Many visitors to the New Forest are surprised to discover that rather than just forest, as its name would suggest, it encompasses a rich tapestry of ancient and ornamental woodland, the largest area of lowland heath in southern England, mile-upon-mile of meandering rivers and valley mires, and sweeping coastline of mudflats and saltmarshes.
Covering the south west of Hampshire and south east of Wiltshire, the New Forest’s beautiful landscapes have been shaped by man, history and the grazing of animals for many hundreds of years. In 1079 it was proclaimed a Royal Forest by William the Conqueror and was reserved for the King’s hunting pleasure. Today, the Crown continues to own 266 square kilometres (71% of the area), managed by the Forestry Commission, which means that the New Forest remains relatively unspoilt and therefore a haven for wildlife.
New Forest holiday cottages offer the perfect base for exploring the unrivalled scenery of the New Forest National Park. Whether you adventure by foot, bike or horseback, here are some of the most incredible landscapes you will encounter during your stay:
The New Forest boasts what is believed to be the highest concentration of ancient trees in Western Europe, particularly around the village of Lyndhurst. Some of these trees are even direct descendants of the original wildwood, meaning they have been around since the end of the Ice Age!
Walk along frosty wooded paths in the winter and see the ancient boughs dusted in snow; visit in spring and admire the birds, insects, lichens and fungi which make their home within the twisted bark, deadwood and hollows; or crunch through the fallen leaves of autumn and marvel at the firework display of colour within the forest.
Sculpted by time and revered by generations of local people, the woodland of the New Forest stretches from Bramshaw and Eyeworth Woods in the north, Berry Wood in the west, to Frame Wood in the south east. If you want to see some local wildlife, Bolderwood has a wonderful deer viewing platform, and at Blackwater, you can walk the Tall Trees Trail where you will encounter some of the oldest and tallest trees in England.
It has been estimated that Hampshire has around a third of Britain’s remaining lowland heathland, of which a large proportion is in the New Forest. This internationally rare habitat is maintained by the free-roaming deer, ponies and other grazing animals who act as natural lawn mowers to keep encroaching vegetation at bay.
This undulating and varied landscape of heather-dominated heaths, grasslands and waterlogged bogs or mires, provides a home for an array of rare wildlife and a stunning mix of flora and fauna which changes throughout the seasons. Wide expanses of yellow-flecked gorse carpet the ground in early spring awash with butterflies, while vast swathes of purple heather flourish in summer. At this time, the bracken is also at its greenest and nightjars chirp beautiful melodies into the night.
In winter, birds of prey can be seen hunting across the plateaus including hen harriers, merlin and peregrine falcons, and the extremely rare Dartford warblers are present all year round. These precious heathlands are also home to five of Britain’s six native reptiles – adders, the smooth snake and the incredibly rare sand lizard can be glimpsed basking under gorse bushes in the morning sunshine during the warmer months.
Stretching for 26 miles, the New Forest coastline is a combination of wildlife-rich shingle, saltmarsh, lagoons and mudflats, and much of it is protected by law for its importance for nature. From the corner of Southampton Water in the east to Hengistbury Head in the west, there are many pristine beaches and coves to discover.
A highlight of the coastline is Lepe Country Park which overlooks the Solent and boasts a large shingle beach backed by pine-fringed cliffs and wildflower meadows. Another good spot is the Lymington and Keyhaven Marshes Nature Reserve which is rich with birdlife and fascinating salt-mining history. Or you could venture to the end of Hurst Spit, a 2-mile walk from Keyhaven, with its magnificent Hurst Castle, built by Henry VIII in 1554.
Along the Forest’s coast, you’re likely to observe a myriad of birds including wildfowl, egrets, herons and even birds of prey such as peregrine falcons. Plus, the famous New Forest ponies can occasionally be seen rolling around in sand-patches of some of the more isolated beaches.
The extraordinary landscapes of the New Forest provide one of the biggest draws to visit this scenic part of the UK. There is also an abundance of outdoor pursuits to enjoy, as well as picture-postcard towns and villages to explore and a wealth of fun attractions to delight in too.
If you fancy a holiday here, New Forest Living offers a great collection of New Forest holiday cottages, ranging from large family-sized properties to romantic retreats for two and a wide selection of dog-friendly cottages where your pet will feel as welcome as you.