On Countryfile this Sunday: The New Forest

This week on Countryfile the team visit the New Forest. Emma Pocklington explores what there is to see and do in and around this beautiful National Park

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Attractions

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1. Beaulieu National Motor Museum
Beaulieu Motor Museum features not only an incredible display of classic cars and motorcycles right from the dawn of motoring to the present day but also a range of record breakers, Formula One cars, Bond cars and a Top Gear exhibition. As well this, the site has the historic Palace House, the ruins of 13th Century Abbey, a monorail and a working 1912 London bus. Summer visits to Beaulieu and Buckler’s Hard are embellished with informed “living history” guides and falconry displays.

2. Buckler’s Hard
From Beaulieu you can take a walk to the nearby ship building hamlet Buckler’s Hard, where the Maritime Museum and Shipwrights Cottage tell the story of a tiny place that produced three of Nelson’s ships. A river cruise runs throughout the year that takes you on the route the finished ships took down the river on their way to be rigged-up at Portsmouth.

3. Exbury Gardens
These winding, tranquil gardens cover 200 acres in the New Forest National Park. Boasting an incredible collection of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, trees and shrubs Exbury is a veritable paradise for any garden enthusiast. In the spring time the garden is the perfect place to see the opening of a multitude of flowers and promises to remain stunningly colourful throughout summer and autumn. Exbury also has a steam railway and chauffer driven buggies to ease tired legs.

4. Hurst Castle
Formidable and haunting this weather-beaten castle stands defensively on the end of a long shingle spit sticking out into the Solent. Originally built by Henry VIII as a coastal fortification Hurst Castle has been an important and strategic fortress throughout its life, defending the south during the Napoleonic wars and World War II. The castle’s impenetrable walls were once home to a condemned Charles I.

5. Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
A fair distance from the New Forest, but certainly worth the trip, is the city of Portsmouth, which is famous for its historic dockyard. Here there are maritime museums and exhibitions detailing every aspect of naval life. The highlight of a trip to Portsmouth has to be a tour around the HMS Victory, where you can see Nelson’s quarters and the very boards of the deck where he received the fatal bullet wound.

Wildlife and Nature

1. New Forest Wildlife Park
This large site, dedicated to conservation and education, features not only native forest animals but also a range of other European species. If you miss them in the wild the park offers a chance to see foxes, badgers, otters, harvest mice, hedgehogs, owls and more and also houses northern lynx, wolves and Scottish wildcats. Regular keeper session provide ample opportunity to see and learn about the animals on show.

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Fallow deer are one of the more common species found in the forest

2. Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary
You will see ponies aplenty in the New Forest but one of the more allusive animals living here are the deer. Different areas of the forest are home to red, roe, fallow, sika and muntjac deer and you would be incredibly lucky to see them all. A good way to get a deer sighting is at the Bolderwood deer sanctuary, a large meadow area where a herd of fallow deer regularly gather. These animals are still wild but feeding from a keeper has accustomed them to humans and keeps them close to the special viewing platform.

3. Knightwood Oak
In an area reached by some stunning ornamental drives there are the oldest trees in the forest. The most significant of these is the Knightwood Oak, the largest tree in the forest at 7.4 metres girth and thought to be the oldest. This magnificent oak tree is a monument to this ancient forest and is over 400 years old.

4. The Solent Way
This path runs from Milford-on-Sea to Emsworth Harbour and covers swathes of Hampshire coastline and parts of the New Forest. Walk along the Lymington sea wall as far as Keyhaven and enjoy views of the Isle of Wight as well as a whole wealth of waders and sea birds searching for food when the tide is out. From Lymington to Beaulieu the Solent Way goes further inland and covers some remote countryside before crossing the heath to Hythe.

5. New Forest Reptile Centre
This specially created outdoor centre gives visitors the opportunity to see all the snakes and lizards native to Britain. Spot Natterjack toads, sand lizards, grass snakes and the rarely seen adder before walking the woodland Reptile Trail. For the best chance of seeing the reptiles visit on a sunny day when they’re likely to be out basking.

Towns and Villages

1. Lymington
With a rich history of smuggling, salt trade and tourism this small town is now one of the major yachting centres of the world. Stroll down Lymington High Street on a Saturday morning and you can buy all kinds of wares from the local market or relax with an ice cream at the famous quayside. St Thomas and All Saints Church and the St Barbe Museum are certainly worth a visit, and a day excursion to the Isle of Wight is within easy reach.

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Palace House is just visible across Beaulieu’s Mill Pond

2. Lyndhurst
Lyndhurst is arguably the capital of the New Forest, a small but well equipped town steeped in forest history. This town is still home to the ancient Verderers’ Court, which dealt with forest crime and boasts the Gothic St Michael and All Angels church. Don’t miss the New Forest Centre, which contains the New Forest Museum, where all your forest related questions can be answered.

3. Brockenhurst
With a name meaning “Badger Wood” this little village acts as an oasis of civillisation in the heart of the forest. Made up of a main high street, which features a number of local businesses, Brockenhurst is the best example of forest village life, complete with the Watersplash ford and free-roaming ponies.

4. Burley
A strange little village with a preoccupation with witchcraft Burley is another place that battles for space with the New Forest. Like Brockenhurst, Burley boasts the idyllic scenes of thatched cottages and wandering ponies and has one main street. Most of the local shops have caught on to the popularity of the legendary witch Sybil Leek who reportedly lived in the town giving the whole place a very bygone air.

5. Beaulieu
Standing in the shade of Palace House Beaulieu village is part of the Beaulieu Estate owned by Lord Montagu. It has rows of quaint houses and cottages, a fine local pub and little else. Again there are some quaint and quirky shops and some friendly donkeys in residence.

Activities

1. Ancient Tree Hunt
Join the New Forest National Park Authority in Tantany Wood as they survey a section of the forest to find the largest and oldest trees at the end of March. Learn all there is to know about the ancient wood from an experienced tree hunter and spend some time getting to know the forest of kings.

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The famous New Forest pony is easily spotted on the heath

2. New Forest Wildlife Park Keeper Day
Put on your keeper t-shirt and dig out your wellies at this hands-on keeper experience day. Make up the animals feed, clean out their enclosures and design and make enrichment toys. Learn more about a whole range of animals and see them up close on full, half or two-hour experience days.

3. Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre Photography Day
Spend a day perfecting your photography skills with the opportunity to see some great animals close up. Catch falcons, eagles, owls and reptiles both at the centre and out in the forest, carefully controlled for you by their keepers.

4. Cycling and Horse riding
Tracks and trails wind all over the New Forest, easily accessible and well signposted. Brockenhurst is a great place to start from with Country Lanes Cycle Centre and Cycleperience offering parking, tours and a wide range of bikes. For riding head to Burley and try Burley Villa School of Riding or Burley Manor Riding Stables who cater for all abilities.

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5. Watersports
Hit Beaulieu River and see the landscape on a kayak adventure with Liquid Logistics or have a day or weekend sailing experience with Escape Yachting in Lymington.