The New Forest
Near the large city of Southampton and the much smaller city of Winchester in southern England, is the New Forest National Park. Often just referred to as ‘The New Forest’, it is 219 sq mile (566 km2) of unenclosed pasture land, heathland and broadleaf forest.
This tranquil breath of fresh air in the heavily populated south of England, covers south-west Hampshire and extends into south-east Wiltshire and towards east Dorset. It is mainly flat land with the highest elevation being Pickle Hill, some 311 feet (95 metres) above sea level. The area is much loved by campers, walkers and cyclists.
One of the most attractive features for visitors is the wild ponies that wander freely through the villages and small towns. They belong to the New Forest ‘Commoners’ who also have rights to graze unfenced cattle and pigs.
In pre-historic times some of the forest was cleared for farming but the poor quality of the soil in the New Forest meant that the cleared areas turned into heathland "waste", which may have been used even then as grazing land for horses.
History of the Forest
The earliest Anglo-Saxon tribe to colonise the area was the Jutes. They established small settlements and farms, living peacefully until c.1079.
Following the Norman Conquest in 1066, the forest was proclaimed a royal forest by William the Conqueror. It was used for royal hunts, mainly of deer. It was created at the expense of more than 20 small hamlets and isolated farmsteads; hence it was then 'new' as a single compact area. The New Forest was first recorded as Nova Foresta in Domesday Book in 1086, where it is described in detail.
Twelfth-century chroniclers alleged that William had created the forest by evicting the inhabitants of 36 parishes, reducing a flourishing district to a wasteland. This was probably propaganda because the poor soil had never supported large-scale agriculture and large areas had remained unpopulated.
Two of William's sons and a grandson died in the forest: Prince Richard in 1081, King William II (William Rufus) in 1100, and Henry who collided with a branch and hung himself while pursuing game. Local folklore asserted that this was punishment for the crimes committed by William when he created his New Forest but the truth is that Richard died from the plague and William Rufus (the Redhead) was accidentally shot by a compatriot’s arrow - the reputed spot of Rufus's death is marked with a stone known as the Rufus Stone.
It would seem that hunting was obviously a hazardous sport!
The foresters’ Common Rights were confirmed by statute in 1698. The New Forest became a source of timber for the Royal Navy, and ships timber plantations were created in the 18th century for this purpose.
The naval plantations encroached on the rights of the Commoners, but the Forest gained new protection under the New Forest Act 1877, which confirmed the historic rights of the Commoners and prohibited the enclosure of more than 25 sq mi (65 km2) at any time. It also reconstituted the Court of Verderers as representatives of the Commoners (rather than the Crown).
The New Forest was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1971 and most of the New Forest area was nominated as a National Park in 2005.
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Local Walking & Cycle Paths
Some of The Solent Way long-distance path (10.3 miles /16.6 km) runs through the varied and lovely beauty spots in the New Forest. Shorter distances are available by joining the Waymarked path at various places along the route.
Starting at Lymington the Solent Way crosses the Lymington River then continues a mile or so inland of the coast, giving occasional glimpses to the busy Solent to the east. Soon the path enters the New Forest passing Sowley Pond on the left. Continue walking on the quiet road for a little while, passing the old air field at Needs Oar Point to beautiful Bucklers Hard on the River Beaulieu. From Bucklers Hard the path follows the edge of the river to Beaulieu.
Details and maps of the route can be found on the ‘Walk & Cycle’ website at Web: Walk & Cycle Trail External Link
The Forest is mainly broad-leaved deciduous oak and beech woodland with many pretty villages dotted around the area, and several small towns. It is drained to the south by three major rivers – the Lymington, the Beaulieu and Avon Water. Latchmore Brook, Dockens Water, Linford Brook and other streams drain to the west.
The river rises at Lyndhurst in the centre of the New Forest and runs for 12 miles (19 km) before entering the sea at The Solent. From Beaulieu Village the last 4 miles (6 km) of the river is tidal. The river continues south-east through the Forest and the exquisitely preserved Georgian hamlet of Bucklers Hard.
Unusually, the entire river, including its bed, is owned by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu; however, the Estate and riverside walk are completely accessible to the public and well worth exploring. During a walk through the forest it is still possible to see evidence of the area’s shipbuilding history. Notice how the ancient oaks’ branches have been trained to form the ribs of a ship!
Yacht building is still a thriving industry along the banks and it was from this river that Sir Francis Chichester began and finished his single-handed voyage around the world in Gipsy Moth IV.
The whole New Forest area abounds with rare and unusual wildlife found nowhere else in Britain. A few examples are the marsh gentian, the wild gladiolus, mole crickets and specialist birds such as the European honey buzzard.
Numerous deer live in the Forest; they are usually rather shy and tend to stay out of sight when people are around, but are surprisingly bold at night, even when a car drives past. Fallow deer are the most common, followed by roe deer and red deer. There are also smaller populations of the introduced sika deer and muntjac.
Along the watercourses look out for the European otter and the introduced American mink. The western edge of the Forest is a good area to spot the European polecat.
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Exbury Gardens & Miniature Railway
The stunning Exbury Gardens are open most of the year and extremely popular with visitors. The 200-acre (81 ha) informal woodland garden has very large collections of rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias.
Located in the village of Exbury, just to the east of Beaulieu across the river from Bucklers Hard, it is well signposted from Beaulieu and from the A326 Southampton to Fawley road in the New Forest. In the summer, the gardens are served by the New Forest Tour open-top bus service.
Visitor Information Centre
The Centre is the place to find out everything about the New Forest. Pick up leaflets on all there is to see and do plus get the latest updates on the Forest Card offers, saving you money around the whole forest.
All year. Monday to Sunday 10:00-17:00 hours
Main Car Park, Lyndhurst, Hampshire SO43 7NY
Tel: +44 (0)2380 282 269
Other Visitor and Local Information Points are available throughout the Forest.
There are numerous places to camp in the New Forest with excellent tent, caravan and motor home pitches ranging from tranquil wooded settings to Holiday Parks with every facility. Go to Web: The New Forest/ Accommodation/ camping External Link
There are numerous ways of exploring the New Forest without a car. For details go to Web: The New Forest/ Travel in The New Forest External Link
Find out how to travel around the New Forest. Whether you want to hire a bike and explore on two wheels or hop on board the New Forest Tour.
- New Forest Tour
From June to September, daily hop on hop- off, open top buses tour the Forest and coast on three inter-changeable routes. Tickets last all day, include an audio commentary and permit changing from route to route.For information, go to Web: The New Forest Tour External Link
Cycle Hire shops can be found at Lyndhurst, Brockenhurst, Beaulieu and Burley. For details go to Web: New Forest/ Cycle hire & more
There are a variety of ways to travel around the New Forest without using your car. The New Forest is served by a public bus network, which provides the opportunity to both travel to and around the area by bus. Some buses have space to carry up to four bicycles - for details:
Bluestar - Southampton Tel: 023 8061 8233
Wilts & Dorset - Salisbury Tel: 01722 336855
- Poole Tel: 01202 673555
Yellow Buses - Bournemouth Tel: 01202 636060
There are many ways to travel car-free to the New Forest.
- By Rail
Over 100 trains stop at Brockenurst Station each day, providing easy access to the heart of the New Forest.
South West Trains link Brockenhurst with London Waterloo, Basingstoke, Winchester, Southampton, Bournemouth, Poole and Weymouth.
Cross Country Services connect Reading, Oxfod, Birmingham and all points further north. The train stations within the National Park are Ashurst, Beaulieu Road, Brockenhurst and Sway. The other train stations in the New Forest are Hinton Admiral, Lymington, New Milton and Totton.
National rail enquiries: Tel: 0845 748 4950
- By Coach
National Express coaches stop at Lyndhurst, Lymington and Ringwood and other stops in The New Forest.
Tel: 0870 580 8080 between 08:00 and 20:00 hours or use the Travel Helpline Tel: 0871 200 2233
- By Bus
As detailed above, The New Forest is served by a public bus network. For more information go to Web: The New Forest Tour External Link
- By Car
The New Forest lies to the west of Southampton Water in south-west Hampshire.
From Southampton, London or the east:
Take the M27 motorway and exit at Junction 1, signed Cadnam and head southwards into The New Forest.
From the West:
Use the A31 from Dorset.
From the north:
Take either the A338 from Salisbury to Ringwood in the west of the Forest, or the A36 to Totton in the east.
Google Maps - The New Forest