It’s nearly 1,000 years since William the Conqueror established the ‘Nova Foresta’ as his personal hunting ground. Since then it’s evolved into one of the UK’s most popular National Parks, teeming with rare plants and wildlife and, of course, those famous New Forest ponies. Whether you’re arriving from Portsmouth or Poole the New Forest is always less than an hour’s drive away. But getting there’s the easy bit – deciding what to do is so hard, because there are so many amazing places to see. So, to help you get the most from your visit we’ve picked out the top five things to do in the New Forest.
1 See the ponies
Well, what else were we going to say! There are understood to be around 5,000 ponies living on the forest. They roam freely – which is why it’s so important for drivers to keep to the 40mph speed limit – but they all belong to New Forest residents, known as Commoners. Ponies are cared for by Agisters, the ancient body that oversees the welfare of all the Forest’s roaming livestock, which also includes donkeys, cattle and – during the Pannage season in the early autumn – pigs. The ponies may be spotted anywhere but seem particularly fond of Burley village and north of Beaulieu Road station, whereas donkeys seem to congregate in Beaulieu village and Brockenhurst. Feeding livestock is prohibited by law and they should never be touched – ponies and donkeys may kick or bite – but they are generally happy to pose for photographs.
2 Visit the National Motor Museum
In the grounds of one of the New Forest’s most ancient dwellings are some of the world’s most beautiful and amazing cars. From speed ace Sir Malcolm Campbell’s world-beating Bluebird, to Harry Potter’s flying Ford Anglia and the last Cadillac Elvis Presley ever drove, they’re all here, along with special exhibitions, activities for children and the chance to snoop around the private rooms of the Montagu family at Palace House. Vist www.beaulieu.co.uk for more information.
3 Eat and drink
The New Forest is one of the UK’s top foodie destinations; it has its own food quality Marque and unique produce such as Pannage pork, produced from acorn-munching, free-roaming pigs. Whether it’s the Michelin-starred Montagu Arms Hotel at Beaulieu, food foraged from the forest itself; blackberries or cob nuts, perhaps, or a visit to the New Forest Food and Drink Festival (taking place from October 31-November 6 2016) the Forest has everything to gladden a gourmet’s heart. Check out the New Forest’s website for four fabulous food trails showcasing the very best of New Forest food.
4 Get on your bike
The New Forest has more than 140 miles of off-road tracks and low speed-limit roads, where you can enjoy easy cycling and see thousands of free-roaming ponies. Forgotten your bike? Don’t worry, Forest Leisure Cycling at Burley hires a large range of bikes and accessories and Brockenhurst’s Cyclexperience hire a huge range, from mountain bikes, to hybrids, and also rent inclusive bikes suitable for people with physical disabilities.
5 Enjoy the views
There are many beautiful views to be found in the New Forest, from the viewing platform of the Bolderwood Deer sanctuary, to Bolton’s Bench, just outside Lyndhurst, where you can look down on the Forest’s ‘capital’ town. But the most compelling view of all is that of the Isle of Wight – less than one mile away – and the New Forest’s wild coast, from the top of the keep at Hurst Castle. Walk the 1.5 miles from Milford-on-Sea along the shingle spit to visit this fort which was built by Henry VIII and used to imprison King Charles I before his execution. When you’ve taken in the view you can explore the Trinity House lighthouse exhibition and the Association of Lighthouse Keepers’ display room.