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Pony near Hampton Ridge
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New Forest What to Do - a visitors' guide

What to Do in the New Forest? There are, of course, lots of things to do in the New Forest for all the family throughout the year and whatever the weather - attractions, activities, events and more.

Here is a selection that will provide a flavour of what is available.

(1) Walking and cycling

Walkers in the New Forest are always likely to encounter ponies or cattle
Walkers in the New Forest are always likely to encounter ponies or cattle

Taking a walk in the New Forest, through the woods or over the heaths, is an ever-popular means of exercise and relaxation that can be enjoyed alone or with friends and family.

Guided walks are also on offer, provided by Forestry England and during the annual two week New Forest Walking Festival. Taking place in October each year, the New Forest Walking Festival features a host of guided walks spread throughout the National Park and offers the opportunity to visit out-of-the-way areas in the company of local experts. Be aware, though, that places are much in demand so early booking is essential.

Cyclists can enjoy many miles of off-road cycle tracks
Cyclists can enjoy many miles of off-road cycle tracks

Leisure and more serious cycling in the New Forest is well-catered for along many miles of specially designated off-road cycle tracks, and for those who prefer not to bring their own bikes, cycle hire facilities are available in many of the New Forest's larger towns and villages.

Furthermore, in recent years, Bike Events have organised an autumnal New Forest bike ride starting at Brockenhurst Sixth Form College and offering a choice of four routes - 15, 30, 45 or 60 miles - for all ages and abilities; whilst UK Cycling Events organise longer distance rides through the Forest.

(2) Wildlife and country shows

New Forest wildlife is rich and varied. Indeed, some of the wildlife occurs in few other places in the UK.

Deer at Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary are often easily seen from the viewing platform
Deer at Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary are often easily seen from the viewing platform

For example, deer are widespread and birds such as the tiny Dartford warbler, butterflies like silver-studded blues, and nationally rare smooth snakes are all considered to be New Forest 'speciality' species, whilst wild gladioli are found nowhere else in Britain.

There is certainly much to explore for the self-sufficient naturalist, whilst those with a more general interest in wildlife might wish to visit the Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary, the New Forest Reptile Centre on the outskirts of Lyndhurst; Liberty's Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre on Crow Lane, Ringwood; and the New Forest Wildlife Park, near Ashurst.

Country shows, carnivals and festivals also offer much for visitors to enjoy and often feature bird of prey displays, farm animals, local crafts and traditional produce, sporting events, fun games, live music and excellent food and drink that is often locally sourced.

Show Jumping in the West Ring, New Forest Show
Show Jumping in the West Ring, New Forest Show

Look out, in particular, for the three day New Forest and Hampshire County Show which takes place at New Park, Brockenhurst, usually in late July each year.

Then for doggie enthusiasts, there's Dogstival, an annual event that is proving to be increasingly popular. Billed as 'a festival for dogs and dog lovers', Dogstival attracted over 10,000 people in 2019 and, of course, countless dogs.

(3) Art, history, culture and gardens

Daffodils in full bloom at Exbury Gardens
Daffodils in full bloom at Exbury Gardens

Art exhibitions and other related events are regularly held at the New Forest Heritage Centre in Lyndhurst, the St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery in Lymington and at Exbury Gardens.

Talks and themed garden walks are also on offer at Exbury Gardens along with 200 acres of woodland gardens that line the Beaulieu River and boast extensive woodland and riverside walks, whilst the New Forest Heritage Centre is the place to visit to find out more about the history and traditions of the New Forest.

Furzey Gardens at Minstead, meanwhile, is on a somewhat smaller scale when compared to Exbury, but is equally enjoyable, and every visit helps the Minstead Trust continue its work to provide support and work experience for people with learning disabilities.

Palace House, Beaulieu
Palace House, Beaulieu

Garden enthusiasts will not be disappointed, either, with visits to the many New Forest gardens that are open to the public, with all proceeds normally donated to charity.

Palace House at Beaulieu, once the gatehouse of the medieval Beaulieu Abbey, has been the Montagu family home since 1538 and is also well worth a visit and so are the remains of the Abbey, and the adjoining National Motor Museum.

Buckler's Hard, on the beautiful Beaulieu River, is an 18th century shipbuilding village that remains largely as it was in those far off days.

Visitors to this charming village might also wish to take in the Maritime Museum and Shipwright's Cottage, and enjoy a cruise along the river - complete with expert commentary.

Calshot Castle
Calshot Castle

Calshot Castle and Hurst Castle, both built during the reign of Henry VIII, are open to the public and so is Breamore House, an Elizabethan manor house noted for its fine collection of paintings and furniture, and the associated countryside museum.

Further information about these and many other attractions can be found here - New Forest Days Out.

(4) Street markets and food festivals

New Forest street markets are not to be missed, for they feature a wide range of goods including local produce and craft items.

A colourful plant stall on Lymington Market
A colourful plant stall on Lymington Market

Check out the markets at Lymington (Saturdays, usually from 8.00am to 3.30pm), Ringwood (Wednesdays, usually from 8.00am to 3.00pm), Hythe (Tuesdays, usually between 9.00am and 4.00pm), and New Milton (Wednesdays, usually from 9.00am to 4.00pm). And look out, too, for local farmers' markets and a variety of other, especially themed markets.

The Hampshire Food Festival usually takes place throughout July and includes events at many locations within the New Forest, whilst the annual New Forest Food and Drink Fortnight is an autumn treat that features a whole host of different food and drink-related events.

The Lymington Seafood Festival is an annual event that celebrates Lymington and the New Forest's rich cultural heritage, fabulous regional producers and links to the sea. Scheduled to take place in August at Bath Road Park, Lymington, the Festival features 'some of the most exciting and innovative artisan food and drink producers who'll be cooking up fishy delicacies from around the world across the weekend'. There's live music, too, craft beers from Ringwood Brewery, talented chefs in the demonstration kitchen and lots, lots more.

And then there's the Burley Food, Arts, Drinks and Music Festival, scheduled for 19th and 20th September 2020, where will be found a wide range of artisan food and drink, two stages and richly talented local bands and headline acts, kids entertainment, competitions and activities.

(5) Village Halls and Community Centres

Lyndhurst Community Centre
Lyndhurst Community Centre

The New Forest's village halls and community centres - such as Lyndhurst Community Centre, Brockenhurst Village Hall and Burley Village Hall - offer a wide range of events and activities provided for local people and visitors alike.

Why not visit one of the regularly held Craft Fairs where can be found a range of high quality hand-made items that are definitely not available on the high street, or check out a Book Fair, Paraphernalia Fair or Antique Fair? Film Nights are also always popular and so are a range of talks on a wide variety of subjects.

All the details can be found in the New Forest Events and Lyndhurst Community Centre Events guides.

(6) Fun and interest for all the family

Many New Forest attractions run special family events during school half-terms and other holidays.

Bolderwood Information Centre
Bolderwood Information Centre

Look out, for example, for special 'Discovery Days' at the New Forest Heritage Centre, guided nature and other walks arranged by Forestry England, magical nature-oriented events at the New Forest Reptile Centre, and exciting children's trails at Bolderwood organised by Forestry England rangers.

Special family events also take place at Peppa Pig World at nearby Paulton's Park, and at Beaulieu, Buckler's Hard, Hurst Castle, Exbury Gardens, Blashford Lakes, Moors Valley Country Park, Lepe Country Park and other venues.

Again, check out the New Forest Events guide for lots more information.

(7) Days out in the surrounding area

Whilst the New Forest is an absolutely wonderful place to visit, it also makes a superb centre for exploring more widely.

The ruined castle at Corfe
The ruined castle at Corfe

For example, walks along the Solent Way on the nearby coast are a joy, and so is relaxing on Bournemouth's sandy beaches or travelling to Dorset's other seaside resorts and attractions.

Delightful, out-of-the-way country villages and historic towns and cities - such as Downton, Romsey, Salisbury and Winchester - are also within easy travelling distance, and so is the still imposing ruined castle at Corfe.

Take a look at the New Forest Days Out section for more information.


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Content produced by Andrew Walmsley
Content produced by Andrew Walmsley