New Forest National Park

The New Forest  is a major tourist area and a National Park in Hampshire in the South East of England. It is immensely popular with British campers, as it is the closest National Park to the South East.

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History

The name 'New Forest' is somewhat misleading, as it is neither new (it was established in 1079CE), nor a forest in the current sense of the word. It is rather it is a patchwork of areas of open heath and gorselands, intermixed with forested 'enclosures'.

It was originally established by William I as a royal deer-hunting reserve. He introduced the Forest Law, a strict and savage legal code which forbade the local peasantry from doing anything that would interfere with his pursuit of deer, forbidding them from enclosing land for agriculture, for example, erecting fences or barriers, or even owning a bow. In slight recompense, they were given the right to graze their ponies, cattle and pigs in common (i.e. running free) across the forest.

The result of this regime, together with the Royal Navy's need for oak trees during the Napoleonic wars (which led to the development of the forested enclosures) has given us a unique, if very much man made, landscape. Semi-wild ponies, cattle and pigs still roam across the forest, sharing it with several species of wild deer and leading to a very special flora and fauna driven by their grazing. The ponies especially have become a symbol of the forest, and the New Forest Pony is a recognised breed.

Of late there has been a proposal to incorporate the New Forest as a National Park, although this is controversial with the local residents who currently still operate within a quite distinct legal framework (the forest has its own special courts and governances).

The New Forest has an area of about 148 square miles, and can become very busy on a spring or summer weekend. Road traffic can be a problem on the narrow unfenced roads, which all have a 40mph speed limit to safeguard the animals. Off the paved roads, however, there are miles of unpaved forest road ideal for walking and cycling.

Towns

The New Forest is very sparsely populated, but there are several towns and large villages that have good pubs and restaurants to dine at, attractions to see and supermarkets to stock up at.

  • Lyndhurst - main town of the New Forest
  • Beaulieu
  • Bransgore
  • Burley
  • Brockenhurst
  • Fordingbridge
  • Lymington
  • Ringwood

Climate

As with the rest of the UK, the weather in the New Forest is notoriously unpredictable. In the winter, it will often by rainy or overcast, with temperatures at approx 10C. In the Summer, temperatures will range from 20-35C making staying in the Forestry Commision campsites a bit hot as there are no swimming pools. Spring and Autumn can be anywhere in between.

Best time to camp is early summer, visits are possible all year round (providing you don't mind getting a bit wet!)