A Guide to The New Forest
The New Forest National Park is a tranquil place with acres of lush woodland, a plethora of wildlife and even has beautiful coastal towns! What makes this place truly unique is seeing animals having the opportunity to roam free and enjoy the forest to the fullest.
Getting to the New Forest
The New Forest spans an enormous 90k acres so I'd recommend driving if you plan to do a lot of sightseeing. We drove from Surrey to Brook around lunchtime on a week day so the drive was only about 2.5 hours. If you'd prefer to get public transport you can catch a train from London Waterloo going to 9 stations in the area which can take as little as 1.5 hours.
Where to Stay in the New Forest
We stayed at The Bell Inn which was located in a town called Brook, about 10mins drive from Lyndhurst. It's a charming hotel and country pub that serves amazing food prepared with locally sourced ingredients, and even has a golf club to the rear of the property!
We were given a beautiful, spacious Manor Room adjacent to the golf club and just a short walk from the main building. The enchanted forest-themed decor gave the room a really welcoming, snuggly feel and complimented the rural surroundings of the New Forest. It also had some nice touches - it was stocked with tea and biscuits, bathrobes for us to use and Bramley toiletries.
Breakfast in the Oak Room was lovely, we chose a cooked dish from the menu and helped ourselves to a selection of juices, cereals, pastries and more from the continental selection. We loved the smoked salmon with scrambled eggs and the farmhouse breakfast!
Travelling around the New Forest
If you don't have a car you can still get around easily, we purchased a 2-day ticket for the New Forest Tour bus which cost £23pp and gave us a well needed break from driving! This is an open-top bus which allows you to hop on and hop off at your leisure, covering the whole of the New Forest National Park over 3 routes.
We caught the red route bus from outside the Green Dragon pub, just a 1 minute walk from The Bell Inn which was super handy. The best place to sit has to be the top deck, but a word of warning it can get VERY windy and chilly so make sure your hair is tied up and you bring a jacket - even in summer!
Things to Do in the New Forest & Places to Visit
You don't have to travel far to spot ponies and cattle as they are out and about, constantly grazing and architecting the forest one bite at a time! We saw lots of animals in Brockenhurst in the open forest by Meerut road so it seemed to be a regular hangout spot.
Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary
The scenery on the drive to Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary via Rhinefield Ornamental Drive was just remarkable; thick woodland with huge redwood trees and lots of ponies!
Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary is a peaceful park with walking trails and a dedicated platform for viewing deer. Time your visit during feeding times (between 12-3pm) to increase your chances of spotting some deer.
There's also an area for barbecues, tables for picnics, an information centre, free car park, etc. so you can easily spend a few hours here, especially when the weather is decent.
Commoner Tom’s New Forest Walks - £65pp
We booked the New Forest walk through The Bell Inn which was hosted by the super knowledgeable Tom Hoardle near his farm in Ringwood. We were up for doing something a bit different to learn about the forest and wanted to find out why exactly animals were allowed to roam wherever they pleased!
On the morning of the walk, in true British style the weather turned wet and windy! A bit unsure of what to expect we thought this could affect our walk, but it didn't impact it in the slightest as we had the best time.
The talk was excellent, I learnt what commoning was all about and how this type of farming not only cultivates the New Forest land but also paves the way for great biodiversity, giving rare plant life and insects the ideal environment to thrive in. Tom also talks about hand rearing his cattle and provides insight into the practices he undertakes to ensure his animals have longer, happier lives, ultimately affecting the quality of the meat produced.
After the walk we were treated to the most delicious two course meal back at The Bell Inn and had the opportunity to try Tom's produce in a spectacular beef and ale pie made by chef Mark Young.
In addition to the tour, the talk and two course meal, transportation is also provided from The Bell Inn to Tom's farm and back, all covered in the cost of the experience making the package well worth it. If you are looking to discover more about the forest from experts who truly care about it, I cannot recommend this enough!
We hopped off the tour bus at Barton-on-Sea and decided to grab lunch at the nearby Beachcomber Cafe. I'm not a massive fan of pebble beaches but I liked this one as it had vibrant coloured beach huts and impressive views of the Isle of Wight in the distance.
We then started our mammoth 3.5 mile walk along the cliff top from Barton-on-Sea to Milford-on-Sea. The walk is fairly easy as it's mostly flat, with just one hill and you get the opportunity to see some exquisite scenery on the way!
It's worth spending a day exploring all the little villages the New Forest has to offer. Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst were my favourite places due to their traditional charm and variety of restaurants and pubs to visit.
Lymington was also another place that we drove through and sadly didn't have time to explore. The high street looked lovely decorated with bunting and had a lot of Georgian and Victoria buildings. The high street also had much more shops and had restaurants chains that I didn't see in the smaller villages.
New Forest Wildlife Park - 12.50pp
As a person who loves animals and going to the zoo, I found the New Forest Wildlife Park disappointing. There just wasn't much to it and we managed to walk around the entire park in less than an hour. On the plus side I did see a wallaby, owls and some foxes!
- Look but don't touch - don't disturb or get too close to the animals as they are semi-feral, remember it's not a petting zoo!
- Early bird catches the worm - make the most of the New Forest Tour bus and start your journey early as the last bus is around 6pm
- On the open road - Uber doesn't operate much in the New Forest so don't go walking for miles and expect to Uber back to your hotel
I would suggest staying in the New Forest for a minimum of three nights if you want to fully explore the forest and the coast as this place is huge! You are bound to see a lot of animals in the New Forest - no matter how cute and friendly the foals appear to be, keep your distance as ponies can be very protective over their foals!