A unique landscape of heath and woodland criss-crossed with miles of forest tracks and paths
The New Forest in Hampshire was once the exclusive recreational domain of kings and nobility. Today, this unique landscape of sandy heath and deciduous woodland is a popular playground for outdoor enthusiasts.
This ancient medieval hunting ground is a 230 square-mile tract of ancient hunting and grazing land, criss-crossed with miles of forest tracks and footpaths. The New Forest has remained almost unchanged for a thousand years, making it ideal to explore on foot, by bike or even by canoe.
It's one of the last remaining pieces of the dry heathland and native woodland that once covered vast areas of southern England. Bounded by the cities of Salisbury, Bournemouth and Southampton, the National Park stretches from the chalk plains in the north to the Solent in the south, where the beautiful River Beaulieu meanders through the woodland.
The huge network of traffic-free tracks and paths makes the Forest very popular with walkers, runners and off-road cyclists – activities which allow visitors to also get up close and personal with its wildlife. A dry and mild climate means camping at one of the park's many naturalistic woodland campsites is the ideal way to get closer to nature.
Famed for its semi-wild ponies, which graze freely across the park, the New Forest is also famous for deer, feral pigs, red squirrels and the elusive nightjar, an insect-eating bird whose bizarre whirring call reverberates around the forest during the summer months.
The Forest's proximity to the coast and centres of population also ensure that a busy schedule of events such as watersports and competitive runs, rides and triathlons take place throughout the year. Sea kayaking tours from Beaulieu are popular with kayakers surprised to spot seals, dolphins and porpoises playing in the Solent.
A new addition is the 50-acre New Forest Water Park, where visitors can enjoy a wide range of water sports – including wakeboarding, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding. There's an aqua park with huge inflatables to keep kids occupied and for those who want to make a weekend of it, a laid-back campsite is just yards from the lakes.