Kate TaylorSee other travel guides written by Kate Taylor
Digital Content Manager
On the south coast of England, to the west of Southampton is the New Forest. 'New' it is not, having been created in 1079 by William the Conqueror as a hunting playground for himself and his buddies. Its National Park status is a little more recent (1993), allowing for the protection of the great swathes of ancient woodland interspersed with open heaths and some of the largest remaining expanses of unenclosed pastureland in the UK, which provide residence for more than 4000 ponies, cattle and deer roaming free.
It’s this combination that makes caravan holidays in the New Forest so good; the region represents everything that is great about camping and caravanning – open spaces, freedom, a chance to get back to nature and feed your love of the great outdoors. Indeed, the New Forest is, arguably, one of the best places to go for a caravan holiday in the UK. Wild camping is forbidden here, but then again, the campsites within the New Forest make it feel as if you’re wild camping anyway.
Camping in the New Forest National Park is dominated by Camping in the Forest campsites (a joint venture where sites are run by the Camping and Caravanning Club on land owned by the Forestry Commission). The ten campsites don’t fit the regimental norm of club sites – these are much more free and easy-going; pitch where you like, often in open glades or beneath a gigantic oak tree. And if you're lucky you might peel back the curtains in the morning and find a New Forest pony grazing by your van!
In Brockenhurst you will find Aldridge Hill Caravan & Camping Site and Hollands Wood Caravan & Camping Site, with Setthorns Caravan & Camping Site being a short distance away. Denny Wood is a campsite near Lyndhurst and the full facility Sandy Balls Holiday Park is near Fordingbridge. There are many more caravan parks in the New Forest and you'll find them on our sister website Caravan Sitefinder.
A great place to start a first caravan trip to the area is at the New Forest Museum and Visitor Centre near Lyndhurst (the town is considered the ‘beating heart’ of the New Forest). There you can learn historical facts and find the very best places to visit while on tour. Then, why not take a New Forest Tour? With a choice of three open-topped bus routes criss-crossing the national park, these hop-on-hop-off trips stop at many of those ‘best places’. There are food trails to follow too – so you can taste the New Forest produce either on foot or by bike. The national park is a fabulous place to walk, cycle (there are 100 miles of waymarked cycle paths) or indeed explore in the saddle of a horse! And while you’re out picking up dinner, search for the New Forest Marque – it’s a sign of the best quality, locally produced food.
Your New Forest campsite would also make a good base for visiting Bournemouth, and we have a quick guide to things to do and places to go in Bournemouth here.
Top five things to do in The New Forest
Visit Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway, on the banks of the Beaulieu River. With more than 200 acres of gardens to discover, including the Rothschild’s Collection of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and specimen trees, you’ll find spectacular swathes of colour to assault the senses throughout the spring, summer and autumn. For a lazy – but enjoyable – way to see the gardens, hop on the steam train for a 20-minute journey among the plants.
‘Hunt’ for deer at the Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary, three miles northwest of Lyndhurst. With a purpose-built viewing platform, it’s one of the best places in the New Forest to see the wild deer, particularly between April and September when forest rangers feed them (from 12.30pm to 2.30pm).
A must-do attraction of the New Forest is the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu. In addition to major showcases such as the Top Gear Collection of battered and modified 'vehicles' (including the show's homemade motorhomes and 'Caravan Airship') and famous cars, there's the Caravan Club Collection, where you can view a wealth of exhibits and see how caravan holidays have changed since 1885 to the present day.
Visit the New Forest Pony Sale yard to witness the Beaulieu Road Pony Sale. This is where commoners sell their New Forest ponies by auction each year. Sales take place every May, September, October and November. The sale yard is three miles south of Lyndhurst on the B3056, adjacent to Beaulieu Road Station.
When to visit The New Forest
May is the best time to see much of the New Forest carpeted with bluebells. Some of the best places to see a purple haze of flowers are Sandleheath, near Fordingbridge, Roydon Woods near Brockenhurst and Pondhead Inclosure near Lyndhurst. There's even a New Forest Bluebells & Breakfasts Trail.
Late spring and early summer is also the best time to see the New Forest foals paired up with their mothers. Great places to see them include Ashurst and Brockenhurst but be careful not to come between mother and child. They may be docile, but parents don’t take kindly to two-legged strangers!
July marks the biggest event in the New Forest calendar, however. The New Forest and Hampshire County Show takes place near Brockenhurst. One of the most important regional shows, there you’ll see, over three days, international showjumping, livestock judging, flower shows and all the best local produce from the area.
Autumn of course is, arguably, one of the best times to see the New Forest as its leaves metamorphose from luscious green to fiery red. This is when walkers take full advantage of the changing scene, with the New Forest Walking Festival taking place throughout the second half of October.
All year round, car, motorbike and caravan fans should head to Beaulieu. Events take place throughout the year, including classic car rallies, the annual Custom and Hot Rod Festival and the ever-popular International Autojumble, which takes place every September.
How to get to The New Forest
The M27, adjoining the A31 dual-carriageway, cuts east to west right through the New Forest National Park making access relatively simple from the remainder of the UK. Junction One of the M27 is the quickest exit to get to both the south of the Park – for Lyndhurst, Brockenhurst and Beaulieu, or to the lesser-known northern areas via the B3078.
Driving in the New Forest is a joy, whether or not you're towing a caravan. There are wide, open roads and a maximum speed limit of 40mph for all drivers on unfenced forest roads. Remember that animals have right of way over motorists in the New Forest.