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New Forest

Home > London > Walks | Day Trips | Weekend Escapes
by Kat Parr Mackintosh (subscribe)
Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Published September 1st 2010
The New Forest: If the only forest you've ever encountered has been on the pages of a fairytale the New Forest still won't disappoint. It's not just a lot of tall, straight trees topped with bright green foliage, it's also got open, heather covered spaces where you can see some of the hundreds of wild horses hanging out, and lakes around which pretty villages hide.

Through the New Forest run the sort of narrow, hedge-lined roads that invite Sunday drives. The signage doesn't look like it's been updated since the start of the industrial era and you might have to give way to wild horses, rogue cattle, or lordly pheasants but that's well and truly part of the charm of this place.

If you've come for the great outdoors you've arrived. Park the car, then walk, cycle or picnic. If you've come out for a Sunday drive then read, and drive, on to Beaulieu.

Beaulieu: The name looks French but it's been fraternising with the English names that surround it for so long that these days it's pronounced Bue-lee like Ferris Bueller with the 'r' replaced by another 'e'.

Beaulieu is about as close as you can come to a 21st Century fiefdom. The Montagu family have lived here since 1538 in the Palace they built next to the ruins of a Cistercian Abbey, which was built here around 1204. Lord Montagu is still in residence, managing the upkeep on the manor house cum castle by installing a National Motor Museum, and running all sorts of themed tours on the grounds. Apparently the most popular tours focus on the role the palace played in the second world war this sleepy hamlet trained spies, while Land Girls grew food in the palace's old kitchen gardens. Inside the house has been partly done up in Victorian garb, and part of it hosts corporate events and weddings, but it's still the Montagu family seat and they still occupy it, presiding over this town, which is more pretty than it is large.

In front of the mansion/ castle/ palace is an idyllic lake on which all sorts of water fowl laze or cavort depending on their temperament and beyond that there's a vintage car dealership, which is practically a museum, and a properly quaint little High Street, populated with a pub, called The Montagu Arms, and post office and not much else. Location Scouts take note: nowhere says Britain of the 19th or 20th Century like Beaulieu.

A few winds up the road is, more English-ly named Bucklers Hard, which is where, in the 18th Century, Nelson, of Trafalgar fame, had his ships built. There's still a marina there now, but there are more obvious scars of its former employ: huge gashes in the ground where the ships were wedged while they were being built.
This isn't a particularly well known place to visit, but the mud flats of the estuary here are very pretty and there's an excellent pub with a huge outdoor area and a decent barbecue cook. Apparently you can also go on boat trips up the Beaulieu River from here.

If you're after the sea, which you might have spotted several times already over the tops of the trees, you'll need to find the stone ruins of a shed or barn or brewery, and right across from them there's an unpaved road promising access to the beach.
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Why? Because it's one of the prettiest places in the country
When: Any lazy Sunday
Where: The New Forest National Park
Cost: Not much if you have a fuel efficient car
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