Camping and caravan holidays in the New Forest
Tis old, the New Forest. Well, it was new in its day when William One deposed peasants to declaim it a royal hunting forest, but that was way back in 1079. We’d call it England’s first ever national park, if it wasn’t for the awkward fact of the deposed peasants…
But then it went new again, when it was officially designated as a national park in 2005, although this wasn’t just the New Forest itself but 175 or so extra square km, now taking in surrounding areas including the former South Hampshire Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Although even at that size it’s still Britain’s smallest national park. Do keep up…
The New Forest now covers about a quarter of Hampshire and edges towards Wiltshire to the north and Dorset to the west. It’s the place for time travellers and horrible historians: it has around 250 barrows, 150 Scheduled Ancient Monuments and the Rufus Stone, a memorial to William’s son William Two who died in the New Forest in a hunting accident. Allegedly.
(And a mile from that, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is buried under an oak tree in Minstead churchyard.) Apart from all the history, the New Forest also has taste trails, ponies, gardens, watersports, museums, small towns and old villages…here are our suggestions for what to do, with some New Forest campsites below.
New Forest Centre
Start off here at Lyndhurst in the heart of the national park, where the New Forest Centre has regular events and exhibitions on all things foresty, including talks, guided walks and discovery days. There’s a museum here too covering the history, geology and wildlife of the park, with regular events including Museums at Night, and a gallery with exhibitions all year.
Eat, drink and be merry
There are four taste trails in the New Forest to eat your way around: North, South, Sea Air and Woodland Wander. Have a lap in the UK’s oldest lido, stroll along the Solent to Milford-on-Sea, lick Lymington ice-cream and see the pigs out for pannage at the village of Fritham (note: pigs not part of taste trails). To buy your own New Forest food, farmers’ markets at New Forest towns and villages including Beaulieu, Brockenhurst and Lydenhurst sell wares using the New Forest Marque, awarded to local producers for food of high quality.
Almost any walk, bike or canter in the New Forest will come within spotting distance of the famous New Forest ponies, over 3000 of them at last count. Although running wild, they’re owned by ‘commoners’ living in the forest; ponies are sold at auction at the Beaulieu Road Pony Sales every few months. These are open to the public and the price per pony is at least a million pounds, as you’ll tell your clamouring offspring.
Bond, James Bond
The village of Beaulieu has the famous National Motor Museum with over 250 vintage vehicles including 50 Bond cars and some from Top Gear not wrecked beyond recognition by Jeremy and co; tickets include entry to the sixteenth century Palace House and the thirteenth century Beaulieu Abbey. Then take a wander to the hamlet of Buckler’s Hard, where Nelson’s Trafalgar fleet was built: there’s a maritime museum, river cruises and an apple orchard to tour.
Take the tour
Seeing the sights from an open-topped bus beats walking most days, although we’d recommend bringing an umbrella for an open-topped bus tour no matter where you are in the country. There are three circular routes, the red and green from the main car park at Lyndhurst, and the blue route from Brockenhurst Railway Station, all stopping off at New Forest highlights like Bucklers Hard, Beaulieu, Fordingbridge and Exbury Gardens.
The New Forest has been a Site of Special Scientific Interest since 1971 and has been ecologically taken care of for centuries, making it a wildlife haven where rare species thrive. All three native species of British snake can be spotted here, along with deer (shy but there), polecats, otters and pools with toads and lizards: the New Forest Reptile Centre near Lyndhurst has all the forest’s cold-blooded species to see close up.
For the more eagle-eyed, Liberty's Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre is at Ringwood, and there are wolves, wallabies, wildcats and more at the New Forest Wildlife Park, also near Lyndhurst and set in 25 acres of woodland.
Wild New Forest ponies are not for riding – you can tell the kids we officially said so. But there are plenty of stables about to saddle up your own horse and go for a canter along the beach at Barton on Sea, Hordle Cliffs, Milford on Sea and Calshot, along the heaths or through ancient woodland.
Hacks and lessons are available for beginners and, if the kids really must try a New Forest pony for themselves, trekking is also available using experienced ponies. Unlike cyclists, New Forest horse riders aren’t restricted to the waymarked paths, but going off the beaten track is recommended for experienced riders only – and you can tell the kids we officially said so.
Once saddled up, binoculars around neck and loaded down with New Forest delicacies, pitch up at one of our campsites in and around the New Forest:
Shamba Holidays, Ringwood
On the edge of the forest, Shamba Holidays is at the ancient market town of Ringwood in the Avon Valley and is a family-friendly park with pools, clubhouse, dog walking field – and facilities that have won the Loo of the Year accolade six years in a row (it might have something to do with the piped music). Electric pitches are for tents, tourers and motorhomes.
Back-of-Beyond Country Park, St Leonard's
Also on the edge of the forest (around 10 minutes' drive), this nicely-named park has its own fishing lakes with free fishing, a nine-hole pitch and putt course and acres of woodland, heathland, lakes and river habitats with many species of animals and birds. The park has grass pitches with optional electric and is adults-only.
Lake Farm, Fordingbridge
A peaceful and relaxed roomy farm site on on the western edge of the New Forest, bordering the Dorset Downs. The farm has non-electric pitches for tents, with car parking allowed alongside.
Lytton Lawn Touring Park, Milford on Sea
A site for the contemplative camper or ownerv of tourer/motorhome. Pitch fees include entry to Lytton Lawn's sister park which has swimming pools, a sauna, nightly entertainment and regular events.
Details of more things to do in the New Forest are in all the above listings under ‘Local attractions’, with an overview of highlights in the area for all ages as well as must-sees, local pubs, walking routes and nearby beaches.
Been to the New Forest and now have a sprog bitten by the horse riding bug? Search for sites with horse-riding nearby wherever your next trip is: still in the south-east, elsewhere in England, or anywhere else you fancy.