The New Forest National Park is a fantastic place to go if you are looking to escape the city and spend a weekend away surrounded by nature. Situated in the South of England, between Southampton and Bournemouth, The New Forest provides plenty of activities to do and places to explore. It is ideal for family camping holidays offering numerous cycling and hiking opportunities, water sports, horse riding and even golf.
The New Forest became a National Park in 2005 and it has been designated an EU special area of conservation because of its unique wildlife. Here you will find ponies, cattle and pigs roaming around free on the streets of the villages, deer, otters, minks, and a large population of birds.
Cycling in the New Forest
The best way to explore the New Forest National Park and enjoy its natural wild beauty is by bike. The National Park Forestry Commission has created a cycling map that you can download here, where you can find over 100 miles of off-road family friendly trails.
To cycle in the New Forest you will need a mountain bike with good suspensions because most of the trails are off-road, through the forest or the open heathland. Accidents can happen all the time so be safe and wear a helmet. Make sure you have with you a first aid kit both for you and for your bike. If you want to know more details, Halfords has created a great guide on how to prepare your bike for a cycling holiday.
While cycling in villages pay attention to the cattle grids on the road and ride slow. The wild ponies might be cute but don’t try to stop and pet them as they can be unpredictable. Under no circumstance feed the ponies, human food can make them very sick, or even kill them.
Camping in the New Forest
The New Forest National Park is a wonderful place to spend the weekend at, with plenty of cycle friendly campsites. All of the campsites are situated in beautiful locations, accessible from the cycling paths, surrounded by oak trees and near rivers, with prices starting from £10 per tent per night. You can pitch your tent in any of these campsites, enjoy a quiet night away from the city noises, and wake up in the morning listening to the birds singing. Most of the campsites are often visited by the local inhabitants, the free-roaming ponies and deer. You can even travel with a hammock and enjoy a relaxing afternoon in the forest, to relax after your day of cycling.
Brockenhurst, the biggest village in the National Park is located in the heart of the New Forest and it is the perfect place to start your cycling trip from because of the main station to which most of the trains coming from London stop at. The village itself is very charming, with a main street full of cute shops, cafes and restaurants.
Just outside of the village you can find the famous Pig restaurant, which organises each year the Smoked and Uncut festival, a food fest which is not to be missed. The Pig is also a perfect choice for lunch or dinner, offering a delightful culinary experience. Make sure to book in advance as very rare you can find a table on the day.
Being the gateway to the New Forest, there are plenty of cycling routes starting from here. You can choose to do circular rides, like the Brockenhurst to Lyndhurst (10.9 miles) or linear rides, like the Old Railway (9 miles, from Brockenhurst to Burley).
Burley is a small village in the south east of the New Forest, surrounded by the open heathland, where ponies and cattle are allowed to roam freely on the streets. A typical New Forest village, in Burley you will find beautiful houses but also traditional thatched cottages that remained unchanged with the passing of the years. The village centre has a few local shops and tea rooms where you can stop and have a cuppa before getting back on your bike.
But what makes Burley special is Sybil Leek, the white witch who lived here in the 1950s, before moving to America. She used to walk around the village wearing a long black cloak, having her pet jackdaw sitting on her shoulder. Back then the locals where very upset by her presence and by the increased number of tourists coming to see her. Today though, most of the shops in Burley are dedicated to witchcraft, selling a large selection of unusual gifts, antiques and crystals.
There are many cycle routes around Burley, most of them relatively flat and family friendly. The best cycling route that takes you around the village and its points of interest is the Burley Hill Fort Loop (9.3 miles).
If you like the seaside, you might consider cycling South from Brockenhurst, all the way down to Lymington, a beautiful picturesque harbour village, with cobbled streets and three marinas. Lymington is famous the numerous regattas that take place here every summer. Also, the village is one of the shortest getaways to the Isle of Wight, ferries running each hour from here to Yarmouth.
Following the road towards Stoney Cross (avoid taking the direct Forest Road because it intersects with the A31 and you can’t cross on the other side) you will arrive to what I call the pony area. You might have seen a lot of ponies cycling in the New Forest but none as tall as your knees. I have only seen these adorable ponies in this wild area where not many people stop by because there’s nothing much to do here. But if you love wildlife, this is the place to go and spend the night, at Ocknell or Longbeech campsites. I remember cycling here one day and an entire herd of deer crossed the road in front of me. There must have been about 20 animals, all jumping in their own rhythms. A suggested route for cycling in the area, not long but a bit challenging because of the hill is the New Forest Cycling Ride 6 (4 miles).
Besides the beautiful nature, The New Forest National Park is the home of other attractions that you can visit, accessible from the cycle paths. Here is a list with my favourites:
Bolderwoord Deer Sanctuary
Every day, between midday and 3PM, the forest rangers are feeding the fallow deer. The Sanctuary is the home of a few white deer as well, an uncommon colour for them. There is no guarantee that you will spot the deer but if you do, they are used to humans and they don’t run away. You can watch the deer from a viewing platform overlooking a large meadow which offers great photography opportunities.
Probably one of the most famous attractions of the New Forest is the Beaulieu Motor Museum, opened in 1952 by the late Lord Montagu as a tribute to his father. The Museum is the home of around 250 vehicles manufactured since the late 19th century, including some of the oldest cars every made. With a monorail passing through its interior, Beaulieu can offer a great fun visit for the entire family.
In the South of the New Forest, at the western end of the Solent, lies the beautiful Hurst Castle which offers impressive views towards the Isle of Wight. Even if it didn’t really see much action during the wars, the castle has been always modernised and kept up to date with the artillery of the time. Today you can still see two of the 38-ton guns installed in the 1870s.
Disclaimer: This post has been written in collaboration with Halfords. As always, all comments and opinions in this article are my own.