Travel Review: Exploring the magical New Forest
PUBLISHED: 13:35 20 June 2016 | UPDATED: 13:35 20 June 2016
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It had been torrential rain for the duration of our journey down to the New Forest, but as we entered the outskirts of the ancient woodlands, the sun erupted from behind the clouds, casting an ethereal quality to the flooded heaths we passed.
The contrasts in weather were to characterise our weekend in the region, as we split our time between the historic environs of our hotel, neighbouring inns and pebbled beaches, and the contemporary culture of Peppa Pig at Paultons theme park.
Unfortunately, when you have a four-year-old in tow, no parent could avoid taking them to explore the giant-sized recreations of the cartoon piggy’s brightly coloured world, even if they do play music from the show on a loop all day, which has the potential to drive adults slightly insane.
Paultons isn’t cheap, but admission does include all the rides so is comparable to other theme parks elsewhere in the country. The queues weren’t ridiculously long either, which is a refreshing change from some venues.
Away from Peppa and her menagerie of mates, we had a much more traditional stay at the three-star Passford House Hotel, not far from Lymington, a former 16th century manor house set amidst nine acres of elegant gardens, and boasting an indoor pool, sauna and gym.
Successfully fusing country charm with contemporary needs, our room offered a four poster bed in an elegantly designed suite, complete with television, spa bath and a breathtaking view over the grounds.
Although the contemporary cuisine of the upscale restaurant was tempting for mum and dad, it probably wouldn’t have worked for our daughter, so we enjoyed dinner in one of the three classically decorated lounges, and certainly weren’t disappointed by the available menu of traditional bar fare given a stylish twist.
The countryside surrounding the hotel was a mix of heather-coated heathland, ancient woods dating back to the time of William the Conqueror, and a smattering of charming villages and hamlets. Our stay was reluctantly restricted to a couple of nights and the obligatory Paultons visit, but we endeavoured to make the most of the time we were there by exploring what we could.
This included the so-called “capital of the New Forest”, nearby Lyndhurst, a large village boasting a wealth of independent shops, art galleries, pubs, museums and cafés, and, trivial fans, is the final resting place of Alice Liddell, inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland heroine.
Alas, the floods which greeted our arrival restricted us from walking through too much of the now boggy natural heathland, so we had to make the most of the scenery through our car window.
We enjoyed a fantastic meal in the 200-year-old Hare and Hounds, a former coaching inn located in the village of Sway, which featured an array of cask-conditioned ales, an excellent choice of fine wines and homemade food to die for. Part of the fun of a weekend away in an unfamiliar part of the country is discovering gems like this pub to savour, as we certainly weren’t disappointed by the available fare.
Just a short drive from the hotel was Milford on Sea, an unspoilt seaside destination looking out over the Solent and surrounded by Green Belt land, and the perfect destination for a sunny Sunday morning. Throwing stones into the sea from the beach on a tranquil spring day, we could spy the Needles of the Isle of Wight clearly in the distance, and there was a comfortable beachside bistro for refreshments afterwards.
And if you have time, make sure you visit Burley, a village which has its own cottage industry based on its long connection with witches, including Sybil Leek, an occultist and psychic once described by the BBC as “Britain’s most famous witch”. If you’re so inclined, you can even pick up a cauldron and witch’s broomstick to take home!
It makes for a fitting end to any stay in the magical New Forest, reflecting as it does the folklore and history which surrounds this ancient environment, which certainly casts its spell over any visitor.
For further information on visiting the New Forest, click here.