The New Forest is an ideal location close to Southampton and also the Isle of Wight, so here are a few top tips to help you on your way.
If you are looking for somewhere different to try then try the Away Resorts Lodges at Sandy Balls in Fordingbridge. A few minutes’ walk or drive from the delightful Godshill Cricket pitch and the Forest with its impressive ponies, cattle and even donkeys, Sandy Balls has a variety of accommodation options available. On a recent visit, I stayed in one of their Zen units with its own hot tub! There are some luxurious accommodation but if you do decide to stay in one of these units, make sure you look at the map before you go as they are located all over the site.
There are some wonderful walks down to the River Avon, so investigate the map provided, put on your walking boots and go exploring.
Sandy Balls is in easy reach of many of the New Forest destinations. When the weather is good, queues can build up into some towns such as Lyndhurst. However, if you get hold of a local map or have a look at your Sat Nav, there should be plenty of ways around any problems.
The area around Brockenhurst is very attractive and a major draw has to be The Pig. This beautiful manor house with its own kitchen gardens is part of the Pig group of hotels and restaurants. All Covid-19 safety regulation are in place and you can eat outside by the wood stove or inside. Ingredients are all sources on site or within (wherever possible) 25 miles. Lunches are delightful, and it is a very special place. Don’t leave without having a wander around the kitchen gardens. The gardeners are very knowledgeable. All the staff are trained to provide a relaxed and professional service. I recently enjoyed a light lunch of flat breads and for dessert a local ice cream, so do give it a try. I am sure you will not be disappointed.
Another tip when visiting this area, is to keep your speed down to 40 mph. The wildlife in the forest has a mind of their own, and often you will come across a pony or donkey wandering without a care across the road. So be warned.
Beaulieu is well worth visiting with its Motor Museum and also Bucklers Hard where many centuries ago had a major ship building centre, hence the somewhat lack of trees in the New Forest.
Having once lived in Hamble very close to the New Forest, the best time is spring and autumn. My favourite time is around late September early October. On a sunny day, the views are quite spectacular with its changing colours and an ideal time for photographers with the amazing light, so to get the full experience, leave your car in one of the many car parks and walk along some well sign posted trails.
If you are staying any length of time, then you must plan a trip over to the Isle of Wight. The best route I have found is Lymington to Yarmouth on the Wightlink Ferries, a trip of just around 40 minutes. Under current regulations you are required to wear a mask on-board. Loading is very quick and there are plenty of outside areas where you can feel totally safe. Once on the Isle of Wight, you may want to try out sophisticated Cowes with its yachting connections. Very similar in my view to Falmouth, there is plenty to see and lots of parking. For lunch, you might like to try one of the venues in the front by the harbour such as the Island Sailing Club which is open to non-members. The view from the terrace is really memorable, and you can enjoy the various yachts, ferries and catamarans as you lunch.
If you have time, you should take the main coast road around the island through Ventor, out to the Needles and onto Yarmouth. I was quite surprised how rural it gets once you leave Ventnor. The ferries to the island between Lymington and Yarmouth run on a very regular basis but if you are taking your car make sure to book beforehand. There are also services from Southampton and Portsmouth as well. If you are travelling back from Yarmouth, do try one of the local ice creams which can be purchased from a kiosk by the pier. They are delicious.
Other destinations close to the forest, include the Cathedral City of Salisbury, Southampton and Bournemouth with its excellent sandy beaches. You may also want to explore Cranborne Chase which is a short drive from Sandy Balls. A beautiful drive through Sixpenny Handley takes you onto Shaftesbury and the famous Gold Hill which features in the iconic ‘Hovis’ advert. Whilst driving across the Chase, look out for the hares which are famous. If you have time you could also stop off for lunch at Compton Abbas airfield, with its spectacular views.
Ideal for a short break, the New Forest must rate in my top five places to visit in the UK alongside Cambridge, Northumberland, Orkney and the Hebrides in Western Scotland.
Images courtesy of Godfrey Hall
Editor’s note: This article was written during a period of time when travel was less restricted around the UK. Before you travel, please check the current government rules.