I gazed transfixed at the white beauty nimbly picking it’s way through the bushes. Until this day I had no clue that wild ponies roamed the moors of the UK.
For the final bank holiday of the year, Gary and I decided to visit the New Forest, an area of England neither of us had ever been to before. And let me tell you, this little getaway surrounded by nature was just what the doctor prescribed for these two fully-fledged Londoners.
This is a place where outstanding natural beauty, an unspoilt coastline, a unique historic and cultural heritage, quaint towns and villages combine to form one of the best national parks in the UK.
We spent one night and two days in the New Forest. This was just enough to get a good overview but could easily have been extended by a couple of days.
So below is a list of things you might want to do when you head down to the New Forest for your weekend getaway.
ABOUT THE NEW FOREST
The Forest was ‘created’ by William the Conqueror in 1079, for hunting ‘beasts of the chase’ — including red, roe, and fallow deer as well as wild boar. But the New Forest’s rich history doesn’t stop there.
During the 18th century ships for Admiral Nelson’s navy were built at Buckler’s Hard, on Beaulieu River, using wood sourced from the New Forest.
This wood also played a vital role during WWII, when local timber was felled and burned to provide the charcoal absorbers for some 40 million gas masks.
During WWII there were 12 airfields in the New Forest and large houses on the Beaulieu River were used by the War Cabinet for clandestine operations, with the Balmer Lawn Hotel at Brockenhurst playing a central role. Lepe, on the coast, was a major departure point for troops, vehicles, and supplies heading for Normandy and the D-Day landings.
In 2005, the New Forest was classified as a National Park and Area of Outstanding Beauty in recognition of tge many qualities that the destination beholds.
Within the National Park boundary lie some of the most special landscapes in the UK. It’s a vast expanse of wild forest and savage moors. It’s a slice of tranquility at the heart of the busy south coast cities of Southampton, Winchester and Bournemouth.
HOW TO GET TO THE NEW FOREST
Due to the presence of the M27 motorway, it is actually pretty easy to travel to and get around the New Forest by car.
All of you Londoners without a car will however be relieved to hear that there a major railway line runs through the New Forest. This trailline has several stations across the area including one in Brockenhurst.
The trains depart every half an hour from London Waterloo Station making the heart of the New Forest National Park fairly accessible. The rail journey from London takes about an hour and a half.
For all these reasons the New Forest is the perfect destination for city-slickers looking to escape into nature.
WHERE TO STAY IN THE NEW FOREST
The New Forest offers a comprehensive choice of places to stay, from 5-star hotels, cosy bed and breakfasts, and self-catering holiday cottages. There’s something to suit all tastes, styles and budgets.
If you are more inclined to sail into the area and sleep on a boat, the 3 principal marinas in The New Forest are Buckler’s Hard on the picturesque Beaulieu River, as well as Berthon Marina and The Yacht Haven Marina in the bustling market town of Lymington.
Gary and I however were kindly invited to spend the night at Balmer Lawn, a five-star hotel near the town of Brockenhurst.
The location of the hotel proved to be the perfect base from where to explore the many different parts of this region.
We checked in to a lovely four-poster, superior room with a view across the cricket field. It was spacious and included everything you’d need for a comfortable overnight stay.
Breakfast at Balmer Lawn was superb, with so many options, that you wouldn’t get bored if you stayed here for several weeks.
WHERE TO EAT IN THE NEW FOREST
If local produce and delicious food is your kind of thing, then the New Forest is the place for you. Entire days can be spent discovering the New Forests eateries and its artisan honey, cheese, meat, cider, wine, bread, chocolate, and ice cream producers.
A good place to start is browsing Lymington’s Saturday market, which dates back to the 13th century. Here you can see and taste local produce, from wild boar sausages to fresh Lymington-caught fish. You will also find plenty of bread, cake, jam and cheese stalls. So allow for plenty of time!
There is no end to the top class eateries that can be found in the New Forest. We had one of our best dinners ever at Balmer Lawn’s restaurant Beresford’s. And I don’t say that lightly, since I have turned into a bit of a foodie over the last year.
Further a field you will find the famed Lime Wood Hotel with its Raw & Cured café and restaurant Hartnett, Holder & Co led by top chef Angela Hartnett, as well al locally-foraged food at The Pig and fine dining at the famous Chewton Glen.
Want Michelin-star-quality food for a fraction of the price? Then venture over to The Elderflower on Lymington’s cobbled Quay Street. Run by former head chef from Chewton Glen, Andrew Du Bourg, and his wife, you won’t be disappointed.
Hankering for some good fish and chips? Then you best head to the seaside town of Milford-on-Sea. It’s not only home to an impressive selection of restaurants, it also harbours one of the area’s best chippies (shhhhh – it’s a local’s secret!).
Finally, if you are after some brilliant pub-grub, you won’t have to wait for long. There are literally hundreds of top-class country pubs in the New Forest, from The Oak at Bank near Lyndhurst to the White Hart in Burley to The King’s Head at the top of the cobbles in Lymington. All of which serve local, seasonal produce with a huge amount of pride.
WHAT TO DO IN THE NEW FOREST
EXPLORE THE WINDING COUNTRY ROADS OF THE NEW FOREST AND IT’S HEATHLAND
One of the highlights of our excursion to the New Forest, was simply driving along the winding country roads. Had we had a little more time however we certainly would have gone on more than one walk through the forest.
You could spend weeks walking around the New Forest and not see the same tree twice. With miles and miles of amazing walks taking you through different scenery, there’s something to suit everyone.
You could for instance head-out on the 60-mile long Solent Way trek that runs from the seaside town of Milford-on-Sea to Hampshire’s Emsworth Harbour.
ENCOUNTER A WILD HORSE IN THE NEW FOREST
I always thought that the only place to encounter a wild horse was North America. Don’t ask me why. So I was delighted to find out that 3000 wild ponies call the New Forest their home and have been roaming this national forest for the past 2000 years.
The horses roam the vast expanse of land free, along with deer and cattle and are looked after by local landowners, or commoners as they’re called, under an ancient system put in place in 1079 by William the Conqueror.
The animals even have right of way in the forest, and though you’re not permitted (as with any wild animal) to touch them or feed them, just being amongst the animals in their natural habitat is a wonderful experience.
I was worried that we wouldn’t get to see them and was praying to come across at least one. Turns out I had no need to be worried. They are very easy to spot and pretty much all over the place.
There certainly is something very serene about watching them graze and gallop their way across the forest and heathland.
You can also visit riding stables to get a more hands-on equestrian experience.
YCLE AROUND LYNDHURST AND IT’S LOCAL SURROUNDINGS
When in the New Forest, Lyndhurst certainly is worth a visit. It’s one of the larger towns in the area and boasts a very attractive historic High Street with several half-timber buildings. What makes this sight even prettier are tge baskets filled with colorful flowers that adorn them.
Furthermore, Alice Hargraves (Liddell), the inspiration for the main protagonist of the famous “Alice in Wonderland” book, lived in Lyndhurst for a little while. Having recently attended Alice in Wonderland Day in Guildford we much appreciated this connection.
Note however that Lyndhurst is a victim of its own success, and its roads become busy at weekends and holidays. It is, therefore, best to explore it on foot or on a bike.
You can hire bicycles from the well-established bike hire shop in Lyndhurst‘s car park near the visitor information centre. For £10 you will be given a mountain bike and a map for the day. There’s no need to book ahead, so just turn up and grab your ride. Then set off to explore endless trails and tarmacked roads, stopping at deer viewing platforms, pubs, and local attractions such as the New Forest Wildlife Park.
SPEND A FUN DAY-OUT WITH THE FAMILY AT BEAULIEU
The little town of Beaulieu is home to the National Motor Museum, World of Top Gear, and the Montagu’s family grand house. Strangely enough all of these are located on the same property.
Tickets cost 30£ and it is very easy to spend a whole day here.in fact no matter your interest you will probably find something to enjoy on this estate.
The national motor museum is vast and very educational. In fact it’s unique collection is hard to beat. When it comes to cars, motorbikes, commercial vehicles, motoring eccentricities and memorabilia, the National Motor Museum has something to fascinate everyone. Motor fans will learn about the history of the automobile and can also pose in front of some jaw-dropping F1 racing cars. The museum also features supersonic cars that have broken land speed records and cars used in the world-renowned James Bond films.
Beside the National Motor Museum a separate exhibit houses quite a few exemplars of cars built by top-gear for their various shows. Which brought back many fond childhood memories for Gary.
Both the motor museum and the top-gear exhibition are located within the grounds of Beaulieu’s beautiful Palace House, on the banks of the peaceful Beaulieu River. Here you’ll come face to face with the ‘Victorian’ staff and find out what really went on behind the scenes of a great country house. Its unique collection of treasures, portraits, and mementos has been lovingly curated by generations of the family, including the present Lord and Lady Montagu. The gardens are both formal and informal and include a fragrant Herb Garden and Mill Pond walk.
Also within the grounds is the historic Beaulieu Abbey, founded in 1204 by Cistercian monks on land given to them by King John. Although a large part of the abbey was destroyed at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII, there are still a few buildings left to explore.
If you are here with kids, don’t miss the falconry show that is regularly held on the abbey’s grounds. Not only is it entertaining, it is also rather educational.
EAT ICE-CREAM IN BURLEY
Burley is a very small but quirky town, with free roaming cattle; traditional buildings and surrounded by colourful heathlands. It’s economy seems to be solely based on the sale of local ice-cream and cider.
Burley is also famous for its witches. This began during the 1950s, when witch Sybil Leek moved to the area and opened a shop called A Coven of Witches at the Cross, Burley, Ringwood, Hampshire. Although Sybil moved to America, where she died in 1982, her shop in Burley is still flourishing. Burley’s witchcraft heritage certainly seems to have helped it prosper. As well as A Coven of Witches, other shops including Witchcraft and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice have become well established selling occult paraphernalia and gifts with a magical theme.
Burley is located right at the transition point between thick forest and open heathland and is easy to reach by car or with the red line open-top bus.
Should the mood take you, the village offers a few souvenir shops and a few pubs. Bicycle hire can also be arranged, should you feel the need to exercise and explore by alternative means.
EXPLORE LYMINGTON’S MARINA
Although we didn’t manage it this time, we previously visited the beautiful town of Lymington in order to explore its marina, the wildlife conservation areas and the typical landscape of the salt planes.
This time we simply drove through town. But Lymington always seems to be lively with people enjoying the long weekend in one of the many local pubs and restaurants around the harbour.
From Lymington you can also catch a ferry boat across the Isle of Wight, which is a great place for even more wildlife discovering and other outdoor activities.
TAKE A STEP BACK IN TIME AT BREAMORE HOUSE
Breamore House Museum is set between Salisbury and Fordingbridge in the beautiful Avon Valley on the edge of the New Forest National Park. As you travel towards the property you will pass through the beautiful village of Breamore, where you will spot many geese on the green and picturesque thatched cottages.
Gary and I are big fans of National Trust properties, but Breamore House, which isn’t part of the NT, nonetheless has to be one of our favourite historic houses.
The Elizabethan house was built by the Dodington family, completed in 1583, and hardly changed in the following 400 years.
It is set in magnificent parkland and farmland. And as you usually find in historic houses the property was designed to sit perfectly in the landscape. The huge leaded light windows harmonise perfectly with the beautiful brickwork, flooding the interior with light whilst simultaneously making the most of the views across the Avon Valley.
It is indeed possible to visit inside the house, but by appointment only. We were lucky and just about made the last tour of the day.
I’ve got a couple of favourite rooms at Breamore House but the Dining Room with its beautiful fireplace, hangings, and 17th and 18th-century paintings is probably the room I like the most.
The Great Hall however really lives up to its name and is the largest room in the house. There are two Brussels tapestries in this room, which were designed by David Teniers and date back to 1630.
Whilst Breamore House features a lot of interesting antique furniture and art, the property is also used as a family home. This becomes blatantly clear in the West Drawing Room, which truly has the feel of a family room. I actually enjoyed gazing at the many paintings and photographs of the current family, just as much as those of their ancestors.
The most interesting set of paintings however can be found on the landing. The 14 fascinating paintings that can be found here are the earliest known ethnological paintings and depict the mixing of various Indian races. They were painted by the illegitimate son of Murillo who had a studio in Mexico and were actually seized on the high seas on their journey to Spain.
The Countryside Museum which is adjoined to Breamore house is also well worth a visit, especially for families and children of all ages.
Its set of modern buildings, somewhat inspired by barns, are well laid out and hold many interesting and memory invoking exhibits.
The exhibits of the countryside museum focus on the history of agriculture and how it developed through the ages. From hand tools to oxen and horsepower, through to steam, and finally to the revolution in the agricultural industry which the internal combustion engine brought about.
OUR ITINERARY FOR A TWO DAY WEEKEND IN THE NEW FOREST
Note that I tend to pack our itineraries full activities. However August was an incredibly busy month for us. So on this occasion we decided to take it easy and have a very relaxed experience instead.
Total cost of the trip 519£ or 259.5£ per person
9AM – Lazy Morning and Breakfast at Home
10AM – Left London by car and got stuck in traffic ( Petrol 22£)
1PM – Checked into our Double Ensuite at Balmer Lawn Hotel (160£ for one night)
2PM – Had an oven fired pizza and cocktail at The Huntsman of Brockenhurst (cost about 15£ per person)
3PM – Explored Brockenhurst and grabbed a cheeky Ice-cream at Melt (cost 2£ per ice-cream)
4PM – Went for a long walk in the moors and encountered a herd of wild ponies
7PM – Returned to the Hotel for a rest
8PM – Had a fabulous three course dinner at Balmer Lawn (about 60£ per person for starters, main, dessert and glass of wine)
9AM – Enjoyed the Breakfast buffet at Balmer Lawn and then checked out of the hotel
10AM – Arrived a Beaulieu (£24 per person)
2PM – Have Lunch at Beaulieu’s Cafeteria
3PM – Drove through the New Forest and visited a couple of towns
4PM – Arrived at Breamore House and went on a tour of the house (9.50£ per person)
5PM – Visited the Countryside Museum and Church
7PM – Dinner in Lyndhurst (Starter, main and dessert, £25 per person)
8PM – Return drive to London (Petrol cost about £22)
Did you know there were wild ponies in the UK?
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