The New Forest | Out & about five days to explore

New Forest scenery
New Forest scenery
New Forest Ponies
New Forest Ponies

Why visit the New Forest?

The New Forest is a mecca for the outdoor enthusiasts offering safe off road cyclingwalking and an abundance of wildlife with, of course, some of the country’s most  beautiful scenery.  Although there are plenty of trees it is not a forest in the modern sense of the word.  In ancient times a forest was a royal hunting ground.  The New Forest was William the Conquerors Hunting ground from around 1079.  Before this, the area had seen human habitation from at least the Bronze Age, although the poor quality of the soil meant it was mainly used for grazing animals such as ponies which can still be seen on the land to this day.  Close to the New Forest are some of the country’s best beaches and the Isle of Wight can be reached via the ferry from Lymington. 

Where is the New Forest?

The New Forest National Park location is situated on the south-central coast of England close to Southampton and lies within the county of Hampshire.  It can be easily reached from London by car and has good public transport links into and out of the capital.  Manchester is about five hours away via the motorway network and Leeds is about the same.

Lynne on the cycle path
Lynne on the cycle path
Chris on the path to Burley
Chris on the path to Burley

About our trip

We took our Camper Van on this trip as we wanted a more relaxing break away from the hustle and bustle and to just explore on our own schedule.  We took our bikes, our walking boots and our beach towels so were prepared for all activities.  The weather forecast was good so we were also hoping to get some time on the beach and a visit to the Isle Of Wight was also hopefully on the cards.  For the most part we were intending to use our bike, legs and public transport to get around.  Finding a campsite which covered our needs and was close to the public transport hubs was not easy but we found a great site that ticked all our boxes, more details about this can be found below.

Where did we stay?

There are plenty of campsites dotted around the New Forest area,  however if you are looking for one with facilities including toilets, showers and electric hook up and close to the rail network, it can be a little more difficult.  We are members of the Camping and Caravan Club who are affiliated to Camping in the forest so we wanted to use one of these sites if possible.  Unfortunately our campsite tick list only left us with one choice of campsite and this wasn’t very close to the rail hub town of Brokenhurst.  Having said that, the cycle network ran from right outside the campsite right to the train station, so we decided to go for it and booked Holmsley, Camping in the forest campsite for a week Saturday to Saturday in June The campsite is close to the town of Burley and it’s situated on an old world war two airfield and is pretty big.  It boasts eight hundred pitches on open fields and under the trees, despite the iffy reviews online, we managed to find a quiet spot in the trees and found it to be exactly what we wanted. 

Setting up camp new forest
Setting up camp new forest
Chris on the bike
Chris on the bike

What is there to do in the New Forest?

Walking

Our first full day we decided to walk into Burley and check out what the town had to offer.  Most of the walks in the New Forest are on well made up paths and tracks but I would still recommend a good pair of walking boots as some of the paths are very stoney and rough.  It can also be quite boggy if theres been rain. 

It was quite the opposite for our walk as the weather was hot and sunny it was more of a hat and sun cream kind of day which was fantastic.  Burley is a small village but has a good selection of shops, pubs and cafes.  It is also one of the New forest Cycling Hubs with a cycle shop where you can hire bikes, get advice on routes and buy any gear you may have forgotten.

We also did a few evening walks from the campsite into the surrounding country side which is literally a network of criss crossing paths and a great way to while away a few hours watching the ponies, listening to the bird song and trying to spot the very shy wildlife.  Take your camera and a good pair of binoculars you may get lucky and see rare birds and even some deer.

Cycling

We used our bike as a form of transport and also for pleasure. The cycling in, and around, the New forest is mainly flat there are very few hills and the paths are mainly off road or on country lanes.  Cycle Route One which goes to the train station in Brockenhurst went right past the campsite and took us mainly on forest tracks and the disused railway line.  There is a small section on the A34 road but its quickly negotiated and before long you’re back on the dedicated cycle route.  We used this route most days and found it took about an hour each way.

There is a very extensive network of cycling paths all over the new forest enough to keep the keenest of cyclists happy for a week or two.

Bikes on the disused railway
Bikes on the disused railway
Tree lined cycle path
Tree lined cycle path

Public Transport

We used the train to get to the coast and there are different coloured tour buses that do a round of all the main tourist centres within the national park.  We didn’t find the tour buses practical for our needs but if you wanted to use them there is a bus stop  for the Blue tour bus quite close to the campsite.

The nearest train station to our campsite was at Brockenhurst.  Trains from here go to all the main coastal resorts of the area and to the ferry port at Lymington.  We caught the train to Poole which we had heard was a picturesque fishing port.  We found it quite disappointing so decided to walk from Poole along the coastal path to Bournemouth and catch the train back from there.  The walk is well sign posted and mainly follows the coast and a good part of the walk is actually on the promenade.  We had taken our swimming costumes and towels and had a lovely few hours on the beach at sandbanks and a cooling dip in the sea.  The beach here is dog free has life guards and is quite shallow so safe for a dip and great for the kids if you have them with you.  From our stop at Sandbanks we walked into Bournemouth along the prom which is famous for its beach huts and pier.

The train station at Bournmouth is quite a distance from the pier and promenade so we jumped on a bus from just behind the park that leads off from the beach and that got us to the train station in double quick time. 

The Beach, Sandbanks
The Beach, Sandbanks
Beach Huts, Bournemouth
Beach Huts, Bournemouth

The Ferry

The ferry runs from Lymington to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. We had been cycling and walking for the last four days so decided to take the camper van down to the ferry port and go across as foot passengers.  The crossing takes around forty five mins and cost £36 return for 2 adults.  We didn’t book for the ferry as foot passengers but if you want to go across with your car or camper you will need to book in advance.  Once you disembark at Yarmouth you can catch the open topped tour bus.  This is the breezer bus that does a circuit of the main attractions in the area including the famous needles. 

Isle Of Wight

I’d been to the Isle of Wight as a child but can’t remember a lot about it and had always wanted to go back and because of this we though we’d give it a go.  We were quite excited as we boarded the ferry for our day trip.  There’s always something quite exciting about voyages even quite small ones.  The trip takes about forty five minutes and once we arrived we decided to get straight on the hop on hop off bus that take passengers round to the area of the island where the Needles were as that was the attraction we were both keen to see.  The bus runs It from just outside the ferry port at Yarmouth where there is a small tourist information kisok and stops at serval points of interest on a circular route so ideal for us as we had limited time.  The first stop on the bus is Freshwater bay so we decided to hop off here and have a look round. 

The Ferry to the Isle of Wight
Chris and the Ferry to the Isle of Wight
Freshwater Bay
Freshwater Bay

Freshwater Bay & the Needles

Theres not actually a lot at Freshwater Bay although the beach is very interesting with its shingles that make a lovely tinkling sound as the tide pulls out and theres a small shop in the life boat centre.  After a good explore of the beach I decided I would walk to the needles via the cliffs and the Tennyson Monument.  Lynne was hopping back on the bus and we would meet at the needles.  It’s roughly a four mile walk over the cliffs from Freshwater Bay to the Battery at the needles. The main path is away from the cliff edge but there is a path that follows the cliffs with great views in good weather back down to the bay and further down the coast unfortunately the good weather didn’t last long and by the time I’d got to the monument the weather had closed in and I could see the rain coming from afar. By the time I got to the needles I was soaked to the skin the rain was full on now and the mist had come down so I headed back to the bus stop to wait for the bus which hopefully would have Lynne on it.

Whilst I was walking the cliffs Lynne had taken the hop on / off bus to the Needles Landmark Attraction.  Here there were shops, cafe’s, snack bars, the chairlift to the beach and other amusements such as glass making and sweetie making demonstrations.  Like me, Lynne was aware of the weather closing in and stood under the sweetie shop awning for a bit of shelter whilst deciding what to do.  I sent a text message explaining I was wet through and suggested she get on the next tour bus leaving which would meet up with me at the Battery stop.   Both soaking wet in the bus with the weather now fully closed in for the day we made the decision to get back on the ferry and return to the mainland and the campsite.  I did get a quick glimpse of the needles but unfortunately Lynne didn’t so we may have to return for another visit hopefully in better weather.

Freshwater Bay
Freshwater Bay
Tennyson Monument
Tennyson Monument

The Food

One of the reasons for this trip was to sample the food.  We had heard of a restaurant called The Pig and a visit here was what we had planned our trip round and chosen the location we did.  You need to book as it is very popular but we managed to get a table booked for lunch and we were very excited of the prospect of all that local produce.   The Pig’s reputation is based on its 25 mile menu where no ingredient is sourced further than 25 miles from the restaurant and much of the produce is cultivated in the restaurants own gardens.  It lived up to expectations, we had a great meal and the service was fantastic and as a bonus on top we got to walk round the gardens after our meal and see where the vegetables and herbs are grown. 

We BBQ’d a couple of times at the campsite we had bought some local venison sausages from the butchers in Burley which were fantastic.  The campsite has a well stocked shop so breakfast and dinner were usually eaten alfresco on camp and lunch was usually out and about on our adventures. Although we did stop off at The Old Station Tea Rooms for a coffee and toast which is on the old railway cycle route.

One thing you must try is a Ploughmans Lunch most of the pubs in the area do a ploughman’s  and the one I had at the Snakecatchers Arms in Brockenhurst was very good.  This was a very nice pub with lots of outdoor space and no booking is required.  Another good meal we had was at a restaurant on the promenade on the way into Bournemouth again we sat out, the pasta was good and Lynne’s salad was also nice.

The Pig, Brockenhurst
The Pig, Brockenhurst
The Snakecatcher, Brockenhurst
The Snakecatcher, Brockenhurst
The Old Station Tea Rooms, Holmsley
The Old Station Tea Rooms, Holmsley

Where to stay

If your planning to make a weekend of it or may be a little longer there are plenty of accommodation options for all budgets.  Campsites, B&B’s, Pubs with rooms and the odd luxury Hotel. Click Here for some options

Our Thoughts

The rain was now set in for the remainder of the week so we decided we would come home a couple of days early as there is no point sitting in a camper van and watching the rain for hours on end. All in all we had a great five days in the New Forest and would definitely go back and explore some more. I would check the weather forecast before planning a trip though as I’m not sure how we would of spent our time had the weather been bad.

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