“My eyes alighted on a sign that shouted ‘Ponies don’t dent, THEY DIE’.”
The New Forest, England.
Horsepower rules the roads through this picturesque national park on the south coast.
Around 4,000 in horsepower charge freely around the almost 57 hectares of flatland, less than half of which is true forest while the rest is made up mainly of marsh and pasture, dotted with ancient villages. Of course, I’m not talking about powerful sports cars but the real ponies that graze this land.
A regal BMW 328i seemed fitting for a journey through a park, declared an exclusive royal hunting ground back in 1079 by King William.
There are many road points of entry but I roared in rather rudely via the M27 motorway, which gallops into the area before stopping abruptly at Cadnam. The parks beauty was evident for the last five kilometres on both sides of the fast track. I pulled on the reins of the 241 horses under the hood. The four-cylinder twin turbo obediently pulled back ever so smoothly.
It was early morning and mist shrouded the marshes that suddenly disappeared from sight a couple of kilometres beyond one of the many sleepy villages I passed through. I powered down the front windows and the whine of their motor was the last sound I heard for the next 20 minutes, save the occasional rumble from a cattle grid beneath. The eight-speed sport auto transmission would not be challenged on this terrain and the shift paddles would remain redundant.
Gradually, the fog lifted from the narrow lane to reveal marshland as far as the eye could see. In the distance, I spied some of the famed ponies cantering, splashing as they bounded through streams. But the treat was at the roadside ahead. A group of magnificent specimens with shiny coats and tails that occasionally swatted at imaginary flies. They looked at the metal steed that carried me for a few seconds before returning to their breakfast.
Soon I was on an A-class road that allowed the BMW to break into a trot though not for long, as my eyes alighted on a sign that shouted, ‘Ponies don’t dent, THEY DIE’. A short distance away I rolled to a stop at a junction where a diamond road marking reminded me that ponies have the right of way – always. And that was driven home as a line of ten cars followed slowly behind half a dozen horses strolling into a village centre.
A stop at the New Forest Centre in Lyndhurst spurred me on to explore the heath land, coloured by late blooming flowers that would soon yield to an autumnal chill. Wildlife abounds wherever you look but interestingly Beaulieu village (pronounced Bewley) is the home to the fabulous National Motor Museum. After a visit, I pressed on only to be distracted by a car showroom. Not a modern dealership but one that sold only classic and collector cars!
I pulled into a picnic area by a small lake. As I chomped on an ox tongue sandwich I remembered a lunch I had with former Bad Company/Free front man Paul Rodgers, now a White Rock resident. He told me he has a recording studio in the New Forest – perhaps, he would sing me a soulful rendition of the blues song ‘Rambling Pony’. I giggled then gasped as I turned to find myself staring eye to eye with a donkey.
It backed off as I opened the door to brush the crumbs and specks of meat from the oyster coloured leather seats. It walked around the Bimmer, kicking the tires you might say, seemingly looking over its sleek lines.
I followed closely like an eager salesman, telling him about the car’s finer standard features, its fuel economy (8.7/5.4 L/100kms city/highway), its ability to hit 100 klicks in 7.5 seconds. Maybe that last fact was a bit insensitive, given the nature of the beast before me.
He remained silent throughout. What is a donkey doing among all of these horses, I thought aloud. – He turned, gave me a withering look before shambling away and replied: “Technically, they are ponies – short horses – and having a short ass like me around makes them feel superior.”