A holiday in the New Forest

By | Category: Travel destinations

Palace House Beaulieu part of the National Motor Museum

Covering 220 square miles the New Forest is somewhere that I have driven through but never really stopped long enough to appreciate its beauty and all it has to offer.

Seeing ponies grazing, I had always thought that they were wild. This isn’t so, the horses belong to people who live in the area. Known as “Commoners” pony owners have to own property, whether it is a house or land, which gives them the right to graze ponies, cattle, pigs and sheep in the forest. Laws governing this right date back to William the Conqueror when he established the area as a royal hunting preserve although it is likely that this type of grazing has been going on for thousands of years. The ponies are allowed to wander wild, and are collected on horseback in ‘drifts’ at the end of the season.

omnibus from the NMM collection

The forest is promoted as being dog friendly. Owners, however, need to be aware that in some parts dogs can pick up a life threatening disease so its essential to check there are no indications of this in the area where you are visiting. There are also ponies and farm animals, wildlife such as deer, and rare birds so it’s important that your dog is kept under control. Quad bikes, agro chemicals and wild camping are all banned in the forest.

Wildlife thrives, with every species of deer to be found in the UK here. A huge array of birdlife ranges from the extremely rare Dartford warbler to the goshawk. The water is so pure that fairy shrimps and migratory sea trout inhabit the rivers along with four species of snake.

I stayed at the dog-friendly Grade 2 listed Thatched Cottage in Brockenhurst that dates back to 1627. My bedroom had a low-beamed ceiling, and large open fire hearth that sadly, due to stringent health and safety laws, can no-longer be lit.

Archery is one of many activities that you can enjoy © Go New Forest

The National Motor Museum of Beaulieu is much more than just a place to see cars. The museum has over 250 vehicles from F1 cars to those from the time of pioneering motoring. An entry ticket also includes the Palace house, Lord Montagu’s family home, where costumed guides give visitors a flavour of what it was like to live in Victorian Times, the World of Top Gear, and the medieval Beaulieu Abbey.

On the estate through New Forest Activities it’s possible to do all sorts of activities from archery to bush craft in the woodlands, to canoeing and kayaking on the Beaulieu River. Within the forest there are 140 miles of off-road trails. The Cycle Experience in Brockenhurst has devised 16 routes geared to different abilities. People can rent bicycles including electric ones. Riders are warned that they must keep to the trails, as they are not allowed to stray across sensitive habitats.  Routes range from 8 to 35 miles with some taking in the coastline. Must book during the school holidays and Bank Holidays.

one of the 16 routes making up The Cycle Experience

At Minstead, there is a display of wooden stocks on the village green. A cross at the back of All Saints Churchyard marks the grave of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author and creator of Sherlock Holmes. A pipe rests on his grave perhaps left by an admirer!

You don’t have to go to a gourmet restaurant in the New Forest to eat delicious food as I discovered on a visit to Hockey’s at South Gorley. The family run farm has a myriad of things going on where visitors can come and explore, and easily spend the day. The farm has ponies, lamas, pigs, chickens, and an aviary as well as a butchery and shop selling local food. Space is also rented out to like-minded individuals including Fluffetts free-range eggs, Wildwood who make tables from responsibly sourced wood; and a builder of shepherd’s huts. The New Forest is known for its pannage. Domestic pigs who eat the forest acorns when they fall in the Autumn, ideal fodder for pigs, but harmful for the ponies. My lunch, in their dog-friendly café, consisted of scrambled eggs served with smoked salmon, was followed by cutlets of pannage pork, with crispy crackling.

Recommendations are often the best way to find somewhere to eat. This led me to the New Forest Inn, which has log fires in winter, and shared tables. Steak and ale pie was on the menu as well as bitter beer from the local brewery in Ringwood.

cheeses maturing at Lyburn Farm

The area is not known for its cheese making although back in the 1200s Cistercian monks at Beaulieu Abbey may have made their own. However, on the northern edge of the New Forest at Lyburn Farm they have started to make Old Winchester and Stoney Cross cheese from milk taken from their 170 cows, which can be bought in their shop. On tasting I found that the younger cheese, that of three months, was quite soft, while the more mature ones were harder. Lyburn also farms organic vegetables, and pumpkins but sadly not to individuals.

In the 1740s Buckler’s Hard on the Beaulieu River, part of the Beaulieu estate, became an important shipbuilding village. Many warships including Nelson’s were built there. Aware of the importance of conservation, the estate has managed to maintain the 18th century atmosphere, and the place is now an open village. A Maritime Museum outlines its history, and two cottages, and an inn with a mixture of original and replica objects have been used to recreate interiors, illustrating daily life in 1790s.

the musuem at Buckler’s Hard.  Image © Samantha Cook Photography

Beaulieu River flows into the Solent and now-a-days most of the traffic is from pleasure craft. Half hour cruises depart from the pier between Easter and October. Wightlink also runs a ferry service from Lymington across the Solent to the Isle of Wight.

Worth investigating is the GoNewForest card that for £10.00 gives loads of discounts.

For anyone who loves nature, the New Forest is a treasure to be enjoyed.

Natasha travelled to Brockenhurst courtesy of South Western Railway.

For more of Natasha’s trip to the New Forest go to barkbitetravel.wordpress.com/2018/05/22/dog-friendly-b-b-in-the-heart-of-the-new-forest/




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