Cheeky Ponies and Camping Under Trees in the New Forest

Have you ever had one of those weekends that are blissfully perfect and you go back to work the following week in a trance, almost like the whole thing was a sublime dream? Well, that's exactly what I felt like when I came back from the New Forest, a place so strangely fairytale-like I was quite ready to see unicorns in addition to the horses, ponies, highland cows and donkeys.

Driving through the New Forest on the way to our campsite (and after a rather delightful McDonalds to fuel our journey), I near enough receded into a 10-year-old version of myself - the version who set up bamboo canes as jumps and rode an invisible horse around the garden. As a child, I was obsessed. Shoeboxes became homes for my plastic horses, every bank holiday was spent hauling hay and plaiting tails at the stables and I acquired an unusual knowledge of horse markings that will only now be useful as University Challenge answers.

I'd heard that ponies are free to go where they like in the New Forest, but those stories massively underplay the amount of animals wildly roaming around, little afraid of cars or people. I'll tell you, it does make you massively trepidatious driving around tight country roads - just in case there's a daring pony trying to reach untouched grass! New Forest residents even have cattle grids installed in their driveways to keep them out of their garden - fancy that!

Camping was on the cards, and I've never craved it more. Luckily for me, I live very close to Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park, but no matter how much greenery is around you it isn't the same as being in the country country. That is, when the smell of poo is stronger than the smell of car fumes. An appropriate qualifier I think? So, we teamed up with a couple of friends from university who liked the sound of canvas and camp fires as much as we did and found a great camping spot right in the heart of the New Forest National Park. Our main requirements were pubs and ponies. I can tell you, we achieved both!

In the days leading up to the trip I furiously checked my weather app every couple of hours. As if some kind of cruel joke, it was double raindrop clouds for a solid 16 hours of our first day. After stressing and digging around for every possible piece of waterproof clothing, I handed our trip over to fate and the rain didn't make an iota of difference! In fact, there was something extremely calming about drifting off to sleep on our blow up mattress, listening to the heavy plops of rain hitting the tent outside.

After pitching up we headed into the nearby village of Lyndhurst to pick up some essentials, namely meat. ALL THE MEAT. If happiness was a smell it would be the bacon we fried up on Sunday morning, piercing the warm, woody pine aroma that had stirred up from the previous night's rain. Yankee Candle - make that into a scent. Honestly, instant bestseller! Saturday also involved a cheeky afternoon tea (the blogger version of a cheeky nandos?!) which escaped being photographed because it disappeared so quickly!

Bumping into the most adorable herd of Shetland ponies on the way back to camp made us sliiiightly late leaving for dinner. How could we not stop though?! With glam rock manes and grumpy little faces they were begging to be photographed! I'd forgotten how perfect pony snouts are - fuzzy felt-like fur tnuzzling under your arm, hoping to find treats in your pockets.

When the pub dinner beckoned, of course, we complied. After being told by a warden to 'not go through the trees' we, of course, did the opposite. I blame my brain after three beers. There were a few cringeful moments watching the boys hop over barbed wire fences and a rather brave river crossing (dutch courage I think...) before we got there, but my lord it was worth it! A proper pub! Joe said it was the first time in ages he hadn't been served chips in an enamel mug (#LondonerProblems).

A couple of games of pool later and the observation of an amusing pub brawl (I'm not sure what it was about but I think a farmer caught someone chatting up his wife...) we were headed back to the campsite, where it seemed quite acceptable to wash my race with rain water and spit toothpaste behind a tree!

The campsite we stayed in is called Roundhill Campsite and was an absolute beaut! Not too crowded and we were very snug camped underneath the trees!

Part 2 (think chocolate box villages, donkeys and a whole lot of wisteria) will be up on Tuesday, so come back and join me for that!

Do you like camping? Where have you loved pitching up in the past?

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