Suburban Safari: Leafy suburbs in Ashurst

Suburban Safari: Leafy suburbs in Ashurst

by Katie Isham.

Our Suburban Safaris have sprawled across the city of Southampton and beyond. They’ve visited parks, gardens, woodlands, beaches, cemeteries, streets, shops and many a café. 

The definition of a suburb is an area outside, yet near a city, and consisting mainly of homes. For this safari, we’re going a little outside the city but with a significant absence of homes. At this time of year anyway… 

Ashurst Campsite is just of the A35 Lyndhurst Road, a short distance from city life. Located on the edge of our glorious New Forest, it’s perfectly positioned for escaping into truly leafy suburbs for a short wander. And this is the best time of year to do so. 

During the spring and summer, this campsite is constantly crowded; canvas domes pop up in every clearing and ponies traipse through guy lines searching for tourist goodies to pilfer. That’s when this place is a real suburb central with homesteads staking their patch of common land for a week or two. Homes for a fleeting moment, but more loved and more adventurous than their brick counterparts. 

Yet now, as autumn slouches into the depths of winter, the site is deserted. The buildings are boarded up. Only the creatures of the forest call this home for now. Time for us to pop by for a visit. 

Enter the campsite via the layby gate and stroll up the main drive. Sturdy gravel paths swirl around the ground like intricate patterns on the inside of a fallen leaf. This is the ideal route for those unlucky enough to not own wellies. Even after days of sunshine, the ground density of much of the New Forest is boggy at best. Here is the most solid land you’ll find until spring. Crisscross the paths and wind your way between imaginary tents. 

At the far end of the campsite, industry barrels back into paradise. The sound raises the alert and then a train thunders past, but the ponies don’t flinch from their grazing. Follow the path towards the tracks and skirt around a newly formed pond where the grass is completely submerged. Watch as ponies and dogs frolic in the sunlit shallows. 

Once the path enters the woodland, a small bridge appears with the option of a larger overpass crossing the railway to extend the journey. Or swing round to the right to trundle round the woodland paths. 

Marvel at the mosaic of fallen leaves underfoot. Tread carefully to spot fragile fungi making their home in the woodland. Gaze towards the heavens as the canopy burns with cascading autumnal colours. Peer closer at fallen giants to inspect the ecosystem of insect suburbs at the heart of their unearthed roots. 

There may be no people living in the campsite, but it’s far from deserted. 

Grand trees at the campsite’s edge (both dead and alive) signal the boundary to the open forest where a whole land of possibility opens up ahead. The signature sight of speckled heathland spreading to the horizon is broken only by bursts of bracken and wind-warped trees that are strong enough to call this place home. 

A choice is here for the taking. Swing round and return to the worn paths of the campsite or take a leap over the soggy trench of adventure to explore the patchwork of puddles across the heathland. It’s easy to tell yourself you’ll just walk to the next copse, or the next brook and then find yourself halfway to Lymington. However, with the familiar heather and the glowing gold trees for company, there are worst ways to spend an autumnal afternoon. 

When the canvas homes set up camp again and you can’t open an OS map without meeting a Gore-Tex clad enthusiast, there’ll be joy in knowing these suburbs are ours to share only with the ponies, toadstools and soggy vegetation, even for a short time. 



Cost: Free walking and free spirits. 

Accessibility: The gravel paths around the campsite are the best ground in the forest during in winter. If you go off piste into the woods or heathland, walking boots or wellies will be excellent companions. Reach Ashurst campsite via the A35 Lyndhurst Road from Southampton including hopping off the number 6 Bluestar bus. Alternatively, Ashurst train station is half a mile away from the campsite. 

Facilities:  We’re off the grid here gang. There’s a place to park (crowds permitting), a bus stop and Ashurst train station close by. Once you’re there, the only facility available in these winter months is a bush to manoeuvre behind for a jungle wee where needed. The site is, however, close to pubs, including one next to the station, and a little further on, local shops.


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