Let’s get one thing straight, before you visit under the assumption that you are about to wander for miles under a tree-top canopy. The New Forest is not a strictly speaking a forest and it’s definitely not new. If you take a horse, bike or just your feet on a wander through any of the 150-odd square miles that make up the New Forest, you’ll find the forest areas broken up by heather-covered heath ground and cute thatch-cottaged villages and laced by streams, brooks and rivers.
It probably wasn’t even new when William the Conqueror designated this area of southern England The New Forest back in 1079, but then he probably wasn’t worried about being sued under any miss-description act. He just wanted a good piece of protected land from where he could play blood sports.
The New Forest National Park
The New Forest is no longer a royal hunting ground, in fact, it is the opposite. One of the aims of what is now The New Forest National Park is to protect the animals and wildlife that inhabit it. And, it is the freedom of animals to roam the park that is now what makes it so special and particularly magical for kids.
Where else in the developed world do you see ponies trotting of their own free will down a village high street, can you be barricaded in a car park because a couple of pigs have sat down across the exit or be sitting down in a pub and have a cow mosey along over?
The animals set the best example of how to enjoy the New Forest. Leave your car behind and roam wherever the fancy takes you.
Forest Trails and Walks
If you want a starting off point though begin from the village of Burley, stop off at one of the many candy shops and stuff the kids pockets with fudge before taking off on one of the forest trails in search of a New Forest pony.
If you doubt the staying power of some in your packs two feet, there are dozens of places across the forest that offer horse riding for all ages and abilities. Cycle hire complete with kiddie seats and trailers is also not hard to find.
There are about 4000 ponies roaming around the forest, so you won’t have to go far to spot one, but although they look cute and most are quite tame, it’s best not to pet or feed them.
If you want something a little more structured head for the Beaulieu Estate and spend the day touring the amazing gardens, exploring the stately home and cruising around the National Motor Museum. The village of Beaulieu is also very pretty and tends to be less busy than some of the other villages in the New Forest. There is also a picturesque walk from here along the banks of the Beaulieu river down to the historic maritime village of Buckler’s Hard, where many of Admiral Nelson’s ships were built. You can really get a taste of what life was like here in the eighteen century by visiting the Maritime Museum and Shipwright’s cottage.
Also not far from Beaulieu are Exbury Gardens, a perfect place for a picnic. The 200-acre Rothschild gardens feature a world-famous collection of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and rare trees and shrubs. Visit during the rhododendron and azalea season and your kids can join in a Rothschild family tradition of collecting fallen petals on twigs and sticks or pieces of string to create floral knicker-bocker glories. They will also enjoy gazing at the fish in the ponds and following the family trail, but keep the best till last. When those little legs have run out of steam, grab them an icecream and jump aboard the miniature railway.
Peppa Pig World
If you have anyone under four in your party, you have to round off your trip to this area with a visit to Peppa Pig World. Now, I am not normally into anything with a whiff of commercialism about it, but this little family of porkers has taken over the British and European psyche in recent years. They’ve just hit Nick Junior in the US, so if you live on the other side of the Atlantic it won’t be long before you’re as familiar with Daddy, Mummy, George and Peppa Pig too.
Peppa Pig World has just opened and is full of very cute rides. It is part of Paulton’s themepark, which would otherwise never be on my to do list, but Peppa has put it on the map and it has some pretty thrilling rides to keep your older kids entertained too. Take a picnic though, the on-sight catering is not appealing.
Hotels Near The New Forest
If you want to experience the best of coastal and rural Britain in one go, check into Chewton Glen. This beautiful period hotel is just a few minutes walk from a sandy beach and just on the edge of the New Forest. It is known as being one of the finest hotels in Britain and deservedly so. Unusually for a property of such calibre, it makes children feel as welcome as their parents.