The New Forest is a place of beauty. Spanning across 150 square miles, it’s just an hour and a half from London, yet it feels like a different world with ponies and cattle roaming freely.
The area celebrates a thriving local industry from boat building to honey producers and artisan bakers, but it also has a rich history starting with the story of its founding, through to the surprising, intrinsic part it played in both world wars.
All these rich treasures prompted a group of locals who live and work in the area to set up More Than a Tour to offer visitors a range of experiences that allow them to really get under the skin of the New Forest — without leaving a mark.
Here’s four ways to explore the New Forest:
1. Ditch the car and enjoy the scenery on foot
You could spend weeks walking around the New Forest and not see the same tree twice. With miles and miles of amazing walks taking you through different scenery, there’s something to suit everyone. One of our favourites is the 60-mile long Solent Way that runs from the seaside town of Milford-on-Sea to Hampshire’s Emsworth Harbour (one third of which cuts through the forest).
If you want to avoid the crowds and delve deeper into the New Forest, More Than a Tour’s Exclusive New Forest Rambling Experience offers a two-hour guided walk, complete with transport and lunch.
An expert guide will introduce you to the fauna and flora that inhabits the woodland, whilst explaining the ancient ways of the forest, plus the modern requirements to sustain the heritage for future generations to come.
2. Bring the family for a fun day out
The New Forest is a haven for families as there’s something for everyone. For an action packed day with older kids take a look at More Than a Tour’s Kayaking and Bucklers Hard Day Trip. It provides a mix of adrenaline, culture and history, rounded off with beautiful views and fantastic food.
If you’re new to the countryside, Longdown Activity Farm in Ashurst offers children the chance to help feed the animals and play in the playbarn. The historic Lymington Sea Water Baths are a wonderful day out for the whole family, with activities from zorbing to paddleboarding, and a New Forest ice cream kiosk on site.
If your kids are looking for that extra oomph from their day out, the New Forest is also home Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park — where they can immerse themselves in Peppa Pig activities and fun year-round.
Booking your day trip to Paultons Park with More Than a Tour includes everything you need for a great day out. Their friendly staff will even drive you there, drop you home and give you a family friendly lunch on the day — easy!
3. Immerse yourself in the rich history
Back in 1079 the ‘nova foresta’ (or New Forest as it’s now known) was created by William I (William the Conqueror) for hunting ‘beasts of the chase’ — including red, roe and fallow deer as well as wild boar; but its rich history doesn’t stop there.
During the 18th century ships for Admiral Nelson’s navy were built at Buckler’s Hard, on Beaulieu River, using wood sourced from the New Forest. This wood also played a vital role during WWII, when local timber was felled and burned to provide the charcoal absorbers for some 40 million gas masks.
During WWII there were 12 airfields in the New Forest and large houses on the Beaulieu River were used by the War Cabinet for clandestine operations, with the Balmer Lawn Hotel at Brockenhurst playing a central role. Lepe, on the coast, was a major departure point for troops, vehicles and supplies heading for Normandy and the D-Day landings.
More Than a Tour’s WWII Exclusive Experience neatly wraps all of this into one package, with visits to Buckler’s Hard, Beaulieu and Lymington, expert guides and museum entrance.
4. Enjoy a foodie’s paradise
If local produce is your thing, entire days can be spent exploring the New Forest, discovering its artisan honey, cheese, meat, cider, wine, bread, chocolate and ice cream producers — to name only a very few!
A good place to start is browsing Lymington’s Saturday market, which dates back to the 13th century. Here you can see and taste local produce, and meet the makers of food from New Forest wild boar sausages to fresh Lymington-caught fish, as well as bread and cake stalls, jam and cheese sellers — allow plenty of time!
Venture beyond this hub and you’ll find no end of top-class eateries, from the famed Lime Wood Hotel with its Raw & Cured café and restaurant Hartnett, Holder & Co by top chef Angela Hartnett, to locally-foraged food at The Pig and fine dining at the famous Chewton Glen.
Our local top tip? Former head chef from Chewton Glen, Andrew Du Bourg, and his wife now run The Elderflower on Lymington’s cobbled Quay Street where you can enjoy Michelin-quality food for a fraction of the price.
The seaside town of Milford-on-Sea, with its pretty green, is also home to an impressive selection of restaurants for every taste – as well as the New Forest’s favourite fish and chip shop (shhhhh – it’s a local’s secret!).
The New Forest also harbours literally hundreds of top-class, country pubs from The Oak at Bank near Lyndhurst to the White Hart in Burley to The King’s Head at the top of the cobbles in Lymington. All of which serve local, seasonal produce with a huge amount of pride.
Find out more about the tours offered by More Than a Tour - all of which include transport, lunch and a drink!