Explore the lesser-known paths, plains and with a walk in the north of the New Forest, before relaxing in a pleasant pub in a woodland hamlet
1. From the pub
From the car park on the green opposite the Royal Oak, take the public footpath southwest over Fritham Plain. Either side you can see gorse, heather, oak and hawthorn, some with red berries. Follow the path straight on into Sloden Inclosure, the first wooded area on this walk.
William the Conqueror first created enclosures when he designated the New Forest a royal hunting ground. Today they exist to keep deer away from the tree plantations, as they tend to nibble on the buds, preventing the growth of new trees. The footpath is lined with beech and gnarled oak trees, whose branches have sprawled out towards the sun as it spills through the gaps in the canopy.
2. Ragged Boys
Exit the enclosure at the south end on to the open plains of Ragged Boys Hill. Look out for birds of prey and listen for the buzzard’s mew. The footpath winds downhill towards Holly Hatch Cottage where, from December to January, you can witness the annual spawning of sea trout, which travel up river from the sea in vast numbers. Sit by the bank and wait – it’s well worth it.
3. Holly Hatch
Continue along the footpath past the cottage, keeping level with the stream, and turn left into the Holly Hatch Inclosure, filled with oaks and bracken. Shortly after take a right to join the cycle path, stay on it for 500m then turn right out of the enclosure and back into the open at the Splash Bridge. Look across the plains towards Sloden Inclosure and you may spot some roaming fallow deer, but keep still, as they’ll bolt if they catch sight of you.
4. Hallickhole Hill
Follow the footpath up towards Hallickhole Hill, then a sharp right leads you back into the Sloden Inclosure through a gate with a plaque fastened to it, which reads: “First enclosed in 1775”. Take the left fork heading for two gates which mark the point of the drift line, a place where ponies and other livestock are all gathered a few times a year to be branded by their keepers. Find it on the map, spanning the width of the enclosure.
Cross the drift line and a footbridge. Turn left and then right to exit the enclosure in its westernmost corner. The path leads to Hampton Ridge, joining a fairly flat cycle path. The path naturally rolls into the grassy Amberwood Inclosure. You may see timber stacks piled at the side of the path, part of the Forestry Commission’s maintenance work.
After a few minutes’ walk the path enters Islands Thorns Inclosure before crossing another footbridge and heading back to the car park. Now you can warm up with a pint by the fire at the Royal Oak.
Click on the map below for an interactive version of the route.
Through open plains and shaded woodland along sandy paths. Some footbridges to cross. Good walking boots and warm clothes are essential.
How to get there
By car: Fritham is northwest of Ringwood off the A31.
The New Forest tourist information: www.thenewforest.co.uk
The Forestry Commission: www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest
Words: Ceri Crump