Right you guys, I’m just going to come out and say it.
I get pretty frustrated when people come all the way to England and visit only London, with maybe a day trip to Stonehenge thrown in for luck. England’s actually quite an interesting place, and there’s more to it than Big Ben and a pile of mysterious rocks behind a fence. (No offence, Stonehenge) My twelve year old self once went on a camping trip to Dorset and after stopping for a break in the New Forest on the way there and back I swiftly decided it was My Favourite Place In The Whole Entire World. A bold claim for one so small.
But this leads me to my next point. On my first cruise job last year, I docked at Southampton every seven days for a grand total of four months (that’s quite a few times, then), and the only place I wanted to visit whilst there was The New Forest. Well. Let me tell you this for free, I do not blame twelve year old me one tiny bit.
It’s proper old!!
Back in the old skool days, circa 1066, when good old William the Conqueror landed in Blighty and lived up to his name (or maybe the name came after he got up to all his conquering business, I suppose), The New Forest was declared a royal forest where only William and his royal pals were allowed to hunt. But nowadays visits to the area aren’t prohibited to royalty only, which is lucky really as it’s so full on beautiful it’d be a shame to miss out just because you don’t own a crown or a kingdom.
It’s not just a forest
Officially the New Forest is now a national park which encompasses several villages and small towns within it’s boundaries, although obviously the majority of the area is wildlife and nature and all that Jazz. The area stretches right out as far as the sea in one direction, and is made up of wet and dry heathland covered in purple heather at one point throughout the year, as well as the woodland which is pretty much self-explanatory from the name.
It’s always changing
Maybe this is sort of a dumb reason for something being AWESOME…I mean, everything changes, that’s the very nature of life itself. But to go back and visit this beautiful piece of the world at different times of the year is something pretty darn special if you ask me. If you like being outdoors the changing of the seasons can really be appreciated here; from the warm bright and colourful summer when the butterflies and bees are buzzing merrily about the place and bunting is casually strewn across the villages the village streets, to when the heather carpeting the ground turns lilac, and later as Autumn arrives and the whole Forest turns orange…even in the rain and with an ominous looking sky it’s a pretty place to be.
The picnic spots GALORE
I’m pretty sure we have mastered the art of the picnic, that’s for sure. And there is truly an abundance of picnic locations here; basically just set off wandering in any direction and you will find somewhere to lay down your blanket and crack open the beverage of your choice, Enid Blyton style. Also, if it’s a little on the boggy side as in my experience I sometimes found, there are plenty of picnic tables and benches around as long as you stick to an area closer to civilisation. There’s always a slight chance that a horse may approach and take interest in your meal, but generally they keep themselves to themselves.
If picnicking’s not your thing…there is an abundance of pubs in which to have a good pub lunch!
Let’s be honest here; is there anything more glorious than a pub lunch?? The answer is- probably not. Summertime in a pub garden is always a brilliant event, with obviously a good old-fashioned cider and some lovely company to accompany your meal. And in winter the pubs to be found are generally fully equipped with a roaring fire which is perfect for warming yourself by with a hot beverage if you got a bit soggy whilst strolling. A true English experience would definitely involve a trip to a pub over a day at Madame Tussaud’s…no offence, Madame Tussaud’s.
Now perhaps this is a slight generalisation. I’ve not personally met all the residents of the New Forest, after all, but one fine day two German pals from the ship asked if I’d take them on an outing and show them some true English culture. I’d like to point out at this point that they were already adamant that every English person they’d ever met was a true gem, which I personally was dubious about, having met a fair few English people (and in fact being one of them) myself.
After purchasing the components of a makeshift picnic (all the cheeses, some fruit and a baguette which I had no option but to tuck under my arm like an umberella), we travelled by train from Southampton to the village of Brockenhurst, where we were greeted upon arrival by a man standing by a map of the tiny village who kindly and dutifully pointed us in the direction of a good picnic spot. You know how it is when you want to find a good picnic spot. After a while of walking, baguette now swinging merrily back and forth in excitement at being in real fresh air, we realised we must have gone slightly off track, and this was confirmed for us when we began strolling down a dirt path and were greeted by a bearded and mud-spattered man getting out of his equally mud-spattered truck, who exclaimed ‘you’re not from round here are you!? You can’t come down here, it’s private property!’ It was at this point that the baguette broke free from its thin plastic wrapper and shot into a muddy puddle at my feet, which set the man off chuckling and in turn the rest of us as well. How unfortunate. But he did then point us back in the right direction with clearer instructions, and also offered to collect the sodden baguette up to feed to his crows, so everyone was happy. Also, I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve ever met anyone who keeps pet crows, so that was exciting.
After our picnic extraordinaire and a meet and greet or two with various collections of ponies, we found our way back into the village and located a lovely cafe for afternoon tea, where the friendliest man ever gave us all the recommendations and asked all the questions about our life on the ship. (Rosie Lea’s Tearoom is the name of the place if you’re interested, I highly recommend it) Well…my German pals were so impressed by all these English people and their openness to a friendly conversation, let me tell you! There are some gems out there in the world that really can brighten up your day.
Tree Climbing Opportunities Galore (amongst other awesome activities)
Oh my Lordy, I do love a good tree-climbing escapade. In fairness the picture below is more of a tree-perch than -climb but it’s the best illustration of my point that I could find. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong or weird about climbing a tree when you’re over the age of 13, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Other than tree climbing trees which you can do solo and in your own time, free of charge, there are copious amounts of other amazing outdoor pursuits the New Forest has to offer, from cycling and horse riding to kayaking. It’s just BRILLIANT I tell you.
In my opinion this is the best part. Firstly there are tonnes of species of wildlife which are very rare but thrive in the New Forest, namely various types of insects and birds and other such beauties. But secondly there are lots and lots and lots of ponies roaming freely around the place, both amongst the trees and heathland as well as in the villages along the streets, trotting across peoples gardens and into pubs! Well, maybe not pubs, but you get the picture. The ponies are some kind of semi-wild species. The people of the forest officially take care of them but they’re allowed to wander wherever the hell they like. WHAT A FABULOUS LIFE TO LEAD. You can also spot plenty of cows doing the same thing, and if you’re lucky maybe a wild pig or too, or so I’ve heard.
I mean, that’s a fairly unique kind of a place in my opinion, and has way more to offer than a pile of rocks and a waxwork figurine any day.
- There are train stations aplenty within the forest, namely Ashurst, Beaulieu Road, Brockenhurst, Hinton Admiral, Lymington, New Milton, Sway and Totton. Ta-da! So if you’ve not got the luxury of a car it’s still very easy to take a look around. South West trains go from London Waterloo so it’s even accessible from London, for goodness’ sake!
- Animals take priority. So if you’re driving along a road and a horse decided it fancies strolling along in front of you, you’ve just got to go with it and let your new animal companion take the lead.
- There are BnBs and cottages and camping sites galore within the forest, as well as the odd luxury hotel thrown in for a laugh as well. Check out this website for ideas.
- Remember that the horses are semi-wild and therefore not actually for riding. I witnessed video footage of somebody attempting to jump onto the back of a pony and it did not go down well. Serves him right.