A short break in New Forest
I’m back from a lovely trip to the New Forest in Hampshire, with a serious case of holiday blues. It doesn’t help that my first day back at work also happened to be a Monday of all days, sigh. Caffeine and motivation are desperately needed this week!
‘Staycations’ are often overlooked in favour of going abroad (I’m guilty of this) but there’s so much to explore in the UK. Over the past couple of years, we’ve made more of an effort to plan more staycations, previously visiting Cornwall, the Peak District and Edinburgh.
The New Forest is an area I’ve wanted to explore for ages, having been born in Hampshire and left the county at the age of two. There’s so much to do in New Forest and it’s definitely an area that caters for everyone, whether you’re going with friends, family, kids or as as couple. You can take it easy or pack in as many activities as you like.
When to go
This really depends on what sort of holiday you’re looking for. We chose to go at the beginning of September. The four days we were there we had mostly sunshine and dry weather, with temperatures starting at 20 degrees Celsius and dropping to around 16/17 degrees by the time we left. This was ideal for us as it meant we could get out and about and do more, without sweltering in the heat of the summer.
Another bonus for visiting in spring or autumn is that you get to dodge the crowds and the summer holiday rush. It was easy to get parked, get public transport and drop into restaurants and pubs for meals. The beaches were quiet, as were the forests and trails. I imagine this area is lovely over the festive period too, with lots of wintry walks and pubs to cosy up in.
Where to stay
We chose Lymington as our base and it was perfect. It’s a lovely quaint town, with enough going on for those wanting meals out or a choice of cosy independent pubs for a few drinks. The town has a Tesco Express, a Waitrose, Boots, Superdrug and New Look, as well as many independent stores.
The town also has a train station and buses, which can take you to other villages and towns across the New Forest area or further afield to Southampton. Another main selling point for us was the port, with regular ferries to the Isle of Wight. Our Airbnb was a ten minute walk from Lymington town, situated down a quiet residential road. Take a look at our Airbnb photos below. Here’s the link to Sea Cottage on the Airbnb website (not sponsored, just happy to recommend good places to stay).
Food and drink
If you’re a massive foodie like me, you will not be disappointed! Lymington and the surrounding towns are packed with independent restaurants and pubs, as well as the occasional chain restaurant. I wish we could have stayed longer as I had my eye on two restaurants I really wanted to try (Koh Thai tapas restaurant and The Angel & the Blue Pig).
I’ve listed my recommendations below, including those with dairy-free and gluten-free options. As someone who suffers with gluten intolerance (and finding a half decent meal because of said intolerance) I was very pleased with the offerings.
Stanwell House Hotel – Burchar and Co and Etain, Lymington
We stumbled across this restaurant one night and loved the look of it. At the time, we didn’t realise it was a hotel. They have two menus available in their restaurant, Burchar & Co and Etain, with the option to order from either or both. This was great as I had spotted food on both menus I liked the look of!
Starters: Potato terrine or potted crab
Mains: Cod in coconut sauce with pak choi or the pork belly
Dessert: Coconut and pineapple panna cotta (total heaven!)
Would definitely visit Stanwell House again. Great food, good service, lovely decor and spacious tables (we had one of the tables where they place couples next to each other, which I much prefer to opposite. So much easier to talk!) I wouldn’t mind trying out the hotel next time as it looks lovely.
Setley Ridge Vineyard – Rosie Lea Kitchen, Brockenhurst
Situated in the heart of the New Forest, Setley Ridge is the perfect stop off for a post-walk lunch or snack. The tearoom has a fairly good amount to choose from, with plentiful cake (gluten free options) and dairy free milk. You can sit inside in the little conservatory area or outside in the sunshine among the flowers. Would visit again for cake or lunch!
Tea (they had soya and oat milk as dairy alternatives)
Chocolate Fudge Cake
Flapjack (gluten free)
PO41, Isle of Wight
We were very good and kept the cost down by taking a packed lunch (which we scoffed on the ferry over). Just before our ferry back, we headed to a little cafe in Yarmouth, close to the port. PO41 is very small inside but luckily we managed to get a table for two. It seemed very popular with lots of people coming in for tea, coffee and their delicious cakes.
Tea (oat milk or almond milk available as dairy alternatives)
Chocolate coated tahini flapjack (gluten free and such a big helping!)
The Bosun’s Chair pub, Lymington
We stopped off here on a very quiet Friday lunchtime. The pub was almost empty, possibly due to its location slightly on the outskirts of the town and because the weather was taking a turn for the worst, but the food was good!
Halloumi, roasted red pepper and pesto salad (lovely big helping of halloumi!)
Chicken caesar salad
What to do
Where to start! After exploring the town of Lymington, we ventured up to Bolderwood, near Lyndhurst. This was around a 20-30 minute drive and the scenery entering the forest was incredible. A small winding road takes you through thick, dense woodland where wild ponies gallop along (and block the roads!)
We opted for the Jubilee Trail, after parking in the Bolderwood car park (the car park can be found on Google Maps). The trail took us around half an hour and was a very easy, leisurely walk. It took us through spectacular skyscraper trees to the deer meadow, where a huge herd of deer sat soaking up the sunshine. There are lots of activities throughout the trail if you have young kids with you and it’s an ideal walk if you want to experience the magnificence of the New Forest at a leisurely pace.
Take a look at the safety advice for walking in the New Forest, including information about wildlife and ticks.
Setley Ridge Vineyard and Garden Centre
After walking the Jubilee Trail at Bolderwood, we stopped off at Setley Ridge Vineyard as it caught our eye on the way over. We spent ages wandering through the garden centre, eyeing up succulents, pretty plants and garden furniture, as well as visiting Rosie Lea Kitchen for tea and cake.
Solent Way trail
Overlooking the Solent and with views stretching to the Isle of Wight, the Needles and beyond, the Solent Way trail is one of the most scenic coastal routes in the area. It starts at Emsworth and stretches along the coast for 60 miles. We joined it at Lymington on our last evening and wished we had found it sooner! Ideal for long walks, dog walking and cycling.
Isle of Wight
We loved our day trip to the Isle of Wight. The ferry was easy to catch from Lymington Pier, with one leaving every hour. We took a train from Lymington Town station to Lymington Pier (which was about a 1.5 minute train!) This stopped just outside of the ferry port. Tickets were easy to book on the day, though if you’re going at a peak time it’s best to book online. Tickets were £17 pp for an anytime day return.
The port itself has a little Costa and some seating. You only need to be there 15 minutes before to board (if you have your tickets already. If not, leave a bit more time for getting your tickets).
Boarding the Wightlink ferry was easy and we walked up to the sun deck at the top, for panoramic views across the Solent to the Isle of Wight. Would definitely recommend if it’s a nice day! We sat inside on the way back and we were very pleased and pleasantly surprised at how nice it was. I thought it was going to be plastic seating and plastic floors but it was rather plush!
The journey took 40 minutes and we were so lucky to have sunshine and smooth waters. Being the savvy travellers that we are, we took a picnic with us to eat on the ferry as well as snacks and water for the day.
Yarmouth is a lovely little village to explore, but it won’t take you more than half an hour. My recommendation would be to head down to The Needles on a bus afterwards (which you can catch from right near the port in Yarmouth). The bus was around £3 for a single. We accidentally hopped on an open top guided bus tour (and yes, we were the youngest on there!) but it was actually a really good way to see more of the island. I think I might be a bus tour convert! 👵🏻
Hop off at The Needles Landmark Attraction at Alum Bay, where there’s lots to see and do. This area is great if you have kids as there’s funfair games, activities and the chair lift. The chair lift was £6 for an adult and takes you down to the beach, where you can relax or take a boat to The Needles. We took the chairlift down (yes, I did scream most of the way. It’s not that terrifying but I’m not great with heights, it was very windy the day we went and I’m a little bit melodramatic…). I would definitely recommend it for the views and I would 100% do it again.
We walked along the beach before getting the chair lift back to the top (remember to pose for the camera!) and took the bus back to Yarmouth. If we’d had more time, we would have taken the boat or continued up to the clifftops to soak up the view.
Other things on our list we wanted to do but didn’t have time include:
- Exploring Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst a bit more
- Taking a trip to Southampton on the train
- Visiting Portsmouth
- Exploring Exbury Gardens (it looks lovely but the grey clouds and the price put us off)
- Walking from Beaulieu to Bucklers Hard (really wanted to do the food trail!)
I hope this travel guide has been useful! If you’re thinking of visiting the New Forest, I highly recommend Lymington as a base. Have a great time and let me know if you decide to explore any of the places mentioned in this blog.
Until next time!