Ever bored with London? Ok, that is a trick question. But sometimes you need a get away. Turn down the volume, unplug, breathe fresh air and exhale. New Forest is just the wonderful escape to do just that. Just a two hour drive south of the hustle and bustle of London where the only traffic you are likely to hit are a herd of wild horses taking their own sweet time crossing the street.
Wild ponies, cattle, deer, pigs and donkeys all roam the village streets and forest, unfazed by the people or cars. It truly felt like I was a million miles from London yet in reality only 89 minutes by train from Waterloo Station. New Forest is also home to the largest trees in Britain. In fact the trees were used as inspiration and actual moulds for The Dark Forest in the Harry Potter movies (learned that on my Harry Potter Studio Tour, don't you know).
I spent two days walking and exploring nature's idyllic playground not even coming close to seeing all 219 square miles of its beauty. There are many villages dotted around the area, and several small towns in the Forest and around its edges. What I was struck by was the variety of topography, vegetation, wildlife and scenery I came across. Forest’s glades, ancient woodland, open moors, heathland, river-valleys, coastline and cliff top walks.
Up for a walk with no sidewalks, then read on...
DAY 1 - Beaulieu, Marshland & The Forest
I stayed at a quaInt hotel in the village of Beaulieu, pronounced Buel (as in Ferris Buel-ler) and Lee. "Buel-lee". Never could I have imagined even with my limited high-school French that this is how the English would pronounce this French name. However, I awoke to donkeys outside my door so all was quickly forgiven.
Once a royal hunting ground for William the Conqueror it is made up of vast tracts of unspoiled woodland, heathland and river valleys. There are 140 miles of walking trails and bike paths spreading over 193,000 acres. The New Forest website breaks them all down for you in terms of distance, interest, terrain and level of difficulty..
I started in Beaulieu with its marshes, a quiet river and small fishing port.
There was a Marine Museum in this sleepy, historic port with their mariner history and colourful tour guides dressed in period costumes. Like this lovely chap below. He asked me if his photo would be on Facebook, so I said sure. A promise is a promise.
THE FOREST, IN NEW FOREST
The name New Forest (which made me question where is the Old Forest and just how old must it be?) takes its name from the latin "nova foresta", which translates literally as 'new hunting ground'.
Within areas of the forest there were some beautiful castles that had been turned into inns and restaurants. So you can choose to be in the middle of wilderness or stroll from castle to castle. I did both.
I ended my day at an incredible farm-to-table restaurant/inn called The Pig, in Brockenhurst. Highly recommend that if you are planning a trip to New Forest you make a reservation there. The food and ambiance was amazing. If you can't get a reservation go anyway. They serve an afternoon bar menu and it was great. I then walked the grounds, where they had an very impressive large vegetable garden and greenhouse, hen houses, pig sties and a quail coop.
DAY TWO - COASTAL WALK, MILFORD-ON-SEA, MOORS AND HEATH
NEW FOREST COASTLINE
If you prefer coast to countryside and forests there were wonderful walks along the cliff tops at Barton-on-Sea. I walked from Milford-on-Sea to Hurst Castle and took the ferry from Hurst Castle to Keyhaven harbour. It was a perfect outing and very different in terrain from Day 1 and the giant forest of trees.
Families set up picnics along the pebble shoreline as people fished over the bridge. It was like an snapshot back in time. Even though the area attracts thousands of visitors each year it is said that is rarely becomes crowded.
PONIES...AND DONKEYS...AND COWS, OH MY!
When you visit New Forest there are a group of about 3000 locals that you can't but help noticing. They have been hanging around for about 2000 years. I am talking about the wonderful New Forest Ponies, of course. As the ponies have been there way longer than you or I have, they have the right of way in The Forest. Many a animal has been killed or maimed by cars so if you are driving keep your speed down and keep an eye out. It is a offence not to report any accident you had with any of the animals. Also feeding any of these animals can result in a £200 fine and a possible criminal record. Can you imagine going to jail and they ask you what are you in for and you have to say, "I gave a horse a carrot".
I walked the peaceful pastures, moors and meadows. The cows were very nonchalant (as cows can be). I was told to be extra careful not to get too close with any of the animals that had young ones. The mammas can be very protective (as mammas can be) and have been know to get aggressive if you get too close to their babies. Love the cow to the right. You know she is badass.
The New Forest is also well know for a vast variety of reptiles. Although personally I was delighted with not stumbling upon any grass snakes. Happy with these "ladies of leisure in the pasture". Although keep an eye out for the "meadow muffins". They are everywhere.
And below... wildlife of a more unpredictable nature.
I look forward to coming back to New Forest again very soon. I think seeing this place in different seasons would be a gift. In the fall they release hundreds of wild pigs whose job it is just to eat the acorns, which apparently can be poisonous to the other animals. Every one has their place or purpose in the forest and I was just grateful to be able to share it with some incredibly friendly locals.
It is so true what they say, not all those who wander are lost.