road Railway Station where permanent pens are established specifically for the purpose. There is a hotel there too, you can actually watch the spectacle from your bedroom window should you be so inclined! To suddenly come across hundreds of wild horses being herded into pens to be checked and sorted is a sight and sound most of us will never forget.The Drift is organised with almost military efficiency by the Agisters from their headquarters in Lyndhurst. The Agisters have many powers including the authority to order any owner to remove any animal from the forest if it is seen to be in a poor condition.
The Agisters are employed by the Verderers, a body of ten persons appointed to administer the law concerning the New Forest. They hold the register of brands - all pony owners must use a brand to identify their depastured stock. The Verderers also have complete administrative control of all the stallions on the New Forest.Once The Drift is finished and every horse is catalogued and branded, those that are to remain are returned to their part of the forest and the hectic day is soon forgotten, and the horses are left in peace until the following fall.If you'd like to visit the New Forest and witness The Drift the best places to stay are Brockenhurst, Lyndhurst, Beaulieu, Burley, Fordingbridge, or Lymington, all of which are small and interesting country towns. Lymington has the added bonus of being a sailing centre too, or for a larger base, try Salisbury just over the border in Wiltshire.
You'll have a great time, and don't forget the camera, and of course a raincoat! This is England after all..David Carter runs a holiday cottage website where you can browse through over 7,000 holiday cottages, apartments and villas worldwide.
When you are next seeking holiday accommodation please check out http://www.pebblebeachmedia.co.uk He has also recently completed a property management handbook Splam! Successful Property Letting And Management. You can find more details of Splam! at http://www.splam.
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By: David Carter