Natural wonders: The New Forest is small but bursting with fun

In the second part of our series on national parks, Jane Anderson explores the wilds of Hampshire

With fairy glades among gnarled oaks, springy heathland manicured by wild ponies, streams made for paddling and the coast a stone's throw away, the New Forest is a magical place to visit in summer. Its name is perhaps misleading. William the Conqueror's 11th-century royal hunting ground and Britain's smallest National Park has some of the country's last remaining ancient forest, plus picturesque Hampshire villages, nature reserves and its very own warm microclimate.

The central hub comprises a trio of villages – Brockenhurst, Lyndhurst and Burley – along with Beaulieu, the New Forest's most-visited attraction. To the south, along 26 miles of coastline, is the old seaport of Lymington just outside the national park border; in the north-west lies largely unspoilt forest around the market town of Fordingbridge, also just outside the national park boundary.

Once in the Forest proper, ditch the car and take in the views on the open-topped New Forest tour bus (023 8028 2269; thenewforesttour.info; £10). The route from the centre to the coast covers many of the main towns and attractions, and new this summer is a route up into the lesser-visited Avon Valley. Alternatively, use pedal power to travel along 100 miles of cycle track. Bikes can be hired from Country Lanes Cycle Hire (01590 622627; countrylanes.co.uk) at Brockenhurst station, which has excellent train links from across England. A popular ride is past giant redwoods on the Ornamental Drive to the deer sanctuary at Bolderwood (feeding times 1pm and 2pm), with a detour for a creamy New Forest ice cream in the village of Burley.

Bustling Lyndhurst is the "capital" of the New Forest, stuffed with toy and tea shops. It was once the home of the Alice who inspired Alice in Wonderland. Alice Liddell's grave lies in its parish churchyard. From here, go north to Fordingbridge to walk from Telegraph Hill (the highest point in the forest at 550ft) through three miles of spectacular views and unspoilt countryside to join the crowd at the 17th-century Royal Oak at Fritham (023 8081 2606) for an award-winning pie and some real ale.

The village of Beaulieu (pronounced Bewley) boasts the National Motor Museum (01590 612345;beaulieu.co.uk; £17.75) plus historic buildings that will provide entertainment on a rainy day. From there, it's a two-mile ride (or walk) along the Beaulieu River to Buckler's Hard (01590 616203; bucklershard.co.uk), a maritime museum flanked by 18th-century red-brick houses left over from the time when ships such as Agamemnon – Nelson's favourite, used in the Battle of Trafalgar – were built here. The Beaulieu River's unusual mix of fresh and saltwater means you can see moon jellyfish and nibble at wild samphire while kayaking past yachts in the harbour (01590 612377; newforestactivities.co.uk; £28 per person for two hours).

Summer weekends mean a barbecue on picnic tables in the garden at The Master Builder's (0844 815 3399; themasterbuilders.co.uk). Nearby is banking tycoon Lionel de Rothchild's creation, Exbury Gardens (023 8089 1203; exbury.co.uk; £9) which can also be experienced on the blue-painted steam train (£3.50 per person).

The top family attraction in the area is north-east of the national park boundary, and just off the M27. Paultons Family Theme Park (023 8081 4442; paultonspark.co.uk; £21) boasts rollercoasters, log flumes, a huge splash park and – new for this summer – Peppa Pig World ( peppapigworld.co.uk).

Also just beyond the National Park boundary is the port of Lymington, just five miles from Brockenhurst. It has an elegant Georgian high street and a cobbled quay where fisherman dock their catch among the bobbing yachts. Cool off at the large Lymington Seawater Baths (01590 678882; lymingtonseawaterbaths.org.uk), then enjoy lunch on the terrace of the Ship Inn (01590 676903; theshiplymington.co.uk ).

Try the gentle 90-minute coast-hugging walk beside the wetlands on the Solent Way to Keyhaven, the jumping off point for Henry VIII's medieval coastal fortress Hurst Castle (01590 642500; hurstcastle.co.uk; £4) on a promontory in the sea. Further along, Highcliffe Castle and beach and the cliffs at Milford on Sea, just outside the National Park boundary, offer the best views of the famous trio of chalk pinnacles, the "Needles" on the Isle of Wight.

Children will enjoy the land train (£1.20 adult; 60p child) from Mudeford Sandbank, within easy reach of the National Park, reached by ferry from Mudeford quay, to the nature reserve at Hengistbury Head. It's worth a return journey for the mussels and chips al fresco at the Beach House Café (01202 423474; beachhousecafe.co.uk). As you sit among rows of pretty painted beach huts, it's hard to imagine ancient forest lying just a stone's throw away.

Three places to stay New Forest

STANWELL HOUSE HOTEL

This self-professed boutique hotel is set in one of the lovely Georgian buildings in the middle of Lymington high street, paces from the quay, with a tranquil garden at the back. It has 30 individually decorated en suite rooms with comfy beds and modern bathrooms, some with roll-top baths or rainforest showers. Its seafood restaurant uses locally sourced produce, there's a bistro and/or a glass-roofed courtyard which spills out into a lavender-scented Victorian garden in summer. Doubles from £119 including breakfast (01590 677123; stanwellhouse.com).

COTTAGE LODGE

This luxury B&B on the main road into Brockenhurst, heavy with beams from a 17th-century ship, offers charming bedrooms and a warm welcome. Owner Christina encourages carless guests and has two "eco" rooms with furniture that has been made from reclaimed wood. From October, there will be cycle-powered televisions. Doubles start at £75 including breakfast (01590 622296; cottagelodge.co.uk).For a dining treat, try the newly opened Pig Hotel (01590 622354; thepighotel.co.uk) from one of the creators of Hotel du Vin, a mile away.

ROUNDHILL CAMPSITE

This tranquil, spacious site, off the road between Brockenhurst and Beaulieu, has 500 pitches (and pre-pitched tents for hire) and is surrounded by thick woodland. It has good facilities with power showers, although there is no electricity on site. There are ranger-led activities, fishing and cycle tracks – and dogs are welcome. Feast on Loosehanger cheese, venison and wild boar sausages, cider and more from nearby Setley Ridge Vineyard farm shop (01590 622246; setleyridge.co.uk). The cost is £19 for standard pitch (01590 624344; forestholidays.co.uk)

New Forest Tourist Information: thenewforest.co.uk

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Sport
Angel Di Maria celebrates his first goal for Manchester United against QPR
Football4-0 victory is team's first win under new manager Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
art
News
newsIn short, yes
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris claimed the top spot in this week's single charts
music
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
News
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl despairs during the arena auditions
tvX Factor review: Drama as Cheryl and Simon spar over girl band

News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
News
i100
Life and Style
Cara Delevigne at the TopShop Unique show during London Fashion Week
fashion
News
The life-sized tribute to Amy Winehouse was designed by Scott Eaton and was erected at the Stables Market in Camden
peopleBut quite what the singer would have made of her new statue...
Sport
England's Andy Sullivan poses with his trophy and an astronaut after winning a trip to space
sport
News
peopleThe actress has agreed to host the Met Gala Ball - but not until 2015
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Day In a Page

    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
    The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

    The fall of Rome?

    Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
    Glasgow girl made good

    Glasgow girl made good

    Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
    Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

    Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

    Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
    The landscape of my imagination

    The landscape of my imagination

    Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories