We spent a week in the New Forest in June – an early holiday, to avoid peak school holiday season while we still can.
I have spent weekends and other fleeting visits to the New Forest in the past, and it was on my list of places to visit for a proper family holiday – easy walking, close to the sea, ponies – what more do you want?
We had heathland directly over the road from our cottage, (near Beaulieu) stretching away for miles, which was either idyllic in good weather or slightly grim and foreboding, Egdon Heath-style, if you walked out there at twilight, as I did on the first evening.
The heath does not lend itself to family friendly walking – too tussocky and boggy and not enough proper paths to follow, so in our goal to find walks which could handle a buggy and a big girl, we went first of all to Bolderwood, a Forestry Commission site famous for its deer sanctuary.
It was a very short and easy buggy/ wheelchair-accessible walk to the viewpoint to see the deer, which was a lovely start to the walk.
Much more to her taste was Moors Valley country park, which had a forest trail with no less than 10 play areas to explore. This pretty much makes it 3-year-old heaven.
Again, this was a buggy friendly walk, although felt like even more of a slog than Bolderwood, because we were constantly stopping and starting, and having to nag at the big girl to get her to move on to the next thing – it was a big hit with her, but time-consuming.
The other thing with these Forestry Commission walks is that one patch of forest plantation looks pretty much like another: there was not a lot of wildlife to be seen, nor any particularly dramatic scenery. It’s all pleasant walking, and being under the trees meant we stayed out of the sun, too, but we wanted to make sure we saw a bit more than just forest.
For that, we went to a place I’ve dreamed of visiting for years: Brownsea Island, famous for being the site of the first Scout Camp, and for its squirrels.
I don’t think I could imagine a place more suited to appeal to me – beautiful sea views in all directions (and what a colour the sea was – Poole Harbour is very shallow, and that lovely azure shade of sea made it feel more like a tropical island!), gentle walking on nice sandy soil, and best of all, red squirrels. (See little red dot in fork of tree on this picture).
What a privilege to see this wonderful animal for real – and how much cuter it is than the smug urban greys – red squirrels are tiny, mischievous and wiry, that flash of red coming as a joyful sudden sensation of movement out of the corner of your eye. I swear I saw one turn a cartwheel, and I’m sure it was doing it for the sheer fun of it.
We left Brownsea much earlier than I would have liked, as we had to allow enough time for the boat – the ride back is longer, taking in a full tour of Poole Harbour – so a good half of the island will have to wait for us to return another day to be explored. In my dreams I’d stay overnight, but I suspect I might have to (re)join the Scouts for that.
We also spent a day pottering along the New Forest coast, taking in Christchurch and the dramatic viewpoint of Hengistbury Head, (somewhere I’d been years ago, and always wanted to return) which had Tarmac paths all the way up – although a few steps thwarted us getting the buggy to the very top.
Besides all of this, we managed to explore the classic New Forest settlements of Lyndhurst and Lymington, visited a farm and also found a good walking route from Beaulieu following the river.
This left us surprisingly little time to relax and actually enjoy our thatched cottage, but on the last afternoon we finally laid our picnic rug on the grass and did nothing. For a short while.
And I couldn’t resist the chance of photographing a few of the cottage garden flowers that were in the immaculate garden – ox-eye daisies, Canterbury bells, love-in-a-mist, and the tallest foxgloves I’ve ever seen. It was complete bliss.
Finally, just because, here’s some of the ponies on the lane outside our cottage one afternoon.
When can we go back, please?