Book review: Secret New Forest

Book review: Secret New Forest

by Charlie Hislop.

‘And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul’ is the inscription at the front of Martin Brisland’s new book ‘Secret New Forest’.

I go to the New Forest sometimes, cycle about, have a walk, stop for a beer, or show it to friends. It’s a nice day out in a lovely landscape, dotted around with ponies, an occasional donkey, little villages and the odd cottage. Then, as a pure-bred ‘grockle’, having lost my mind and found my soul for a while, I go home.

And now Martin has changed those days out for ever. Armed with Secret New Forest I shall be stopping every few minutes to check things out, sitting in pubs working out where to go next, and probably overwhelming friends with stories – geography, history and local interest stories; explaining ‘inclosures’; or finding the path to the 500 year-old oak.

There is no ‘Secret New Forest’ now. Martin’s book could have been titled ‘Everything you need to know…’ It is packed with information – but very readable – with stories and facts. Subtitles make it easy to find what you are looking for, or just to happen up a nugget. That’s what the book is full of – nuggets. If you have ever had a tour guide, you know that they bypass the crowds and the superficial stuff, and take you straight to the gems. As many people will know, Martin is a professional tour guide, and that is exactly his approach here – the chapters give us Ghost Stories, Characters, Artists and Writers, the New Forest and War, information about its management and its future – while avoiding being any sort of practical guidebook.

Who knew that The Crown Stirrup pub was named after the device used to measure whether a dog was allowed to go hunting in the eleventh century? Or that the old wood-carrier on the Led Zeppelin IV album cover was Harry ‘Brusher’ Mills, who lived in a charcoal burners cottage, swept the cricket pitch by Balmer Lawn, and caught snakes ?

Throughout the book there are photographs, and many pages have a ‘Did you know?’ panel containing little snippets which almost certainly result in a ‘No’.

This is a book that should be on sale in every bed and breakfast, hotel and pub in the Forest, because anyone coming for a holiday or a visit is missing out without it.

On Sunday April 24th between 12 and 2pm, Martin Brisland will be at the New Forest Heritage Centre, Main Car Park, Lyndhurst, SO43 7NY  signing copies of the book.

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