The sprawling New Forest is about as close as you can get to finding wilderness in Southern England. Of course, it is also a living, working landscape, so we can’t guarantee splendid isolation, but what we can promise is an enthralling mix of heathland, grassland, dense plantation and broadleaf forest, intersected by sparkling rivers, streams and brooks. The area also boasts several quiet villages and even a 40-mile stretch of little-known coastline. It’s all a haven for woodland wanderers and wildlife watchers alike, since this diverse landscape is home to myriad species of rare plants, insects, birds and mammals, including five different species of deer and of course the famous New Forest pony.
Walking In The New Forest: What To Expect
The unique character of the New Forest National Park is what makes it special, and it has long been protected. Its singular status dates from the 11th century, when it was first proclaimed a royal forest by William the Conqueror – essentially a hunting ground, or ‘harbour for Wild-beasts for his Game’, as 17th-century mapmaker and publisher Richard Blome eloquently put it. Perhaps surprisingly, the New Forest was only designated as a National Park in 2005, but today it is a popular draw for hikers, bikers and ramblers. That, at least, is no surprise, since the 580 square kilometres (223.9 square miles) of land that lie within the national park boundaries are criss-crossed with a series of invigorating trails.
As part of our latest collaboration with route planning app komoot to help them champion some of the best walking routes in the UK, we’ve whittled down our top 10 favourites in the New Forest. Don’t forget to also check out our guides to the Best Walks Near London, the Finest Walks in the Peak District and the Finest Walks in the Lake District.
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Best Walks In The New Forest: The Top 10
Here’s our pick of the best walks within the area, ranging from short walks on the coast and bimbles that are good for a beer, to long-distance epics that take on just about all of the New Forest National Park’s surprisingly varied landscape.
- Hythe to Lymington on the Solent Way
- The Castleman’s Corkscrew
- Keyhaven Marshes from Lymington
- Avon Valley Walk
- Bolderwood from Emery Down
- Beachernwood and the Tall Trees
- Fritham circular
- Frogham and the Hampton Ridge
- Calshot Spit
- Cadnam to Minstead
Walk 1: Hythe to Lymington on the Solent Way
The 60-mile Solent Way hugs much of the Hampshire coast from Milford on Sea to Emsworth Harbour. This stretch from Hythe to Lymington heads through the New Forest, taking you up to the coast but also through beautiful stretches of woodland. From the pretty town of Hythe, leave the coast behind as you head inland and into the woods. You’ll head through fields before reaching the moors, with far-reaching views and New Forest ponies aplenty. Cross the River Beaulieu into the village, which has attractive historic buildings along the High Street and views across to the Palace House. You’ll follow the river out of Beaulieu, before delving back into the woods, occasionally glimpsing views of the coast when the trees thin out. The end point of the walk is the lovely waterside town of Lymington.
Matt Says: “If you start this walk from Southampton, you can catch the ferry across the Solent to land at Hythe Pier. Then it’s worth boarding the oldest pier train in the world, which still runs the length of the pier”.
Walk 2: The Castleman’s Corkscrew
This short walk takes you from the charming village of Burley out along open heathland and over Holmsley Bog before reaching the Castleman’s Corkscrew, a dismantled railway line which was built to link Southampton to Dorchester in the mid-19th century. You’ll follow the route of the track west, before heading across open heathland once again to pass by Slap Bottom (yes, really), a Bronze Age burial mound found just off the path. After heading up and over Slap and Shappen Hill, you’ll walk through ancient woodland before returning to Burley.
Matt Says: “The railway was a victim of the infamous Beeching cuts, and now offers a great walk along its course, where you can see disused level crossing posts and the remains of railway crossing keeper’s cottages”.
Walk 3: Keyhaven Marshes from Lymington
Follow the Solent Way out of Lymington, past the boats bobbing in the marina. Hugging the coastline, you’ll soon come to Lymington and Keyhaven Nature Reserve. The mudflats and salt marsh here give you the chance to spot a whole host of wading birds. The views on this route are pretty spectacular too; you can look out across the Solent to the Isle of Wight. On a clear day you’ll be able to spot the famous Needles. You’ll enjoy a big loop around the marshes, giving plenty of wildlife spotting possibilities, before heading back into Lymington.
Matt Says: “This makes a great winter walk for birdwatchers, as the mudflats and salt marshes are often teeming with wading species including curlew and redshank plus dabbling ducks like the wigeon”.
Walk 4: Avon Valley Path
From the beautiful cathedral city of Salisbury, this long, winding route follows the course of the River Avon through the New Forest and on to Christchurch Priory. You’ll wander through water meadows, across high chalk downland and through picturesque villages, passing mills, churches and delightful village pubs. There’s an abundance of wildlife to look out for on the route, from the famous New Forest ponies to kingfishers and otters. The birdlife is spectacular too, as the valley is of national importance, particularly for overwintering wildfowl such as lapwing, golden plover and white-fronted geese.
Matt Says: “Although this 34-mile route isn’t exclusively in the New Forest, it spends plenty of time within the national park and is a delightful option if you’re looking for a good two-day weekend walk”.
Walk 5: Bolderwood from Emery Down
From the New Forest Inn in Emery Down this route takes you across Acres Down, with beautiful views out across the heathland, before visiting the striking Portuguese Fireplace, which marks the site of a hutted camp occupied by a Portuguese army unit during the First World War. You’ll pass the New Forest Reptile Centre, before visiting the Knightwood Oak, said to be the largest oak tree in the New Forest, before walking through the Knightwood, Anderwood and North Oakley Inclosures to reach Bolderwood Grounds and the famous deer sanctuary. You’ll enjoy a stretch on the Bolderwood Arboretum Ornamental Drive before weaving your way through delightful woodland inclosures and heading back to the pub.
Matt Says: “Be sure to stop at the deer viewing platform en route, which is the perfect place to look out for fallow, roe, sika and red deer. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a muntjac.”