Embraced by a sprawling coastline and made up of well- preserved ancient woodland, heathland and meandering river valleys, the New Forest boasts some of England’s most tranquil spots. Even in peak season it remains quieter than other popular UK holiday destinations, and its peaceful hamlets and market towns offer a variety of great places to stay.
The six essential experiences
Take a picnic to Buckler’s Hard
Skirting the banks of the Beaulieu River, this peaceful little haven seems to be frozen in time. The 18th- century shipbuilding hamlet once provided Nelson’s navy with its ships, and old brick labourers’ and shipwrights’ cottages still line the streets running down to the river. You’ll find a maritime museum showcasing the village’s proud history, but most ramblers stop by the scenic spot for its sparkling river views, which is picture-perfect for a picnic.
Peddle through the forest
Hop on your bicycle and get peddling. Originally a royal hunting ground for William the Conqueror, the tracts of pastureland, heathland and forest were officially recognised as a national park in 2005. You’ll find 140 miles of tracks and footpaths zigzagging through ancient woodland, open moorland and a string of chocolate-box villages, which house plenty of traditional country pubs. Hit the brakes when you reach Bolderwood, the deer sanctuary at the heart of the park, which also doubles as a beautiful picnic area.
Lace up your walking shoes for a coastal hike
Besides its lush forest that covers thousands of acres, you’ll find 40 miles of coastline framing the New Forest region. Coastal ambles will take you past a colourful mix of shingle beaches, lagoons, saltmarshes, mudflats and plenty of wildlife. The region’s stretches of sand tend to remain under the radar of keen sunbathers, so you can soak up plenty of vitamin D in peace. Avon Beach is perfect for a bucket-and-spade day out, with views across the Solent and Isle of Wight included.
Spend a day by the sea at Calshot Beach
This long shingle spit is another tranquil stretch with colourful beach huts lining the sand. Unfold your towel and watch boats and impressive cruise liners glide in and out of the Port of Southampton, while marvelling at the Solent and the Isle of Wight in the distance. At the end of the spit, you’ll find King Henry VIII’s Calshot Castle, and the deep-blue waves are a popular playground for kite- and windsurfers, and sailors.
Explore the woods on horseback
With 3,000 New Forest ponies roaming the region’s diverse landscape, it’s fair to say the national park offers the perfect backdrop for a relaxing hack. Gallop along the bridleways that wind through the ancient woodland, dash across the rolling heathland, toe the coastal line and keep an eye out for the deer, ponies, donkeys and pigs trotting around. There are many stables in the area catering to every experience level, and those not keen on horseback can opt for a carriage ride.
Get lost in Exbury Gardens
Created by avid plant collector Lionel de Rothschild a century ago, this spectacular collection of woodland, formal, herbaceous and wildflower gardens is a wonderful place to get lost in. Anthophiles will recognise rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias carpeting the green space, while little ones might be tickled by the koi and golden orfe fish occupying the Top Pond – they’re always looking to be fed. Make sure to catch a ride on the steam train cruising through the gardens.
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