In the final episode of the series, Caroline journeys to the New Forest. The park, which is between the counties of Hampshire and Wiltshire, was first discovered by William the Conqueror over 900 years ago. It’s best known for its ancient woods, open heaths, beautiful coastline and abundance of wild animals.
Caroline first enjoys a hot air balloon over the park and, despite her initial nerves, enjoys the unique view. She comments, “Whenever I see balloons I always think, I wonder what they’re thinking those people, are they looking at what I’m doing in my garden and things like that? And the answer is, yes, that’s exactly what you’re doing.”
Some of the park’s most famous residents are the New Forest ponies, which are born in the wild and are often completely untamed, even though they all have owners. Caroline meets Rob Maton, whose job it is to look after the animals in the forest. He has been asked to help catch a four month year old foal and its mother, in order to tame it to be sold as a riding pony. Owner Lucinda gallops alongside the pony to tire it out before leading it towards a pen. Caroline and Rob wait at the pen, ready to stand their ground and holler at the wild ponies to prevent them escaping.
The new forest is also home to one of the UK’s best-known country fayres – The Romsey Agricultural Show. The show started over 170 years ago and today showcases the very best of British farming. With over 90 food stalls competing for best produce, Caroline is keen to sample as much as possible including artisan chocolate and country fudge. She later presents the winning Best Local Food Stall before attending the much-loved dog show.
Caroline then meets Jo Hedger who is not only a tree surgeon, but also travels the country competing in tree climbing tournaments. Caroline agrees to take on two time world champion Jo and is up for the challenge telling us, ““I was rubbish at climbing trees when I was a little girl and I have absolutely no reason to believe I’ll be any better at it now I’m a middle-aged woman, but I’m prepared to give it a go.” However, halfway up the tree Caroline starts to feel a bit shaky and peculiar and admits defeat.
In the heart of the park is the Pig Hotel and Restaurant which was once a Royal hunting lodge. Forager Gary Evely”s job is to gather the food that grows wild in the forest in order for it to be served in the restaurant just a few hours later. Despite their being over 3,000 varieties of mushroom growing in the forest, only 20 are of interest to Gary. Caroline admits, “there’s something almost meditative about being out here in the woods and looking for mushrooms, concentrating so hard on the ground and looking for shapes and colours, it’s incredibly relaxing.” After her hard work Caroline joins the head chef to cook the mushrooms she found, along with a restaurant speciality of venison, in a wood oven.
Caroline then meets Marcus Webster who has been paragliding on the New Forest coastline for more than eight years, taking to the skies with his dog William. Finally, Caroline heads to the New Forest pony auction where all of the ponies sold in traditional guineas rather than pounds. At the auction, Lucinda’s pony is up for sale however it remains to be seen whether he’ll make his reserve.
Caroline Quentin’s National Parks concludes tonight on ITV at 8pm
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