You may find it hard to believe that a National Park like the New Forest is only a 2 hour drive from central London, and only 90 minutes on the train, but you better believe it! Just picture this for a second: 5 friends in their early 20s, driving along the motorway, belting the lyrics to 'Mr Brightside' (I'm ashamed that I'm not kidding), ready to go off-grid for a weekend in the middle of a forest. What could possibly go wrong?
Now, I've never been a HUGE fan of sleeping under canvas - I like my bed too much - but over the years I've learnt that if you're with the right crowd, you'll have the best time, wherever the hell you are.
Today I'm here to guide you through our adventures and give you 5 reasons why you should get off your butt and head to the New Forest. And if you can bare to make it all the way to the end, there's a little somethin' somethin'...
1. Make friends with the local wildlife
Throughout the whole year round, you won't miss your chance to get up close and personal with the locals. By locals, I mean horses, donkeys, cows and the notorious 5,000 New Forest Ponies, of course. You can't miss them! Deeper in the forest you may also come across wild deer, and in the Autumn months, pigs can also be seen meandering around. We definitely saw our fair share of free-roaming livestock, but don't be mistaken - that water may look clean... it ain't!
Now don't worry, all the animals are well-accustomed to cars and pedestrians. So much so that you may find yourself in a 10-vehicle long traffic jam caused by one or more completely oblivious four-legged culprits. But for obvious reasons you should, of course, be sensible around them - they may look cute and friendly but they can often be unpredictable. Best to keep your distance when you can, or they'll hold you hostage in your car as we witnessed...
2. Walk until your feet fall off
With over 140 miles of footpaths and hiking tracks, you're pretty spoiled for choice in the New Forest. If you prefer to do what we did and follow your own route (and basically just get lost for a few hours), this is the perfect place.
You also have the option of following routes provided on the New Forest website, so you don't have to even face the hassle of planning your own route!
You want a walk that leads to a country pub at the end of it? You can find a bunch here!
3. Try the pub food (you won’t regret it)
Speaking of country pubs, we only had one meal at a pub called 'The Waterloo Arms', as we spent the rest of the time 'roughing it' and cooking at the campsite. (Which translates to 'trying our best to avoid giving ourselves food poisoning').
However, the food was absolutely EXQUISITE, and as a vegetarian myself, I'm afraid some of those non-veggie dishes even had my mouth watering.
And if pub food isn't on your budget, there's still nothing like taking a break from exploring and stopping at a welcoming country pub for a refreshing drink, alcoholic or not!
4. Explore the different villages
Scattered around the New Forest are around 15 or so towns and villages full of hidden gems. This revamped telephone box full of books and other cool bits and bobs is located in Fritham, and comes with it's own guestbook (which of course we wrote in). A lovely surprise to stumble upon, admittedly on our way to the pub!
Another great reason to be sure to stop-off at at least one of the villages is to support the local traders. Below are a couple of photos from our pit-stop in Burley. We stocked up on snacks at the local convenient store, tried the Burley Rails Shortbread (you guessed it, made in Burley!) and basically acted like children - as you can see, my friends are not the type to pass up a 'Head in the Hole' photo opportunity.
5. Be at one with nature
I don't know about you, but there's something I find so peaceful and soul-nourishing about spending time in such a natural, peaceful and idyllic environment. The minimal light pollution means you can spend the night looking up at the stars (as long as the clouds allow), and during the day you can immerse yourself in a thousand different shades of pure and vibrant green. As a Londoner, I couldn't think of a more beautiful, cheap, and convenient place to spend the weekend with my pals.
Congratulations! You made it this far through the blog post.
But like I said earlier, that's not all, folks! If all the above was not enough to persuade you to find your inner hiker and explorer, maybe this little montage that I put together will help.
So there you have it. The New Forest. Pretty beautiful, huh?
Why not share this with your friends and tempt them to plan your next adventure together?
Other TRAVEL blog posts