Neil Ansell knows almost every inch of the New Forest, a favourite childhood haunt. He returns to share his favourite spots
If you were to blindfold me and drop me unexpectedly almost anywhere in the New Forest, I think I would know, the moment I unmasked myself, where I had arrived. It is such a distinctive landscape, with its unmistakable blend of wide-open pasture woodland filled with ancient trees and dead wood, swathes of gently rolling lowland heath studded with grazing ponies, winding streams of red-tinged water, and boggy hollows in valley bottoms.
It is a landscape in which I instinctively feel an immediate sense of belonging. I grew up not far away, and visited regularly throughout my childhood, so the place is filled with early memories of wandering in the unfenced forest and seeing birds and animals I had no hope of spotting at home. As soon as I was old enough, I would come to camp and explore alone.