Travel - The New Forest: Explore woodland by shanks' pony, horseback or with horsepower
PUBLISHED: 08:00 15 May 2016
Bridget Galton and family headed to Hampshire for a relaxing and varied weekend break with ponies and cars.
We knew we had entered the New Forest when, less than two hours out of London, we found ourselves driving through woodland.
Within moments of turning off the motorway, the landscape had changed to thatched cottages and gorse-filled heathland with ponies cropping the roadside verges.
Some 193,000 acres of rural Hampshire embraces Britain’s newest National Parks including 150 square miles of ancient forest with myriad tracks to explore on foot, bike or horseback.
In fact our weekend ran the gamut from shank’s pony, to real ponies and the wonders of horse power.
We arrived rather conventionally at the door of the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, in a modern Vauxhall.
But we were soon immersed in the golden age of motoring looking at hand-made early Bugattis, Baby Austins, Rolls Royces and Daimlers.
There’s a whole day out for the family at this attraction, which was founded in tribute to former Beaulieu owner John Douglas Scott-Montagu, an early adopter of the motor car.
From a partly ruined abbey to the Montagu’s stately home Palace House, lovely grounds, a car-themed play area, and of course 285 heritage vehicles, there was enough to keep us all happy.
I’m no petrolhead, but you can’t help be charmed by some of the exhibits; the first Aston Martin from 1922 was a racing car, there’s a gleaming 1914 Argyll from the days when Scotland had a car-making industry, plus famous vehicles such as landspeed beater Bluebird, and the customised car used in the classic movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
A vintage bus slowly chugs visitors around the estate, and a slow-moving monorail transports you through the shed holding the car collection.
God help us, but the spirit of Jeremy Clarkson and his sidekicks is also present in The World Of Top Gear; a collection of the junk vehicles created during the long-running series.
If you ever wanted to see a car turned into a hovercraft/train/ambulance, then roll up here.
Under duress I might even admit the accompanying film presented by the terrible trio was mildly amusing.
At the end of the day we headed to three-star Grade II-listed Bartley Lodge which is well located in Cadnam near the main attractions. It’s very child-friendly, with a small swimming pool and dining room that’s not at all stuffy and serves reasonably priced drinks.
The tolerant staff didn’t mind when we made our way past the wide terrace to the not-too-manicured garden and played football without anyone turning a hair. At sunset we spotted a deer in the neighbouring field.
The next day the four and seven-year-old were booked in at Burley Villa for a “brush and ride”.
As spotless as a riding stables can be, it was well organised with happy looking horses and made a brilliant introduction to equine care.
Starting with the golden rules of how to approach and handle a horse, they progressed to brushing and saddling up, enjoying the hands-on chance to get to know their pony before getting up on board for a lesson.
Within half an hour they had a good steer on well, how to steer, using the riders’ voice, weight and leg pressure to go forward, turn, stop, and trot.
For more experienced riders the stables offers accompanied hacks in the forest which would have been lovely, but we just had time for a walk in the woods before departing back home.
There are numerous car parks dotted throughout the national park.
Each have a handy info point with map, or the Forest’s visitor information centre can supply suggested walks.
But if you can’t be bothered following a proscribed route you can just find one of the gates into the woods and take a wander along the tracks, looking for sticks and old dens.
The children loved exploring this natural space where some of the trees date back to Tudor times. They found a stream to jump, a fallen trunk to climb on.
All the while there wasn’t another soul in sight – just the sound of the birds, the smell of the earth and the sunlight through trees.
In one weekend we had only scratched the surface of this lovely spot.
We’ll definitely be back to explore further.
For information on a break in the forest go to thenewforest.co.uk.