Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Buckler's Hard

With a couple of days to recover from my last rotation of shift work for some time, yesterday was spent lazily resting & watching DVDs. Today wasn't a lot more productive, but I did pop out this afternoon down the road in the wind & rain to Buckler's Hard. It's just down the river from Beaulieu (where I visited various museums last week). The Beaulieu River is one of the few privately owned ones in the world, something dating back centuries to when the King gave the area to the monks of Beaulieu Abbey. Buckler's Hard gains its fame from its time as a shipbuilding centre from the mid-eighteenth century until iron ships took over from wooden ones - being close to the sea, a large supply of oak & elm in the New Forest and the enemy, France.  The strange name comes from there being a natural hard side to the river even at low tide - the Buckler's part is a family name.  I also found that the Inclosures dotted around the New Forest (there are two close to my home - Dibden & Fawley) were planted to provided lumber for building a navy that ruled the world.

There's a great little museum that does an excellent job detailing the village's history, shipbuilding & touches on the great naval battles of the Napoleonic wars. Nelson's favourite ship, Agamemnon, was built here; as was 'Nelson's Watchdog' Euryalus - which reported the position of the French fleet at Trafalgar to Nelson, as well as relaying his famous signal "England expects...". After Collingwood lost the masts of his ship in the battle, he assumed control of the fleet from Euryalus & sent news of the victory & Nelson's death from her. Another ship of note in naval fiction, Indefatigable, was also laid down here.

Timing my exit from the museum with the end of a tremendous downpour, I wandered out in to the small hamlet. The main thoroughfare was closed to traffic decades ago & it really did feel like I was strolling through a village in an Austen or Gaskell novel (there was no one else around this late in the afternoon).

I proceeded down to the river & looked over the outlines of the historic slipways, imagined the hulks of ships of the line being released in to the river to be towed to Portsmouth for fitting & told myself I must come back in the summer on my bike & picnic in the quaint setting - or just go to the Master Builder's House Hotel for a pint.

As the evening closed in (and I had my first Ordnance Survey map in hand), I went for a little tikitour west down skinny country lanes. I got a little bit of a surprise as I went over a rise & almost drove into the Solent - the lane just ended & the Isle of Wight & Yarmouth sat opposite me.

It may be flat around here, but the area is going to be a delight to explore on a bike during long summer evenings.

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