Our first and second day of cycling were so beautiful – blessed with sun and wind on our backs. The second day entering the New Forest was like entering a new country. The traditionally thick, high hedgerows and thin country lanes of Dorset slowly dropped away into a vast and expansive new landscape, where a snaking road wove around the rolling, low-lying hills . The dark marshlands were littered with bright gorse hedges and wild horses, deer and donkeys with their young, grazed completely unaffected by human presence. I expected this kind of scenery when we got to New Zealand but not in our own country.
On our second night, after two beautiful days cycling, we decided to wild camp in the New Forest. We saw a campsite on the map and knew we needed more water to cook dinner and keep us hydrated so we explored an area of dense forest nearby. As we entered the thick woodland dusk was just beginning to descend and we could make out by the lack of untrodden paths that this was not a well-known walkway. As we walked deeper into the trees with our bikes and all our gear Haydn was just ahead of me. All of a sudden he froze.
Naturally I did the same – looking ahead wide-eyed, limbs like a stick man – Haydn brought his finger up to his mouth and then pointed to a clearing through the trees further ahead. He looked very excited. He put the stand down on his bike and began creeping forwards. I couldn’t see the clearing from where I was, so I secured my bike and began to move forwards. A few paces forward and I could see the form of something huge and opalescent white between the tall tree trunks. I stood completely still – it was a massive white stag. The stag was also completely still – his proud head raised to sniff the air, his twisting antlers cutting high pale shaped into the dark forest behind.
Then I realised he was surrounded by a harem of soft brown does. They were all completely motionless. That moment felt like magic. We were all paused in our amazement of each other, a moment of held breath and wide eyes while the silent forest sat calmly holding us – just tiny evening flies and dust particles catching the evening light.