William the Conqueror set aside the Forest for hunting more than 900 years ago as his 'Nova Forestra' or 'New Forest'. Clearing 20 villages, William declared it a private park for royal hunting in 1079 and centuries of grazing by deer, ponies and cattle have shaped the landscape.
William would probably still recognise much of the Forest as the same place he hunted wild deer and boar. Today it is a wonderful area to explore the forest’s idyllic glades, ancient woodland, open moors, heathland and cliff top walks.
The New Forest includes one of the largest areas of open heathland and forest in England’s south east. Lush scenery makes this part of England particuarly popular for outdoor activities, whether that’s walking, cycling, horse riding, paddle boarding, hiking or wild pony-spotting.
If walking is your thing then there is an extensive footpath network in the area. Whether you fancy a short stroll along the coast path, a long-distance trail or simply a wander through the open forest, there is a lot of choice available.
The 18th century shipbuilding village at Buckler’s Hard provides not only breath-taking views along the Beaulieu River but the opportunity to visit the Maritime Museum and soak up the village’s rich history. Boat trips also run along the river in peak season (admission charge applies). If you enjoy walking then we’d also recommend you do the 2 mile walk between Buckler’s Hard and Beaulieu, a great walk to do with all the family.
Breaks in the New Forest will leave you completely invigorated. Ambles through woodland lanes pausing at thatch-roofed tearooms and village pubs, canoe trips down bubbling streams and canters across open heathland; that's what weekends in the New Forest are made of. Cheeky New Forest ponies and donkeys stop the traffic as they cross between patches of common pastureland. They take their time. Look carefully and you see fallow deer dart between pines and oak trees and grass snakes slither through marshes in this National Park near the south coast. Stop off at Hampshire villages and market towns for jam factories, flour mills and medieval churches or the park’s coastal edge for views across the Solent and cobbled Georgian seaside villages. There are attractions for all the family in the New Forest. Such as the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu which houses F1 race cars and vintage motorbikes. Exbury Gardens & Steam Railway which is home to exotic trees, plus colourful rhododendrons and azaleas. Owls, otters and wolves are among the residents of New Forest Wildlife Park.
Cyclists will love the opportunity to go off-road, with over 100 miles of gravel tracks taking you away from the traffic so you can soak up the atmosphere and the wonderful views. Don’t worry if you don’t have your own bike, there are plenty of places to hire bikes within the New Forest and with excellent rail links to get here you won’t find it difficult to get out and about car-free.
New Forest Ponies
When you visit The New Forest there are a group of about 5,000 locals that you can't but help noticing. They have been hanging around for about 2,000 years and what they don't know about the forest is not worth knowing. We are talking about the wonderful New Forest Ponies of course! You will find New Forest ponies dotted all around the National Park. With around 5,000 of them, it won’t be too long until you spot one. There is plenty of nutritious food available for the ponies and you will often find them grazing across the open moorland in small groups. All of the ponies found in the forest are wild in the sense they can roam freely but in fact they are owned by New Forest Commoners. The commoners have the right to graze their ponies and cattle on the open forest throughout the year. It is the animals’ grazing which helps to keep the New Forest’s landscape and rare species which you can enjoy today. The ancient tradition of commoning dates back from before the days when William the Conqueror made this area his private hunting reserve and imposed strict laws on the locals. In return for this, the locals were given the rights to graze their animals on the ‘common’ (this being the land which is now known as the New Forest). Each year, the ponies are rounded up in what are called drifts. Over thirty of these drifts take place during the summer and autumn each year giving the commoners a chance to check the health of their animals and wean and handle the foals.
A combination of colour and 'markings' such as the owner's brand, make each pony easily recognisable, particularly to the practised eye. The feral New Forest pony is on the native breeds ’at risk’ register.
All the animals depastured on the Forest are owned by commoners, and it is their responsibility to ensure that their ponies are in good health. However, five 'agisters’ are employed by the Verderers to watch over the forest stock and ensure that their owners meet the requirements of the Verderers in respect of stock welfare. They attend road accidents and other incidents involving Commoners' animals. They also deal with injured animals at the scene and humanely destroy the animal if necessary.
Agisters organise the construction and ongoing maintenance of stock pounds within their area, they arrange and manage the rounding up of ponies. When Agisters have collected marking fees from Commoners, which is usually done in the New Year; they will clip the pony's tail to a set pattern to show proof of payment and identify in which agister’s area the owner lives. At present stallions are turned out onto the forest between May and June to breed with the mares. The Verderers decide which registered stallions are allowed on to the forest to breed. To keep the forest-bred stock healthy, stallions are moved every three to four years.
For our riding break the nearest train station is Salisbury. We are only a 90 minute drive from London.