Frosty leaves, crisp air, starry skies and hardy wild ponies in their shaggy winter coats – the New Forest is a magical place in winter.
The cycle of life never stops in this historic landscape for the people and animals who make their living here, as is seen in the current episode of Channel 4’s popular series A Year in the New Forest, showing on Saturdays at 7pm.
But winter is also a great time for visitors – a quieter season where, as long as you pack the right clothes, the beauty of the Forest can offer refreshment, renewal and romance. Below you’ll find 10 suggestions of how best to enjoy the New Forest in winter.
If you can’t wait that long to discover this unique natural place for yourself, there are plenty of reasons to plan a visit during this glorious summer.
Dive right in to the Lymington Seafood Festival, a celebration of the Forest town’s cultural heritage, local produce and links to the sea. Running this weekend, August 11 and 12, at Bath Road Park, Lymington, the free festival features some of the most innovative artisan food and drink producers around along with music and art.
Three of the top holiday parks in the New Forest – Shorefield, Sandy Balls and Hoburne are currently offering a special deal of 10% off 2018 stays, offering everyone from the youngest to the oldest in the family the chance to make lasting memories. Go to www.thenewforest.co.uk/ideas-and-inspiration/film-and-tv/a-year-in-the-new-forest/holiday-park-special-offers to find out more.
If you’re inspired by A Year in the New Forest to visit in the winter, here are ten ways to get the very best out of the season:
- Crisp winter walks – Enjoy the peace of the New Forest at a time when the tracks and trails are quieter. There is beauty all around, and so much to see. Try the Burley walk with views of heathland and wetland, or Whitefield Moor with its romantic hilltop views – perfect at sunset. Why not take your little ones for a walk – they love to swish their wellies through the carpets of leaves, and see if they can identify the bare trees from their structure alone.
- Bird watching – The winter months are a great time of year to do some bird watching. Birds of prey including merlin, peregrine falcon and short eared owl make regular appearances on the heathland. The great grey shrike, with its distinctive black mask and grey feathers is another winter. A great place to visit for some birding in the winter is the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust’s Blashford Lakes nature reserve in the Avon Valley, near Ringwood. Here, huge flocks of overwintering birds fly onto the lakes to roost during the winter months.
- Celebrate the winter solstice – this year it falls on Friday December 21, perfect for a pre-Christmas madness weekend in the peace of the Forest.
Set your alarm to wake up in time for a hike up Piper’s Wait, near Bramshaw – officially the New Forest’s highest hill. Alternatively walk up Bolton’s Bench at Lyndhurst or stand atop the heathland at Minstead and take in the magnificent site of the sun rising on the shortest day of the year, which is also the first official day of winter.
- And breathe… plan your January detox – If you already feel a festive season of overindulgence is on the horizon, there’s no better place to start 2019. Relax as you indulge yourself in the tranquility of a wonderful Spa Day or Spa Stay at one of the beautiful Hotels in the New Forest. Spas at Careys Manor Hotel, Balmer Lawn Hotel, Chewton Glen and Lime Wood hotels all offer a luxurious and rejuvenating experience. Add some treatments to your experience such as a full body massage, a specialist massage or body facial wraps, all of which will leave you feeling extra radiant. Or if you want to try something closer to nature, the Horse Raft is a unique, relaxing guided walking experience to help you feel restored by the Forest’s beautiful landscape.
- Christmas at Paulton’s Park – The magic of Christmas through little ones’ eyes is something the whole family can enjoy. From November 24 until December 23 the New Forest’s award-winning amusement park takes on a festive feel with Santa in his grotto and Peppa Pig and friends getting set for Christmas.
- Pub lunches – There’s nothing better than sitting in front of a roaring log fire in one of the New Forest’s cosy country pubs after a chilly winter walk. Many of them feature local produce – look out for the New Forest Marque, indicating that the produce used has been sourced locally and sustainably.
- Museums and attractions – Beaulieu, with its National Motor Museum and Palace House, is a top day out for all the family and it’s open every day of the year except Christmas Day. Lymington’s St Barbe museum runs a packed programme of exhibitions and events year-round. And the New Forest Heritage Centre in Lyndhurst offers a fascinating, interactive insight into the Forest’s heritage. For bike fans, the Sammy Miller Motorbike Museum at New Milton houses one of the finest collection of fully restored motorcycles in the world
- Cycle trails – Two wheels is a great way to explore the New Forest, and if you don’t have your own bike there are several places to hire them from. There are miles and miles of off-road tracks and low speed limit roads where you can enjoy a leisurely day riding by herds of ponies in stunning scenery. One of the most popular routes for families is the two miles from Beaulieu to Buckler’s Hard. Or, for a longer stretch, the six-and-a-half miles from Brockenhurst to Lyndhurst is a favourite – and all but 0.2 of those miles are off-road tracks.
- Award-winning dining – Enjoy indulging in Michelin star and five star food at destination restaurants including The Montagu Arms and Chewton Glen. Many others offer an AA rosette or two, so the New Forest can boast some truly special dining experiences.
- Winter breaks – Whether it’s full-on luxurious pampering you’re after or a cosy family stay in a holiday park, the New Forest is a welcoming winter destination. Relax and enjoy getting closer to nature with the promise of a comfortable bed and a hearty breakfast.
There’s plenty of inspiration on where to stay and what to do on the website www.thenewforest.co.uk. You’ll find stories, hints and tips all aimed at helping you get the very best out of your visit to the New Forest. You’ll also find a competition each week in conjunction with A Year in the New Forest giving the chance to win a break in this beautiful part of southern England.
The TV series A Year in the New Forest continues on Channel 4 on Saturday at 7pm.