Motorists looking at their maps in the traffic queues around Lyndhurst might well wonder why on earth the railway took so much trouble to avoid the capital of the New Forest. Between Ashurst and Brockenhurst the line loops through remote countryside, when a significantly shorter route could have given Lyndhurst a station and generated some worthwhile revenue.
Deviation and hesitation
The railway reached Southampton in 1839 and five years later the Wimborne solicitor Charles Castleman proposed extending the line to Dorchester. Naturally enough, his railway would pass through Wimborne; but, even allowing for that, he could hardly have chosen a more roundabout route. Several of the stations were somewhat optimistically named, with Lyndhurst Road (now Ashurst), Beaulieu Road and Christchurch Road (later Holmsley) each being several miles from the places they pretended to serve. The reasons for this meandering route are unclear but soon after the line opened in 1847 it was nicknamed ‘Castleman’s Corkscrew’.
For many years, Holmsley was little more than a rural backwater. But the outbreak of World War II generated enormous demand for air power and in 1942 construction work started on a major RAF airfield at Holmsley South, little more than 1 mile (1.6km) from the railway. Holmsley Station was ideally placed to serve the new airbase, which generated vast amounts of passenger and freight traffic.
It was the silver lining in Holmsley’s cloud; but, after the war, the notorious Beeching Report in 1963 proposed closing roughly a third of Britain’s railways. The following year the line from Brockenhurst to Ringwood was axed. Holmsley Station had seen its last passenger.
More recently, much of the old line has been opened up to walkers and cyclists and this route follows the delightful section just west of Holmsley. You’ll get great views of the heathland south of Burley from your vantage point on the old embankment, which offers a fast, level and well-drained route through this boggy valley.
Turn left out of the car park and follow the lane up the hill. Cross the cattle grid and, 30yds (27m) further on, turn left through the gate into the woods. Walk down the hill on the gravel track and bear left at the junction to a gate.
Keep ahead through the gate, follow the low causeway through the boggy woodland and climb up onto the embankment beside an old railway bridge.
You can take a short diversion here by turning right to the Station House tea rooms. Otherwise, to stay on the route, turn left and follow the wide, tree-lined embankment to the former level crossing.
Cross the lane beside the striking modern house and continue through the cutting to the broken remains of Greenberry Bridge. Turn left between the abutments, fork left and follow the rough track up the hillside to a second fork.
Keep left and walk towards the red-brick cottage, as far as a crossways with a gravel track. Turn left and follow the track out past a wooden barrier to the lane you walked up earlier. Turn left again and walk the short distance back to the car park.
Heathland and muddy woodland tracks, old railway path
Mixed woodland and lowland heath
Can generally run free
AA Walker's Map 3 New Forest
Holmsley car park
None on route
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Hampshire’s varied landscape of hills and heaths, downlands and forests, valleys and coast is without rival in southern England. Combine these varied landscapes and terrains with secluded and idyllic villages, complete with thatched and timber-framed cottages and Norman churches, elegant Georgian market towns, historic ports and cities, restored canals and ancient abbeys, forts and castles, and you have a county that is paradise for lovers of the great outdoors.
If you’re a walker, stride out across the high, rolling, chalk downland of the north Hampshire ‘highlands’ with far-reaching views, walk through steep, beech-clad ‘hangers’ close to the Sussex border. Or perhaps take a gentler stroll and meander along peaceful paths through unspoilt river valleys, etched by the sparkling trout streams of the Test, Itchen, Avon and Meon. Alternatively, wander across lonely salt marshes and beside fascinating coastal inlets or, perhaps, explore the beautiful medieval forest and heathland of the New Forest, the jewel in Hampshire’s crown.