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Commoner Tom’s New Forest Walk

Thought the New Forest was just a forest? Then think again. Muddy strapped on some sensible shoes and discovered all about the culture of 'commoning'.

One of the great things about this job is that I get to find out all about the quirky and unusual things right on my doorstep – sometimes things that were right under my nose.

Commoner Tom’s New Forest Walk is a brand new event led by Tom Hordle and Lyndsey Stride, two local ‘commoners’ in the New Forest, in conjunction with The Bell Inn. And, while it may sound like I’m being a bit snobby when I say “commoner”, the term is actually related to a lifestyle of open farming on common land.

New Forest PonyWithout getting too technical (honestly, there are ye olde worlde pre-Domesday documents about this stuff) certain properties in the New Forest (and other areas across the country and world) can come with rights to commoning built into their deeds. So, if you have these it effectively means you have the right to raise livestock and do certain types of farming on the common land.

When you see all the animals wandering around the roads of the New Forest they actually belong to people. Horses, donkeys and cows are off, living their best life, enjoying all the New Forest has to offer. How’s that for free-range?

THE WALK

We met Tom and Lyndsey at the nearby Bell Inn in Brook, just outside of Lyndhurst, before heading off on a minibus to Tom’s farm, Broom Copse Farm. You may recognise Tom as he appeared on ‘A year in the New Forest‘, and at just 28 is running his very own beef enterprise that grazes in some of the 90,000 acres of New Forest.

Tom and Lyndsey

Lyndsey Stride and Tom Hordle

While at the farm he and Lyndsey explained a bit about how they got into the lifestyle, many people having been born to it and others – such as Tom and Lyndsey – coming into it through slightly different means.

Tom and HaroldWe also got the chance to meet Harold his Herefordshire bull who, despite his huge size, was actually akin to a soppy kitten nuzzling Tom as he spoke.

We then set out across the Forest, where Tom and Lyndsey were able to tell us interesting facts about the landscape and how it actually requires a lot of intervention to keep it maintained.

New Forest LandscapeThe great thing about the walk was, even if you haven’t got an interest in farming there is so much more to find out. From air-raid shelters to the delicate ecosystem – the New Forest has layer-upon-layer of things to discover that you may never have known.

new forest donkey jpegOn the walk, we came across numerous horses and donkeys, though we didn’t catch a glimpse of any of Tom’s herd. It didn’t matter though because we got to see some of the best sights of the area on our two-hour walk.

We then headed back to The Bell Inn to try some of Tom’s beef out for ourselves.

SCOFF & QUAFF

The Bell Inn InteriorTom has worked with head chef, Mark Young and The Farmer’s Butcher to create a menu that truly exemplifies his beef.

Hand Reared Beef PIeThe main dish was a beef, ale and wild mushroom pie, buttered new potatoes, Purple Sprouting broccoli and asparagus. The beef was absolutely incredible and the extra work and care that goes into hand raising was definitely evident in the eating. Along with the beef, every item possible was sourced from a local producer, including handpicked mushrooms from the New Forest Mushroom company and the ale from Flack Manor Brewery.

Flack Jack CakeThe pie was followed by Jack Flack Chocolate Cake complete with malted caramel, chocolate sauce and homemade malt ice cream, using byproducts from the Flack Manor Brewery. The cake had an incredible depth of flavour and was really rich without being cloying. The ice cream was super unusual but surprisingly light despite its malty undertones.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

GOOD FOR: People who want to find out that “bit more” about food and Hampshire itself. The walk is an unusual concept but utterly fascinating at the same time. If you’ve ever wanted to know more about the area or find hidden spots that you’d overlook this is ideal for you. If you’re a foodie and big into your provenance, you can’t get more detailed than this and if you’re interested in nature then you’ll absolutely love the chance to explore the Forest.

NOT FOR: If you have any issues with mobility you may struggle with the terrain. Certain walks will be more gentle than others but sturdy shoes and a raincoat are a must. This is definitely more for adults as well and obviously, if you’re a vegetarian this probably isn’t for you!

THE DAMAGE: At £65 per person with coffee, transport, tour and two-course lunch (drinks not included), it’s a brilliant way to spend a day and incredibly good value as well. You would struggle to find this level of knowledge and people willing to answer questions anywhere else.

Tom’s next walk is on Fri 17 May and you can book here

The Bell Inn, Brook, Lyndhurst SO43 7HE. Tel: 023 8081 2214

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