On the beaten track

The New Forest has safe cycle routes for children and lots of family-friendly attractions, says Tania Alexander

A cycling weekend with the children in the New Forest sounded like fun, but when we received our booking confirmation I began to have second thoughts. The suggested routes were up to 20 miles a day - a little daunting considering that the youngest of our trio, Joshua, is only four and still rides a bike with stabilisers. Our older two, Anoushka, nine, and Alex, 11, have bikes but the most cycling either of them do at home in London is a few laps around the park or a trip to the shops and back.

A cycling weekend with the children in the New Forest sounded like fun, but when we received our booking confirmation I began to have second thoughts. The suggested routes were up to 20 miles a day - a little daunting considering that the youngest of our trio, Joshua, is only four and still rides a bike with stabilisers. Our older two, Anoushka, nine, and Alex, 11, have bikes but the most cycling either of them do at home in London is a few laps around the park or a trip to the shops and back.

I immediately phoned Simon Scoble who runs the Country Lanes cycling office in the New Forest to express my concerns. No worries, he said. He would adjust the routes accordingly and Joshua could go on a bike attached to my husband Stuart's.

Country Lanes specialises in short cycling breaks using bed and breakfast accommodation in selected inns and guesthouses. They have centres in the New Forest, the Cotswolds and the Lake District - the idea is that you leave the car behind and enjoy a couple of days of organised cycling with or without family. As we were with the children, the New Forest, with its gentle terrain and plentiful off-road tracks, was recommended.

It would have been easier to have taken the train from Waterloo to direct Brockenhurst (85 minutes), but we decided to drive instead in case the weekend did not go to plan with Joshua in tow. The last time we had tried to put him on the back of Stuart's bike he was two and had refused point blank as it was "too high".

We left North London at the crack of dawn on Friday to make the most of our two-night stay. By 10am we had deposited our luggage at the Rose and Crown pub (just a few hundred yards from the cycle centre) and were all kitted out with bikes and helmets. The older two thought it cool to be given small adult mountain bikes with 21 gears that were better than the ones they have at home.

The cycle centre is located in a converted railway carriage in Brockenhurst station. Our first ride would take us through the forest to a pub for lunch - a gentle round trip of about 10 miles. Joshua's tag-along bike was bolted onto the back of Stuart's - it looked like a tandem but actually enabled him to just sit and enjoy the ride without having to worry about braking, steering or even pedalling. We were given some simple instructions about not veering off the Forestry Commission approved cycle tracks ("subject to a £500 fine"), and given laminated, typed rules and an Ordnance Survey map for back-up.

Setting off through Brockenhurst's continual traffic was a little daunting. The first mile or two of our route was on the road, and all of us were nervous. We were only half a mile into our journey when Joshua refused to go any further. He was understandably terrified when a giant lorry rattled past, and he instantly dismounted and insisted that we walk. With nearly 10 miles ahead of us we turned back to the cycle centre. Simon replaced the tag-along with a bright yellow-and-blue trailer covered with a little tent that made Joshua feel much more secure. Alex and Anoushka taught him how to do a regal wave through the plastic window.

At 10.30am we were off on the road again, retracing our rather hair-raising route through town. We breathed a huge sigh of relief after a mile and a half when we finally turned off onto a gravel path. We were now truly in the New Forest - an area that covers 90,000 acres, with 150 miles of trails making up the Forestry Commission Cycle Network. The children were in raptures when they saw the first of many ponies roaming free, grazing outside a thatched cottage. Although I had told them that there were ponies in the New Forest they had imagined that they would be behind fences. The thrill of seeing them on the road sides and village greens never ceased to delight them, and provided excellent opportunities for a stop when they were feeling weary.

Yet now that Joshua was happily strapped into the trailer, in truth it was Stuart and I who tired before the children. The two of them were off and away on the trails, spattered in mud from all the puddles they kept racing through and travelling at such speed that it was hard to keep up. The route was mainly flat, but the few exhilarating hilly bits were approached with such velocity that Anoushka declared gleefully that it was "like a roller coaster". As Alex pipped Stuart to the post at the end of a long stretch of gravel track, he announced that he had never cycled so fast in his life. Despite my regular bike sessions at the local gym, I could feel my heart pounding.

We arrived, rosy-cheeked and with healthy appetites, at the Oak Inn pub in Bank, near Lyndhurst, at about 1pm. Refuelled and energised after a hearty meal, we decided to lengthen the 10-mile route by adding a three-mile detour past some deer fields on the way back. All the trails are cleverly designed so you can take shorter or longer options. We could only glimpse the deer at the other end of the fields but it did help stretch our legs that bit further and made us realise by the end of the first day that 20 miles was not overly ambitious.

So, after all my initial protests, on day two we set off on a 20-mile route to Beaulieu and back. Again it started with a lengthy stretch on the road, but we were a little more used to this by now. The terrain was varied and featured moorland, open commons, some roads and mile upon mile of tranquil forest.

The highlight of our morning was an encounter with a small herd of roaming donkeys who took a shine to Joshua's Fruit Pastilles and, much to his annoyance, insisted on following us until we shooed them away.

It took us about three hours to get to Beaulieu with several pony stops, a visit to Boldre church and a short play in an adventure playground. As Alex was keen to see the James Bond exhibit at the Beaulieu Motor Museum we decided to make that our lunchtime break. It is a venue well worth visiting, with an excellent restaurant that serves giant-size portions of hot food and plenty to occupy the whole family for several hours. In fact we liked it so much that we took advantage of their "come back for free in six days" offer and returned on our way home to London.

It was hard getting back on our bikes at 3pm, as we knew we still had about seven miles to go and were all exhausted. The return journey went fairly well, despite a long and rather hairy climb up the busy road from Beaulieu. This was soon forgotten once we were back in the woods, and we were all enchanted when we had a close sighting of a small herd of deer.

But two miles from the Rose and Crown disaster struck. Joshua's trailer got a flat tyre, and while the older two were anxious to keep pedalling it was hard work for Stuart, who eventually had to abandon his bike and push.

We arrived back shattered but satisfied and realised that we had covered the 20 miles with relative ease. The staff at the Rose and Crown could not have been more accommodating throughout our stay, and after another hearty meal we were glad to crash out by 9pm.

The weekend was a success, although it would have been easier without Joshua in tow. The older children could easily have coped with 20 miles each day and it made an invigorating break that we will no doubt try again.

Country Lanes (01590 622627; www.countrylanes.co.uk) - two nights B&B at the Rose and Crown in Brockenhurst, based on two adults and two children sharing two rooms costs £595. This includes cycle hire with helmets, locks, routes, souvenir T-shirts and water bottles.

OTHER OPTIONS

CYCLING FOR SOFTIES

(0161 248 8282; www.cycling-for-softies.co.uk) - a week's cycling holiday in the Mayenne and Sarthe region of France this summer costs from £733 per adult and £668 per child. All holidays are tailor-made. The price includes half-board accommodation in small hotels, bike hire with service back-up, maps, itineraries and tour packs with local information. Travel from the UK is not included.

FREEWHEEL HOLIDAYS

(02920 786650; www.freewheelholidays.com) offers a 10-day holiday in Austria called "Into the Valley of the Alps". Accommodation en route is in three- and four-star hotels chosen for their family-friendliness, including the Alpenland in Maria Alm, which has its own bowling alley. Prices start at £693 per adult, £599-£623 for two to 17 year olds and £49 for under-twos. These include bicycle hire, B&B accommodation, luggage transfer between overnight stops and all route notes/maps. Travel from the UK is not included.

NEILSON

(0870 9099 099; www.neilson.com) has mountain biking, windsurfing, dinghy sailing and tennis in its Surf, Sail and Cycle holiday in Porto Heli, Greece. The minimum age for guided bike rides is nine, and a week's holiday costs from £465 per adult and £372 per child (under 14), including return flights, transfers, half-board accommodation, all activities, tuition and bike-guiding services.

News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
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

    Recruitment Genius: Lifeguards / Leisure Club Attendants - Seasonal Placement

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Qualified Lifeguards are required to join a fa...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Exhibition Content Developer

    £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in South Kensington, this prestigi...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - major leisure brand

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Partner

    £25000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Partner is required to ...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn