What will you do on your New Forest holiday?
Planning your holiday week for visitors to the Lymington, Brockenhurst and Beaulieu areas (useful for locals too...)
Written by the owners of Bartley Barn New Forest, a self catering holiday cottage with far reaching, west facing views including glorious sunsets, on the open forest near Hatchet Pond in the historic “squatters” village of East Boldre.
You’ve arrived in the New Forest, discovering en route that the ponies, cows and donkeys roam very freely - including onto the roads.
You’ve unpacked at your hotel, B&B or self catering holiday cottage and sorted your shopping in the case of the latter (see footnote*) and are now looking for a relaxing but also active, week’s worth of things to do, including the pick of the attractions about which you’ve already seen and read a little.
As everybody knows it’s almost impossible to have a proper holiday at home because there are always so many jobs to do, but imagining the luxury of a week’s holiday in this beautiful area this is our “local” personal selection of things to include. (In an area of outstanding natural beauty and enjoying walking, cycling, horseriding and watersports as we do, “our week” includes a healthy dose of active outdoor pursuits!)
In fact I think we’ve probably included too many suggestions to allow for any chill time. But that’s up to you!
At least one walking day
It’s hard to imagine anybody visiting the New Forest for a week and not including a walk in their itinerary. There are so many places you can explore - whether you want a wild ramble or need tracks suitable for buggies and wheelchairs of which there are several in this part of the forest including the old runways on Beaulieu Airfield very close to Hatchet Pond and Bartley Barn.
You can also walk for miles opposite Bartley Barn without touching a road at all, just follow your nose and the tracks… you’ll soon get your bearings and can make your circuit as small or as big as you wish – incorporating “Green Patch” which in summer with the animals congregated looks like an African plain!
Fellow self catering holiday provider New Forest Holiday Lets offers a selection of favourite New Forest walks which includes some of our favourites too.
If you’re staying in East Boldre and considering the beautiful Beaulieu to Bucklers Hard river walk, we suggest adding a delightful rural section between East Boldre and Beaulieu - an extra win-win because the road is narrow, busy and fast. It starts at the bottom of Chapel Lane (first left after East Boldre Garage heading from Hatchet Pond towards the brilliant New Forest pub the Turfcutters Arms). Go left over the stile through the woods and follow the field track, it’ll bring you out close to the road nearly opposite the Farm Shop – follow the track parallel with the road until it reaches a road crossing (take care) and from there brings you straight in to Beaulieu Village. Same on the way back!
A day on a bike - with a nice pub stop included
The New Forest is just fantastic for cycling, both the on- and off-road - although the latter is much more relaxing. Some motorists get VERY impatient and even if you’re trying to keep out of trouble this can be humour challenging at best.
Road racers will almost certainly bring your own bikes, and for track and trail riding too it’s best if you can to do the same as you’ll be free to cycle at will. But bike hire is easy in the New Forest at Brockenhurst and also at New Forest Activities in Beaulieu - which is very good! It’s probably best to hire for the day or even half day where you want to ride.
Many rides centre on Brockenhurst but there’s a nice loop including Beaulieu and Hatchet Pond which will give you a varied New Forest experience of open forest, gravel tracks through the wooded “inclosures”, easy riding across the old Beaulieu Airfield steeped in world war history, and gentle countryside viewed from the back lanes behind East Boldre and beside the Beaulieu River including part of the Solent Way. If you’re staying at Bartley Barn or the Turfcutters Arms (which has rooms too) you can start and finish at either as both are on the route. In any case do enjoy a drink and meal break at the latter on your hire bikes too. If you hire bikes at New Forest Activities they’ll give you the leaflet for this ride – and we have stocks at Bartley Barn too.
A day at Beaulieu – National Motor Museum, Beaulieu Abbey and Palace House
Everybody has heard of the National Motor Museum and there is something for all the family, not just the motorheads, at Beaulieu. If we had a week’s holiday here we would definitely allow for a full day to explore it properly, incorporating the special exhibition of the season. The grounds of the 800 year old Abbey ruins are simply magical you can almost feel yourself walking in the footsteps of the monks. If you get the chance to enjoy the open air Shakespeare productions by the visiting Castle Theatre group during your stay so much the better.
What to do on a rainy day in the New Forest?
Like everywhere, Beaulieu is better in the sunshine of course but it’s also a suitable destination for a rainy day in the New Forest, so also worth bearing in mind if you’re unfortunate with the weather. Other rainy day options must include going further afield e.g. to Marwell Zoo, the New Forest Wildlife Park or the Isle of Wight (see below!) - but in principle if you're visiting the New Forest and it rains, you'll miss out if you haven't brought your waterproofs and wellies with you! Our own recent guests enjoyed a walk in the drizzle through the woods from East Boldre to Brockenhurst finishing with a pizza at the Huntsman - but we did give them a lift back as by then the rain was torrential!
A day exploring Keyhaven and Hurst Castle
The Lymington to Keyhaven Nature Reserve is an area of coastal grazing marsh ("Keyhaven" means “harbour where cows are shipped”), lagoons and former salt marshes particularly important for wintering birds. Keyhaven is a small fishing and sailing village nestling behind Hurst Spit, which marked by its evocative tall white lighthouse extends out to form the smallest sea gap between the Hampshire coast and the Isle of Wight.
It’s a very special place. It’s also a fabulous walk along the shingle spit to Hurst Castle, great exercise and with fantastic views in all directions from the end of the spit - we would definitely include this in the week’s itinerary for our holiday in the New Forest. (If you don’t feel like walking both ways or even either way, you can catch the ferry which runs regularly between Keyhaven and the Castle during the summer months.)
The Castle itself is interesting and steeped in history from Henry VIII onwards – if you’re members of English Heritage don’t forget your cards! Open during the summer months. You could also explore more of the Lymington-Keyhaven Nature Reserve (find out more here) while in this area and make a day of it, we probably would, it’s very special!
A day at the beach
For families with small - and not so small! - children a bucket, spades and castles day is almost a rite of holiday passage, come rain or shine! Both Lepe to the east and Milford on Sea to the west offer popular shingle beaches with some sand at low tide, just take swimming shoes with you if you have tender feet!
For a real beach day on the sand you’ll need to travel a bit further west as far as Highcliffe Castle or if you like a couple of good beach cafes and restaurants on hand, Avon Beach or Steamer Point. And the beaches further along at Boscombe and Bournemouth are fabulous.
Even in the winter months, a blustery walk along the beach is good for the soul...
A day trip to the Isle of Wight
If we had a week's worth of days in the New Forest, we wouldn’t leave out a trip to the Isle of Wight – the western end of the Island is like going back in time, its restorative powers are magical and it’s nearly always sunny (even when it’s cloudy or raining on the mainland - so potentially another thing to do on a rainy day in the New Forest!)
The crossing on Wightlink from Lymington to Yarmouth is easy, you can take car or bikes but otherwise just catch the bus and walk on the island… book ahead if you’re taking your car.
On foot we would walk along the valley to Freshwater then up onto Tennyson Down and along the chalky grassy crest heading for the Needles, there are unbelievable views in all directions and you can catch a bus back to Yarmouth from the Needles. Right on the western tip of the island, the Needles Battery (National Trust) is well worth a visit and includes a fascinating insight into missile testing in the 1950s.
You could stop at Colwell Bay and visit the Hut for classy fishy sustenance with an amazing view across towards Hurst Castle and Lymington, again booking ahead necessary especially on the weekend (open during summer months).
By car we’d venture over to Ventnor via the Model Village and drive along the south western shore which in parts is a little like driving along Highway One in California. Or we'd recommend a wander around Cowes and a visit to Queen Victoria's holiday home, Osborne House.
Either way back in Yarmouth allow time before your ferry to walk out to sea along the wooden pier and perhaps have a drink at the historic George Hotel with its own beach and lovely Solent views, where King Charles II frequently stayed.
One (at least!) day on the water
If you would like to go kayaking or canoeing you can take a leisurely family tour on the Beaulieu River or indeed opt for a full on kayaking course with New Forest Activities, who run courses and experiences all year round.
If you’ve always fancied kite surfing there’s a brilliant opportunity to learn it at Calshot with Nomadic Kitesurf who also offer SUP (stand up paddleboarding).
For stand up paddleboard and kayak lessons and hire there’s also the fantastic New Forest Paddle Sport Company with lessons at Keyhaven and paddles to Hurst Castle.
Other options for getting out on the water in the warmer months include Escape Yachting who offer relaxing half day sailing lunch or dinner cruises on the Solent for all: families, groups, couples or singles. You’ll be offered the opportunity to take the helm if you wish and depending on the tides you’ll enjoy a fabulous sail towards the Needles or in the other direction to Newtown Creek.
And finally on the watery theme, if the weather’s good you could include a visit to the Lymington Sea Water Baths, again open during the summer months, our very own local lido which is is the oldest open air natural swimming pool in the UK - it’s enormous, with plenty of opportunity for both serious swimming and fun on the inflatables and SUPs.
A day on horseback
Riding across the Forest on horseback is something else – a myriad of tracks across open heathland, through the forests and around the bogs mean the opportunities for varying your route are endless and the lack of road work required will delight both you and your equine companion.
A half day or a full day in Lymington
No holiday in the New Forest would be complete without a visit to the Solent sailing mecca of Lymington and there’s plenty to do for a day (see our article: a day out in Lymington).
To see it Lymington at its best, there’s no better day than Saturday when its famous Charter Market fills the High Street - all year round, come rain or shine. Arrive early as parking can be tricky later on.
It’s a bustling town with loads of good independent shops, coffee bars and restaurants, some nice green spaces and of course the Quay and Marinas. If you happen to visit when one of the walking town tours is taking place you’ll also get a sense of its history, and St Barbe Museum will also be reopening soon after a large refurbishment.
A note about eating out in local restaurants and pubs
There are many great places to eat locally, here is a summary - including ideas for winter walks...
If you visit any of the above please do feel free to leave a review on lymington.com – it’s like a “local” Trip Advisor. Just follow the instructions to register and log in then you can post your review. And, if you’d like to know in advance what’s going on during the week of YOUR holiday, subscribe for free for our Weekly What's On newsletter which is emailed every Friday. Don't miss out!!