Camping Inspiration: Walking in The New Forest
Experience atmospheric forest trails and romantic heathland as well as free roaming ponies and deer in one of southern England’s premier outdoor locations
Words and pictures: Steve Goodier
The New Forest is the epitome of what a true camping destination should be like – gorgeous forest, atmospheric heathland, rolling wild country, and hidden pubs. Not to mention free roaming horses, ponies and deer that often find their way onto the campsites themselves! Add to this, miles of well signposted forest tracks and footpaths, and you soon see you have the recipe for a great break.
Geographically the New Forest National Park falls within the county of Hampshire and also borders Wiltshire to the northwest and Dorset to the west. If you don’t know the area at all then it may come as a surprise to find that the city of Southampton is quite close by, but once you are camped up among the trees or bordering the heathland you would think that civilisation is 1,000 miles away. Campsites are numerous and in the main very good. Some have basic facilities but make up for this by their remote locations and feelings of tranquility.
The road network is more than adequate for getting around on and the tourist industry in the region is geared up to give visitors the very best chance of enjoying everything the forest has to offer. Car parks are numerous and spacious (although you may often have to wait for horses or ponies to move out of a parking space before you can get into it!). Walking and biking trails are well marked and plentiful and there is nearly always a herd of deer nearby to entertain the kids.
This is probably the largest remaining tract of unenclosed heathland, pasture land and forest to be found in the busy and heavily populated area of southern England.
It is an oasis of peace and quiet amid the hustle and bustle.
Historically it was a Royal hunting ground for King William and his noblemen, was established around 1079 at the expense of over 20 small hamlets and isolated farmsteads. This gave rise to the prefix “New” as it was, in effect, a collection of fresh and recently cleared areas that had all been linked up to make a compact region for Royals and the wealthy to hunt on horseback, with their quarry being predominately deer.
National park status was granted to the area in March 2005 and it grew in size to cover 219 square miles, with its highest point being Pipers Wait near Nomansland, where the heath land rises to 423 ft/129 metres. Other enjoyable high points of the forest include the ever popular Picket Hill, where the land rises to 311 ft/95 metres.
The area is drained by the rivers Lymington, Beaulieu and Avon to the south and by Latchmore Brook, Dockens Water and Linford Brook to the west.
For many, just sitting beside their tent and soaking in the unique sensation of camping amongst the ancient trees will be more than enough. Others will want to be more active and I would suggest combining both approaches to get the very best from your break.
The most popular pastimes here are walking and off-road cycling and there are numerous routes for both scattered throughout the national park. As the area is made mostly of low lying land and there are no severe gradients to tackle, it is an ideal region for walkers and bikers of all abilities. Biking through the New Forest is one of the best ways of seeing the area quickly and the way-marked routes link up viewpoints and villages giving great days and half days out. To make sure things stay sensible the New Forest Cycle Code has been put into place and should always be adhered to.
Walking with friends, family or the dogs (or a combination of them all) is extremely popular and there are really very few restrictions on where you can go. There are hundreds of miles of paths and trails and you can make your walk as long or short as you like. Early risers are most likely to see the most of the deer and enjoy the quietest trails but all times of the day have their attraction here.
Many walkers combine their outings with a bit of bird watching and bring along binoculars to spot as much of the prolific birdlife as they can.
Towns and villages such as Lyndhurst, Ringwood, Abbotswell, Frogham, Burley, Brockenhurst, Beaulieu and Lymington (to name but a few) are all worth a visit and there are numerous family friendly outings to be had ranging from stately homes and gardens (such as Beaulieu Palace) right through to reptile centres, wildlife parks and arboretums.
And you always have that remote campsite to return to at day’s end where you can enjoy your barbeque, the peace and quiet plus a glass of wine. All in all the New Forest National Park is a real out and out family outdoor destination and suitable for all age groups.
HOLLANDS WOOD CAMPING IN THE FOREST SITE
Lyndhurst Road, Brockenhurst, Hampshire SO42 7QH
01590 622967 (site) 024 7642 3008 (central bookings)
Hollands Wood is part of the Camping in The Forest network of sites that are run in conjunction with the Camping and Caravanning Club. These are generally set among Forestry Commission woodlands and are all about getting back to nature and pitching your tent in a forest environment.
Hollands Wood is one of the largest in the network and is set in 22 hectares of beautiful oak woodland. There are around 600 pitches overall and you will find yourself pitching your tent in a true forest environment which is both peaceful and inspiring. The site is very popular with families and despite the large number of pitches booking is advised in the summer period and at Bank Holidays.
The site is generally open from April to the end of September. Next to the site (and easily accessed from it) is a large grassy common that is great for children to run around and play on. There is also direct access from the site to walking and cycling routes in the New Forest itself. The site takes tents, caravans and campervans with tents having grass pitches. One point worth noting is that your Sat Nav will not take you to the correct location so ring for directions.
The site has three toilet and shower blocks (not all of which may be open depending on the time of year) plus a laundry facility and a dog shower. Hollands Wood is centrally located for exploring the southern and central areas of the New Forest.
The site does not have any electric hook-ups at all.
RED SHOOT CAMPING PARK
Linwood, Near Ringwood, Hampshire BH24 3QT
Red Shoot is set near the town of Ringwood (about five miles away) in a typical New Forest setting on the eastern edge of the region and is ideally located for exploring the western and northern regions of the national park – although most areas are accessible without much driving really.
The mainly flat fields that make up the site cover around four acres and the site takes tents, caravans and campervans and offers around 100 pitches with plenty of electric hook-ups available. Tent pitches are on well-cut grass.
The camping fields are surrounded by woodland scenery and the site bordered by hedges and odd trees.
On site you will find plenty of room and a real feeling of openness (despite the fact you are technically in a forest), and as this is a true family location, there are usually lots of kids for your little ones to run around safely with and make new friends.
There is a good play area for them too.
The site has a well-stocked shop selling everything from groceries to camping products and games and toys and there is also a bakery for site users to buy from.
The toilet and shower block is modern and kept clean and tidy and includes a family shower room and disabled facilities too. There is even under floor heating for the colder times of the season and the site has a laundry facility.
Red Shoot has a gas bottle exchange and offers ice pack freezing for campers too.
One thing to bear in mind is that it gets very busy during the summer months so make sure you book in advance or risk not getting a pitch at all.
The Red Shoot Inn is right next to the site and is a great place for a meal or a drink. It offers live music some weekends.
GREEN PASTURES FARM CAMPING AND CARAVANNING SITE
Whitemoor Lane, Ower, Romsey, Hampshire SO51 6AJ
023 8081 4444
Green Pastures Camping and Caravan Site is near the pretty hamlet of Ower and a few miles from the small town of Romsey. It is well connected to the surrounding road network that covers this area, making it a good base for the eastern regions of the national park.
The M27 is nearby and the site is close to the A31 so access to it is easy. Green Pastures Farm is family run and very popular with families with children many of whom come back year after year. The site has flat, good-sized grass pitches for tents and electric hook-ups are available for those who need them. There is some screening from mature trees and bushes but a great feeling of openness overall.
There are around 45 pitches with two main fields where tents, caravans and campervans are sited on numbered pitches around the field edges. This leaves a large open space in the centre of each field for children to play in while parents can watch on while they sit by their tents. The toilets are small but modern and kept neat and clean and there are disabled facilities too. Other on-site facilities include a laundry and washing up area, a payphone, gas for sale and a small shop adjoining reception that sells basics and ice cream.
The owners are very friendly and welcoming and are a mine of information on the surrounding area and the New Forest as a whole. Green Acres is dog friendly and has a good dog walk just outside the entrance. As well as this a daytime kennel facility is also available. A fish and chip van calls to the site regularly during peak season.
There can be a little road noise from the nearby motorway at times but nothing that will cause you too much worry and it soon fades into background noise.
NEED TO KNOW
FOR WEATHER FORECASTS
Walking in the New Forest by Steve Davies
Pocket Pub Walks – the New Forest by Ann-Marie Edwards
Walks – the New Forest by Richard Hallewell
Crimson Short Walks – the New Forest National Park
New Forest Walks: A Seasonal Wildlife Guide by Andrew Walmsley
MAPS AND NAVIGATION
Although the New Forest does not cover really high ground and has well-marked footpaths and tracks you should still be able to read maps and navigate proficiently. Wear boots and take a rucksack containing hat, gloves, waterproofs and food and drink. Make sure you have an up to date weather forecast before setting out.
The following map will be of use to you:
Ordnance Survey OL Explorer 22 – New Forest