I took a ride out to the British countryside today. Some friends and I went to New Forest. It's a national park in southern England - about 2 hours drive from central London.
One of the interesting facets of the "forest" is the roaming animals. My friends had told me there were "wild horses" roaming the forests and that they've been there since the time of William the Conqueror (from 1060 AD). As it turns out, the horses aren't actually "wild" - and they're actually ponies. They are owned by the "commoners" who live in the area and were granted certain rights to the forest by the Crown back in the time of William the Conqueror. One of those rights was to allow their animals to graze the forest. You can read more about the history of the forest here.
While the horses aren't really wild and they are actually ponies, they do roam free throughout most of the forest. It was kind of crazy driving down a road to a hiking trail to suddenly come across 4 ponies in the middle of the road walking directly towards the car. They did scatter out of the way fairly quickly, but it was a frequent occurrence to come across some ponies in the road. Here's a photo I snapped from the car (sorry it's a little washed out):
While it is called a forest, it's not necessarily what you might picture when thinking of the word forest. In this case, the term forest has a legal meaning, again dating back to the time of William the Conquerer. It was an area of land set aside for his official deer hunting grounds. So, the trees aren't "old growth" forest trees dating back to the 1000 AD. It's a managed area of land that has multiple uses, including timber harvesting. In fact, in much of the area, there aren't any trees at all. It's a very boggy area, and the soil is very poor for nutrients (the ground has a lot of clay), so not much grows in the area other than some types of brush and trees (which is apparently one of the reasons it never got developed like much of England).
What I found interesting was where there were trees, the surrounding ground was covered with only ferns. It made for a very pleasant area to walk. Here are a few pictures I snapped along the hike.
This last picture is just something I accidentally snapped while putting my phone away. I kind of liked how it turned out looking like the picture was melting...