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Forest archaeology from a thousand feet

Forest archaeology from a thousand feet


Community Archaeologist James Brown on his morning soaring through the skies above the New Forest, and the new perspective it gave him on the area’s past.

Find this interesting? Join James for a WWII history walk during our Walking Festival.

It’s not every day you get asked ‘would you like to go flying with me tomorrow?’

Quickly followed by ‘we could fly over the New Forest.’.

After a moment or two to weigh up the pros (lots) and cons (few), there was only really going to be one answer.

The result was me standing at Lee on Solent Airfield on Sunday morning looking to the sky and scratching my chin in an attempt to decipher the weather and what might happen in the next hour. The early morning had been lovely, but clouds were starting to roll in and the wind was picking up. Weather was forecast to deteriorate spectacularly at lunchtime so the plane was quickly prepped and after final checks we launched ourselves gracefully into the sky.

We climbed out of Lee on Solent and crossed the mouth of Southampton Water, passing Calshot Spit and its castle dwarfed by the power station behind it. We flew along the New Forest coast over Lepe (below) and the WWII remains where I had been stood earlier in the week talking with the staff about future monitoring and conservation plans.

After flying over the mouth of the Beaulieu River and Needs Ore we headed for Beaulieu WWII airfield and then on to Stoney Cross, passing over Brockenhurst and New Park to get a good view of people gathering for the New Forest Marathon (I knew where I would rather be at that point!).

I spend most of my working week and most weekends in the New Forest for work assessing and mapping the archaeology on the ground or walking and enjoying it. So the change in perspective was enlightening; and much more impressive than being sat at my desk looking at google maps!

Both Beaulieu and Stoney Cross (above), two of the many old WWII airfields in the New Forest, were revealed in their full scale and made sense when seen from the seat of a plane. What was really driven home was how close these two airfields were and how busy the skies above Lyndhurst must have been with Liberators, Lancasters, Mosquitos and Lightnings during the height of the war.

Our aerial tour of New Forest archaeology continued as we headed from Stoney Cross out over Ashley Walk and the WWII bombing range (below). The old bombing range is a 5,000 acre site sandwiched between the A31 and Roger Penny Way with a very interesting story to tell of bomb testing that left its mark on the landscape. To find out more why not join me on the Experimental New Forest Walk during this autumn’s Walking Festival?

The next stop was meant to be Hurst Castle and Keyhaven, but by this time the wind was beginning to buffet the plane and ominous grey clouds were rolling in from the Isle of Wight so we turned tail and raced back to Lee on Solent ahead of the clouds and rain with a strong tail wind.

After a very smooth landing we did our final checks and handed over the plane to the next group.

I returned elated in the belief that I didn’t embarrass myself and that I might be invited out again soon to get another aerial perspective of the New Forest.

You can find information on many of the sites mentioned above including contemporary photos, historic aerial images and maps on the New Forest Remembers Portal

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