After what seems like weeks of gloomy cloud, the sky was clear overnight and there was a frost, but the morning was bright. Sunlight lifts the spirits and made a perfect opportunity to walk into the New Forest National Park, just a few steps from my front door.
A brisk walk in the cold, lovely day, would also ease the feeling of guilt about how little exercise I ended up doing last year (for all kinds of good reasons) and start my determination to do more this year.
I was soon dropping into the old gravel workings of Tom's Down. The area where they took the gravel is maybe 4 or 5 metres lower than the village and the main path from the corner of the Blackfield/Langley recreation ground, slopes down gently, taking you into broad rides between very dense gorse bushes, which are showing lots of yellow flower, even in January. It's easy walking. The ground is hard and flat, except where rabbits dig out the sand and gravel starting, but rarely finishing, new burrows. It must be hard digging. The gravel is obvious at the surface and there are only a few pockets of sand where it might be possible to dig. There are some burrows underneath the gorse bushes, but it must be hard going. The same rabbits (along with cattle and some horses) keep the grass nibbled very close to the ground, like a lawn. The edges of the lower land are marked with scrub and small woodlands. After a few hundred metres, I head rightwards and climb a little, to come down past Mopley Pond, which is like a mirror on this very still morning. Then I climb a few more metres, up a steep bank, to walk around Badminston Common, a huge open field, with tracks and woodland all around. There's a large herd of cows on the common today, of many different colours and markings. They are spread across the field, perfectly content and movng gently, grazing, despite all the gates to the field being wide open. I've often seen them in the woodlands and heaths around the area, but today it looks as if the best grass is in the field.
I speed up a little on the gravel track at the back of the common, bringing me round to the pond again, and then a quick walk back along the edge of Tom's Down to where I started. A delightful walk of 4km (or 2.5 miles) in about 45 minutes. I saw fewer than half a dozen people: a couple of chaps fishing at the pond, a horse-rider and some dog-walkers.
There was some wildlife, though much less than I sometimes see. A large flock of lapwings flew over slowly as did some starlings and there were were all the usual birds of winter heath and pasture: pied wagtails, pippits, tits and wood pigeons. I saw some winter thrushes in the distance, but without binoculars I couldn't identify them. The blackbirds were busy everywhere, and unwilling to move very far when I passed.