Located in the southern English counties of Hampshire and Wiltshire, the New Forest remains one of the few remaining primeval oak woodlands in England. The forest covers 145 square miles of land and is visited by up to 7 million people a year. The woodland and heathland are shared with an abundance of wildlife, most notably the New Forest ponies that wander throughout the area.
Like many remaining forests, the New Forest was preserved due to its status as a royal hunting ground, which it was given by William the Conqueror in 1079. Since then, it's been awarded status as a National Park and its lands are full of picturesque landscapes, open spaces and small villages nestled among the hills.
The forest is a popular place for tourists and those looking to find more natural spaces in southern England. While accommodation options are varied enough to suit all needs, camping is one of the more common choices. Those who stay are well rewarded with the myriad of activities and attractions the region has to offer. There are many paths, trails and routes for walking and both on- and off-road cycling. Local tour operators offer guided walks, bicycle rentals and horse riding opportunities. The New Forest Tour Bus also stops at a number of locations within the forest, including Brockenhurst Station, Lymington and Beaulieu.
A number of outdoor centres offer a wider range of outdoor activities, many of them on the water. Sailing is a popular pastime in the region, and local sailing schools can teach you how. Canoeing and kayaking are also possible within the forest. On both land and sea, the wildlife that visitors encounter is remarkable. Found within are the only native cicada in the UK, the rare Southern damselfly, fallow, roe and red deer, and several species of birds, including the meadow pipit, red kite, Dartford warbler and honey buzzard.
Other attractions in the region include Beaulieu's National Motor Museum and 14th-century Gothic Palace House (reportedly one of the UK's most haunted buildings); the nearby Isle of Wight, just off the coast of Hampshire; or the Maritime Museum at Buckler's Hard, an 18th-century village where warships for Nelson's navy were constructed. Hundreds of round barrows and ancient monuments can be found across the forest and tell the prehistoric tales of the region.
Local villages offer quaint architecture, interesting shopping and historical sites. Lyndhurst is one of the forest's largest towns and a good base from which to wander, plan your trip or have a nice meal. The harbour town of Lymington has an interesting history of smugglers and charming shops to explore. Brockenhurst is the start of many walking and cycling routes and has a lovely green often full of grazing ponies.
Lyndhurst has a useful tourist information office and can help plan a route or know where to find the designated camping areas. The New Forest can be reached by bus or train; Brockenhurst is the main travel hub. Travel by car is also convenient from nearby urban areas (2 hours to London; 2 ½ hours to Bristol; 1 ½ hours to Oxford).