While I’m at home, relaxing after being abroad for a while (Italy, Montenegro and Croatia), I thought I’d write a post about somewhere I don’t need to catch a flight to, or even get in a car if I’m feeling energetic. It might help to prove this country still has some wilder, untouched areas to explore.
The New Forest is an ancient woodland and national park covering 566 km2 and is steeped in history. It is what remains of the forest that covered much of Britain in the Iron Age and was largely reduced in the 12th and 13th centuries. In 1079, it was made into a royal hunting ground for William the Conqueror and has been owned by the crown ever since. History isn’t my forte, neither is pretending to be interested in history, however looking at the past of something I spend so much time around, is much more compelling and personal.
The New Forest is practically on my doorstep so exploring it has always been something I’ve done with my family. From the heath and woodland surrounding tiny hamlets to where the forest meets the sea, there’s plenty to see and do. An amazing thing about the New Forest is the common rights there, meaning inhabitants can graze their animals on the open pastures. So, when wandering the national park, you will undoubtedly see the New Forest pony and cattle wandering just about everywhere, including the roads. In reality, they don’t really care for their own safety or yours, they walk across the roads day and night with reckless abandon. Reminds me of a certain tortoise in Montenegro. My favourite parts of the New Forest are the deciduous areas of woodland because it seems so ancient and full of character with lots of fallen trees and sprawling roots. It feels a lot more untouched.
There are countless paths in the forest, some reminiscent of the M25 (in summer especially) and some are more like mere indentations in the vegetation. One of my favourite paths was always the track from Frogham to Fritham. It is a large gravelly cycle path but offers views from the top of the ridge down into the boggy valleys either side. Coming off the ridge you enter the forest which leads, as all paths should, to the pub.
The Royal Oak in Fritham is a tiny three room establishment with a beautiful beer garden and no frills food. Dog walkers and cyclists fill the garden looking over the farmland around this tiny village. There’s no fancy food, no modern interior, it’s a classic rural British pub serving local ales and local food suitable for a lunch and nothing more. Its rural, its local and its always busy but you can’t beat it for what it is.
Lyndhurst is the hub of the New Forest and if possible, avoid it at all costs. It’s a massive tourist trap with nothing much to see and too many people. The surrounding forest is beautiful with some incredible view points and walks without seeing anyone but getting into Lyndhurst in summer is soul destroying.
My best advice for the New Forest, although not what the park rangers would want me to say, is get off the path and explore. I live near the northern forest and we often will park in some car park or on the side of the road and just go into the woods. There’s always something to see, whether it be deer, fallen trees across small streams or meadows lit by the light shining through the trees. On the paths, someone has decided what they want you to see, what they want your experience of the forest to consist of. Instead, you can wander away from the motorways full of people and decide for yourself.
There’s so much more to the New Forest than what I have mentioned, but just exploring random areas is still my favourite part because you usually come across something new. With my trusty canine companion and so may new places to explore, what more could I ask for?