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July having come again, and brought round the welcome holiday—the month's respite from City life and official duties—so keenly appreciated after a year in harness, I had packed my knapsack once more, and was a day and a half on my way towards Tol-pednPenwith, when the colloquy above recorded took place.
Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall were three of the few English counties into which I had not yet set foot, and no longer would I endure the reproach of remaining ignorant of so interesting a portion of my native land. Remarkable in physical features, in climate, vegetation, and inhabitants, in those shires are to be found many of the historical scenes and associations which delight the eye,
and enrich the mind and heart of the wanderer. Home-travel is not so devoid of novelty or incident as many suppose, who find no pleasure but in foreign parts. Rambling sometimes on the cliffs, where sea and shore diversify the view, sometimes in the interior in hollow lanes, or woody valleys, or over breezy moorland, one finds all the elements of a genuine holiday, and enjoys them too. I am tempted to write about what I saw, in the hope that you also, hopeful reader, may share the enjoyment.
Arriving at Southampton, some passengers are made to wait an hour and a half for a train to carry
them on to Dorsetshire. I spent the interval in a walk round the docks, where a number of that grand fleet of steamers, the names of which were then in every one's
mouth, were then lying. I saw the Atrato;', the La Plata, the Orinoco, and others, ready to sail, or in the eager bustle of preparation; and there too was the Himalaya, which had only that morning got off the mud bank, that stopped her for a day or two in the Solent. A crowd had gathered to look at the noble vessel, and that she had sustained no damage was a subject of general congratulation; for who was there did not anticipate with pride the important services the swift ship was yet to render in the war?
We went on again, passing round the head of Southampton Water, and dashed into the district which sets one thinking of schoolboy days, and sundry passages of history which then made a lively impression on the mind. Well for us that we grow. older and wiser, and learn the truth with respect to William the Conqueror, as well as other personages.
How our young hearts swelled as we read of villages destroyed, of monasteries thrown down, of farms laid waste, and the inhabitants expelled, that the boundaries of the royal forest might be widened. We hardly like to give up the sense of indignation, which seemed to have a touch of chivalry about it, even when experience comes to teach us that we were deceived by our school histories; that the Norman was less .cruel than we had imagined; but the illusion has to give way at last. With some such reflections as these running in my head, I alighted at the Lyndhurst-road Station, to have what I had long promised myself, a few hours' walk into the depths of the New Forest.
I left my knapsack with the station-master, to be sent on by the next train to Ringwood, and setting my face to the north, begged him to indicate the situation of Rufus' Stone. It stood, he said, at the foot of the hill, marked by a high clump of firs, to which he pointed on the horizon, some six miles distant, and added, that the best way to get to it would be round by the road. As this, however, increased the distance by three or four miles, I expressed my determination to go straight through the forest, being bent on seeing its sylvan solitudes as well as the famous stone. It would be impossible to find the way when once among the trees, he argued; I should lose myself fifty times before I got to the firs, and might be driven to pass the night on a bed of fern; to which I replied by proceeding to take the bearings of the clump with my pocket-compass -north-north-west would about fetch it—then thanking the civil functionary for his information, I walked directly across the rough, open ground that lay between the railway and the trees, and was soon under the shadow of the forest.
It is really a forest, satisfying all your expectations. The ground undulates gently, and the long slopes rising and falling widen the view and add to its effect. In some places the swell mounts to such a height that from the top of it you can see around for miles ; while to descend but a few paces gives you a sudden contrast
by reducing the miles to yards. Now you have to scramble through a copse-like plantation of small trees which thins off gradually to a stately wood, where every step takes you among larger and larger trees, until at last you are overshadowed by grand old beeches, the growth of centuries, with gray and mossy roots that grasp the soil for yards around, and ample spreading branches that tower aloft with their glistening leaves. Those huge, gnarled stems were graceful saplings when the battle of Hastings was fought. Here and there the ground is smooth and green as a park; a little farther, and you are up to your knees in gorse, heath, and fern; farther again, and you are plashing in a swamp, striding from one rushy hummock to another, to the firm ground beyond, with the chance of leaping short and plunging ankle-deep into the spongy soil. Never mind. There are plenty of beautiful waterplants to charm away your vexation, and recompense a brief delay. Anon your feet are rustling through a drift of dry leaves, and you enter a glade or “ bottom,"
country folk call it ; a long, green avenue stretching away till the trees seem to meet, where the sun's rays slant across and produce alternate streaks of flickering light and shade, and brighten the hoary trunks with golden touches. Something twinkles on the ground, and coming up you find a shallow stream rippling on its way to a lower level ; coming out of the gloom and going into it again, gladdened by the beams that fell on it in the brief interval. Ever the
solitude deepens. The birds twitter and sing, as it seems, with an expression richer than in more frequented places; and while you stay to listen, a score or two of deer come trotting past, tossing their antlers high in air, and dashing off at speed as an unpremeditated movement betrays the presence of the intruder.
Still going on you see the green gloom of the - leafage brightening into daylight, and presently you emerge on what might be fancied a small slice of the Pampas transported to Hampshire, for a herd of shaggy, wild-looking horses are scattered over an expanse of scrubby sward, enjoying their liberty after the equine
While some appear to have nothing to do, others graze industriously and whisk their long tails with equal diligence, and many gallop about as if inclined for a stampedo, and raise a neigh of alarm or emulation which is repeated from one extremity of their range to the other. The foals, of which there are not a few frisking hither and thither, shrink close to the side of their dams, and eye you suspiciously as you pass. These horses are among the characteristics of the New Forest, and he who wanders through it will come upon many a similar herd of the strong and sturdy animals, apparently free to roam at will. But the lot of their species awaits them, and in time they are sold away into other parts of the kingdom, and exchange liberty for hard work.
There are wild swine, too, in the forest; but late in the
year, when the acorns fall, then the solitudes are invaded by hundreds of " seasonal hogs," as they are