A New Forest Weekend Break
Written by Jaillan Yehia
Want to feel virtuous and enjoy walks in the outdoors one minute – then devour entire home-made lemon cakes from a quaint tea room the next?
Here’s my guide to the perfect New Forest weekend break...
I’ve just returned from a delightful girls weekend away in the New Forest – meaning I spent the last few days in a never-ending cycle of fat-burning walks and binging on cream teas.
This is par for the course on a British Staycation; when we holiday at home it’s wall-to-wall pub lunches, barbecues, home-made cakes and traditional penny sweets which we tell ourselves are entirely justified by the long walks and meandering bike rides that make up the lazy days.
For Brits who haven’t ventured down to the New Forest before, or overseas visitors who perhaps aren’t familiar with this stunningly rural chunk of Hampshire, allow me to explain the draw of the place.
An ancient network of trails, paths, grazing land and patches of forest, with woodlands made-up of old oaks and beeches, along with birch, pine and yew trees, this land is home to plenty of local wildlife including pigs, cows and the famous native New Forest Ponies.
Most of the vast area of 144 square miles is open heathland which was cleared of trees before Norman times meaning the term ‘forest’ is a slight misnomer. The term ‘new’ is even more misleading; though the area’s National Park status was officially granted in 2005 this unspoiled corner of Southern England has remained virtually undeveloped since prior to William the Conqueror’s time.
In 1079 he deemed the New Forest a perfect place for private deer hunting, thus ensuring the rights of the forest and its animals were enshrined in special laws and privileges which remain to this day.
Just a one and a half hour train ride and a short cab journey from Central London is the village of Lyndhurst, smack bang in the middle of the New Forest, and our base for the weekend. The village itself is a charming place blessed with pubs, cafes and a few shops to stock up on provisions. A slight victim of its own success, the town’s roads become busy at weekends and holidays but the beauty of staying in the town itself is that you can travel on foot or by bike so this doesn’t affect you – just dump the car as soon as you can and get into the wilds that you’ve come to enjoy.
The location of the New Forest a short drive from the best beaches on the South Coast means when you tire of woodland walks, mountain biking, deer spotting and horse riding you can pile down to the beautiful sandy swathes at Bournemouth or venture across by small boat to the beach-hutted sand bar at charming Mudeford Spit before piling back to the peaceful haven of the New Forest for yet another slap-up pub dinner – well all that sandcastle building works up an appetite too.
What To Do In The New Forest
For £10 you will be given a mountain bike and a map for the day (or part of the day, it depends how energetic you’re feeling) and treated to some well-practiced patter from the loquacious owner. There’s no need (or indeed option) to book ahead, so just rock up and grab a mountain bike, before exploring endless trails and tarmacked roads, stopping at deer viewing platforms, pubs, villages and local attractions like the New Forest Wildlife Park.
Where To Eat In The New Forest
The New Forest Inn at Emery Down is the perfect spot to end a bike ride, with a full range of pub fayre which is all surprisingly good and served in generous portions – you’ll need them if you’ve worked up an appetite with the 20 mile circular pedalling session it takes to get here the long way round from Lyndhurst.
Where To Snack In The New Forest
Take Afternoon Tea or just pop in for a snack at The Good Food Cafe on Lyndhurst’s picturesque high street. The cafe sells Tea Pigs’ tea, delicious little mini burgers and can even put together a hamper of home-made locally sourced food.
New Forest: The High Point
The New Forest Ponies.
Being able to see wild horses is something which we’re just not used to in England but the special breed of ponies who live in the New Forest have been roaming these pastures for over 2000 years. The animals even have right of way in the forest, and though you’re not permitted (as with any wild animal) to touch them or feed them, just being amongst the animals in their natural habitat is a wonderful experience. You can also visit riding stables to get a more hands-on equestrian experience.
New Forest: The Low Point
The entire area has very few roads, which is a blessing if you’re walking or cycling but soon turns into a curse when you get into your car. In the summer months or during busy periods most of the towns are gridlocked, and the one way systems don’t always help. Try to arrive or depart outside the peak hours to ease any traffic-based frustrations and if you walk or cycle as much as possible rather than driving you’ll be fine.
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