New Forest

After years of campaigning we were very pleased when the New Forest was finally designation National Park in 2004. It was to be a much-needed green lung for the South East. But the celebrations were muted as the area given special protection by the Government is much smaller than what we had hoped for. So the work continues. But in the meantime there is much to see and do.

Based mostly in Hampshire, from Southampton Water in the east and the Avon Valley in the west and stretching from the edge of the Wiltshire Chalk downs in the north to the Solent coast in the South. Ancient and ornamental woodland and open heathland as expected form the dominant landscape of the park but you can also roam over 26 miles of glorious coastline including salt marshes, lagoons and mudflats.

Nine hundred years ago, a day out in the New Forest could have got you the death penalty. William the Conqueror set aside the area as a private hunting ground. The law then prevented local people from hunting there unless they wanted to face the death penalty or mutilation.

The Park is still rich in wildlife, though now thankfully protected. The famous New Forest ponies roam free, about 3,000 of them in fact. They are joined by donkeys, cattle and pigs in the autumn months. There is deer in the Forest still which is a nice reminder of its heritage. Less well-known but equally special are the dragonflies, lizards and snakes that you may be lucky to find.

There are a variety of walks and routes to choose from, many of them easy due to the nature of the terrain. But those who want a more challenging hike can opt for one of its three long distance routes. The Solent Way, is a 60 mile long-distance coastal walking route from the seaside town of Milford-on-Sea past the hustle and bustle of the seafronts, quiet yachting harbours, deserted marshlands and saltings to finish at Emsworth Harbour. A third of the trail is through the New Forest National Park. The Avon Valley Path runs for 34 miles from Wiltshire to Christchurch, taking in the wildlife rich Avon Valley and parts of the Western New Forest. The Castleman Trail runs from Ringwood to Upton Country Park in Poole.