If you’d like to have an outdoor adventure in the UK, the New Forest makes an excellent destination, as I found out on a trip there in January. The New Forest is a ruggedly peaceful National Park and you can reach it in just 90 minutes from London by train. Protected since William the Conqueror made it a hunting ground in 1079, the forest is famously home to free-roaming ponies and is an idyllic, unspoilt place. I stayed at New Park Manor spa hotel during my trip, and you can read my review of it here.
These are some of the best outdoor activities which you can try in the New Forest.
New Forest Activities offer guided canoeing and kayaking trips on the Beaulieu River, which belongs to the historic Beaulieu Estate. Our excellent instructor, Sam Sutton, provided us with waterproofs and lifejackets and led us on a gentle and fascinating paddle along this tidal river. Sam grew up locally and is passionate about the New Forest. As we glided along the river he told us about the history and ecology of the area, pointing out a curlew and some mallards that we passed.
Sam and his team of expert guides offer various canoeing and kayaking experiences, including Family Canoeing, which is a 90-minute fun session, and Paddle to the Pub, where you can stop off for a drink and a bite to eat as part of a four-hour expedition. Back on dry land, we had hearty and warming lunch at The Master Builder’s hotel in the picturesque village of Buckler’s Hard.
After lunch, Sam took us into the woods for a spot of archery. He showed us how to work out which is our dominant eye. I discovered that my left eye is dominant, which is a bit tricky as I’m right-handed. After some poor right-handed shots from me, Sam suggested that I shoot left-handed. That worked much better, and I at least managed to hit the target. Although I found it difficult, I enjoyed the session and I’d like to try left-handed archery another time and see if I can improve my skills!
With more than 140 miles of footpaths and tracks, the New Forest is a perfect place for walking. There are routes to suit all levels and abilities and you can also take part in guided walks. I went on a short group walk with local resident Steve Adams of Fuzzacker Guided Walks and I found it very interesting. Steve is a Forest Ranger and is extremely knowledgeable about the local environment. We began our walk at Beaulieu Road Pony Sale Yard, where Steve explained that New Forest ponies are rounded up annually in the Pony Drift. From there we explored some of the nearby open heathland, with Steve sharing information about the flora and fauna as we went along.
There are miles and miles of cycle paths in the New Forest, and as the terrain is fairly even, it’s a good place for gentle cycling. If you don’t have your own bike, there are various places offering bike hire in the forest, and you can even book a guide to lead you. While you’re pedalling, keep an eye out for local wildlife – we encountered a group of ponies galloping along the road towards us at one point. Cycling is hungry work so take a picnic with you and find the perfect lunch spot, or stop off at a pub or cafe in one of the local villages.
You’re bound to see a variety of animals if you’re in the New Forest. The ponies (all 3,000 of them), donkeys, cattle, pigs and other farm animals which you see grazing and roaming freely around the forest belong to local residents who are known as commoners (because their land has common grazing rights). You can also spot wildlife such as fallow, roe and red deer, rabbits and squirrels, adders and grass snakes.
There’s horse riding on offer in the forest for all levels and abilities. From half-hour pony rides, to half-day hacks to full-day riding experiences, there’s sure to be something to suit you. The New Forest Carriage Company offers horse-drawn carriage rides. If you’d like to take your horse with you to the area, there are even some places where you can stay which offer livery facilities.
You can learn how to create a fire, build a shelter and forage for food when you take part in a bushcraft day in the New Forest. There’s also a Family Woodland Adventure Day which combines bushcraft with high ropes activities on the Beaulieu Estate.
Over to you
Would you like to try any of these activities in the New Forest? Do you have any others to add to the list?
Disclosure: I was in the New Forest as a guest of Go New Forest, together with colleagues from the British Guild of Travel Writers. I took part in the guided walk, canoeing and archery free of charge for the purposes of this review. All opinions, words and images are mine.