AN EASY WALK THROUGH RAILWAY HISTORY IN THE NEW FOREST

The New Forest is a beautiful part of the UK, vast landscapes of heather, ferns and forest, one which is very popular with walkers and cyclists. It used to have a railway line, now long since gone, which provides an easy route for a walk, one in which you can still see the old railway bridges and platforms at various places. Along the route is the historic station house of Holmsley, where you can dine in the waiting room where previous visitors have included Kaiser Wilhelm, Edward VII with his mistress Lillie Langtrey and General Eisenhower.

Two people walking through woods

The railways reached the New Forest in 1847, when a line was opened between Dorchester and Southampton. The current vast metropolis which is Bournemouth/Poole was only a small village then, and not deemed important enough to have its own station. The line went via Ringwood and Wimbourne, with the nearest station to Bournemouth being Holmsley (then known as Christchurch Road). Even when a branch line opened up in 1862, passengers still had to transfer to horse drawn carriage from Ringwood to Christchurch.


The railway line was known locally as 'Castleman's Corkscrew', after local solicitor Charles Castleman, who built the original line and saw it connected to the wider rail network, and the circuitous route it took through the New Forest to the coast. The line was a popular one for many years, but the increase in car ownership and the rise of Bournemouth as a destination meant that the line was only lightly used even before the Beeching Cuts of 1964 which saw the line close for good.


The Castleman Trailway is now a 15 mile walk along sections of the old railway, most of which is also a cycle route. If you are not looking for a long distance walk though, and just want an easy stroll through the New Forest on a gravelled path with a tea house at the end, there is an ideal section of under 2 miles from the village of Burley to Holmsley Station.


The village of Burley is a popular one for visitors to the Forest, with its association with witchcraft and fairies, which the locals milk as much as they can; Burley is filled with shops such as The Coven of Witches and the Witchcraft Gift Shop. Just outside the village is Burbush Car Park, where you can join the route of the old railway.


You leave Burbush car park by a small path at the back of the car park (w3w: trudges.crawled.dawn) and just follow the path.


The great thing about walking an old railway line is that there is no need to spend your time peering at a map - you just follow the path safe in the knowledge that you won't be missing any hard-to-spot turnings or obscure paths off it. It is gravelled for nearly the whole of this section, which is why it is great for cyclists, but it also means that it can be walked even in inclement weather.

The walk takes you through a mixture of tree-lined path and open heathland. There is a wide variety of wildlife depending on the time of year. I did the walk in Autumn and the scenery was awash with orange ferns, luscious red rosehips, vibrant tayberries and blackberries, and more mushrooms than I was able to identify. Horses and ponies could be heard charging around the hills, the overhead cawing of crows and the delicate watery sound of streams running alongside the path all mean that this is a lively landscape to stroll through.

A crumbling brick wall in front of a bank of orange ferns
The disintegrating remains of Greenberry Bridge which has completely lost its central arch

There is still evidence of the railway line if you keep your eyes peeled - old bridges, hidden crumbling bricks in the undergrowth, railway sleepers, rusting metal plates fixed to the ground, their original purpose long forgotten.

Railway history is all around you on the walk


The walk takes you past Holmsley Gatehouse, once home to the level crossing operator, which has now been converted into a holiday let and which looks like a lovely place to stay - completely isolated from other properties with large picture windows over the forest.


As you approach Holmsley Stationhouse, you can see the remains of one of the platforms, covered in a carpet of green moss, leaves and brambles, with trees growing out from where the tracks once stood.


There is something wonderful about nature reclaiming these places which were once filled with steel, steam, noise and people; imagining the hustle and bustle on that very platform of holiday makers, commercial travellers and the countless British and American pilots of World War II who were stationed at nearby RAF Holmsley for the duration.

A platform covered in trees and leaves
One of the old platforms

Just past the platform is a gate which leads onto a road and directly ahead of you is the Old Station House. This has changed little from its original appearance, and is now a busy and popular tea rooms which serve breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks.


You can sit inside in the old waiting room, still with its small fireplace and utilitarian décor, decorated with large black and white photographs of famous railway scenes.


The drinks are hot, the food is good, and it is a lovely place to rest for a while, soaking in the history and listening to the vintage music they play in the background.

Edward VII and his mistress, Lillie Langtry, were regular visitors to this station as it was the nearest one to Bournemouth, where they had their secret 'love nest' from 1877 to 1880. Their home is now a smart hotel in the town, the Langtry Manor Hotel. The land had been bought by the King, the house designed by Lillie, and it still has the magnificent dining hall she created, with a minstrels gallery inscribed with the words, "They say. What say they? Let them say.”


Other visitors included Kaiser Wilhelm who passed through the station in 1907 when he and his 'numerically formidable retinue’, visited Highcliffe Castle for 3 weeks to live the life of an English Gentleman as a rest cure, on the advice of his uncle, Edward VII. Apparently he was very popular with the locals, throwing a tea party for the children, who couldn't have known that less than 10 years later he would be responsible for the deaths of their fathers.


Another famous visitor to this humble station was General Eisenhower, who spent time at RAF Holmsley in the build up to D-Day and who was often seen at the station on his travels.


After a visit to the Station House, all that remains is to head back the way you came if you are doing a return journey to Burley, or to continue on if you are doing the longer walk on more of the Castleman Trail.


Walking from Burbush Car Park to The Old Station Tea Rooms, Holmsley


How to get to Burbush Car Park


Postcode: BH24 4EF

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Public Transport: Find bus times to Burley


Parking: If you are driving, Burbush Car Park is on Pound Lane just outside Burley. There is no charge for parking.


Are there any facilities on the walk?

There are no facilities other than at the Old Station Rooms in Holmsley


The walk is about two miles each way, with no stiles and one gate. It is flat on mostly wide gravelled path.


 

If you enjoyed this railway walk, why not try The Breamore Halt Walk which is just on the edge of the New Forest and which also follows an old railway line, complete with old platforms and station.