I’ve been fortunate to be well acquainted with the New Forest National Park in southern England for all of my life. It’s a place that feels like home to me, where I’m familiar with the tracks and the trees and the lifecycles of its animals. Here you’ll find the Three Bs – three key places which, if you visit them, will ensure that you’ve seen the best of the New Forest.
Named after the ruined abbey which was founded by French monks, Beaulieu is a small village blessed with cute cottages and with a large palace just the other side of a bucolic river. The palace is the home of Lord Montagu, and can be visited by anyone going to the National Motor Museum (full of motoring exhibits plus loads of fun rides for kids).
TOP TIP: Take the easy 7.5km walk along the Beaulieu River to Buckler’s Hard, where shipbuilding thrived in the 18th century
There’s much more to write about Brockenhurst. Most importantly; it’s the easiest place to reach in the New Forest thanks to its direct and frequent train connections to London (1h30m from Waterloo, at least two departures/hour). When you arrive you have the choice of hiring a bicycle, embarking on a horse riding adventure, chilling out at a spa or choosing from one of the many excellent hikes.
I’ll make a separate post about hikes from Brockenhurst, because there are quite a few and, because they deviate from the beaten path, I’ll need to include maps. But you should know that there are hundreds of miles of tracks and paths which lead to or around Brockenhurst, going deep into the woods, over marshes, past plains full of deer, over rivers, along disused railway tracks…it really is an amazing place for hikers.
As for bikers, there are a few places to hire cycles in Brockenhurst and the national park authority has mapped out a good range of routes from the village. Because the New Forest is relatively flat the going is easy, but it can be easy to get lost so do bring a map.
Brockenhurst has been described as the New Forest version of Monopoly’s Mayfair, thanks to the high prices of property here which reflects its place as the very best of the New Forest. With this fairly recent influx of wealth has come fine dining options such as The Pig on the edge of the village, plus a wine bar and upmarket hotels. For spa lovers there’s a choice of either Carey’s Manor or the New Park Manor. If you really want to splurge then Rhinefield House is just a few minutes’ drive from the centre and located in the depths of the forest.
Some believe that witchcraft has existed in the New Forest for many centuries. What we do know is that, in the 1950s, a White Witch named Sybil Leek lived in the cute village of Burley, which is nestled in a little valley surrounded by woods and plains. Walking in the depths of the New Forest you can sometimes see markings associated with witchcraft, but Burley is much more obvious about this association.
A Coven Of Witches is a delightful shop named by Leek, and it’s where you come for crystals, candles and other such paraphernalia. Burley’s other shops and tea rooms are sure to charm, and if you want to splurge then Burley Manor is a good place for afternoon tea with views across a field of deer. If you’re travelling by public transport then the New Forest Tour bus may be of interest.
A railway line once stretched from Brockenhurst to Bournemouth via Burley. Nicknamed ‘Castleman’s Corkscrew’ (after a railway planner, plus the shape the tracks take), it was usurped by the line you may have arrived by, and so it’s now abandoned. This is good news for cyclists and walkers who can follow the disused railway from Burley to Brockenhurst. It’s a very picturesque route and there’s even a tearoom in the old railway station halfway along.
Getting to the New Forest
Trains from stations including Manchester, London, Bournemouth and Lymington (for the Isle of Wight) to Brockenhurst.
Cheap coaches are available from London via Southampton, and also from Bournemouth. Local buses also to Lyndhurst and Southampton.
Driving distance from London is around 90 miles (150km), mostly along the M3 and M27. Maximum speed in the New Forest is 40mph. Be aware that animals (ponies, cows, donkeys etc) wander across roads so please drive carefully.
The New Forest’s best accommodation
YHA New Forest
Located in Burley with decent bunks, good-sized kitchens and a choice of cosy communal areas
Premier Inn Hordle
Not the prettiest village but well-located between the Forest and the coast
Balmer Lawn Hotel, Brockenhurst
A short walk into Brockenhurst, views across the open forest, lovely spa
Montagu Arms, Beaulieu
Beautiful Beaulieu’s only accommodation offers grand rooms and use of the spa at Carey’s Manor
Lime Wood, Lyndhurst
Set in the heart of the forest, this Regency-era estate is the ultimate in tasteful luxury (yes, there’s a spa)
PLEASE NOTE: A lot of time has gone in to researching this Best of the New Forest post. Some of the links above are to my affiliates’ sites and any purchases made via these links will help me to keep this blog going. The use of these links has not in any way influenced the recommendations I have made.