You’re not going to run out of exciting things to do and places to go in Dorset, but when...
The New Forest is a south coast treasure. Although thriving and bustling with activity in the spring and summer, the quiet solitude of the forest in the winter appeals to many. For animal lovers, amateur explorers and lovers of fresh air, winter in the New Forest is a worthy adventure.
One of the oldest protected woodland areas in all of Britain, the New Forest in Hampshire was first set aside for special treatment by William the Conqueror in 1079. The area was established as a royal forest and hunting ground – calling it his “Nova Foresta”.
It covers a tremendous area of 145 square miles. Its mixture of deciduous and coniferous forest makes it a premier destination. Whether you are thinking about visiting during the winter months, or have booked one of our amazing holiday cottages in Hampshire near the New Forest, we offer you some ideas of things to do. We also thought you might be curious how the many species of animals that live in the New Forest spend their time during the winter months.
And, here we go:
The forest is well-known for its animal population. From the famous ponies to free roaming pigs, the New Forest offers a number of opportunities for animal encounters. For those hoping for a more controlled environment, the New Forest Wildlife Park is an excellent winter destination.
The park’s winter hours are 10.00am to 4.30pm or dusk. The park supports a number of different otter species, as well as European bison, deer and badgers.
The New Forest ponies are always a popular sight. They may be feeding by the roadside, stopping for a drink, or knee-deep in a bog. These hearty animals live outside in the elements for all of the year, enduring the summer’s heat and winter’s cold.
All the ponies are free-ranging, although few stray far from their favourite areas. In the winter, most ponies venture deeper into the woods in an effort to retreat from the season’s wind and gales. Like most animals, the ponies will try to avoid human contact, but a few have learned that people mean food. Even in winter, visitors are asked not to feed them.
A walk through the forest and the chilly winter air will invigorate you and offer a contrast to the vibrancy of the New Forest in the summer. Hidden Britain is a local business committed to offering the best in English country touring adventures. With the help of a personal guide, visitors can explore the New Forest. Their walks allow participants to learn about the history and traditions of the forest, and there are morning or afternoon walks available. Some visitors can also choose to enjoy a New Forest Marquee lunch with delights from a local country inn.
Many of the walks depart from Lyndhurst Visitor Centre, or from local railway stations. They aim to offer a great experience to their patrons – personalising the tour to meet their needs. In addition to New Forest Walks, Hidden Britain also offer Jane Austen-inspired country tours and a Downton Abbey Tour at Highclere Castle, just south of Newbury.
The streams that wind their way through this part of Hampshire are pathways for trout looking to spawn during the winter. The shallow waters extending from the sea host the migration of sea trout during the early winter months – starting in early December. Riding the higher waters thanks to the increase in rain, these salt water fish return to waters of the forest to reproduce.
The trout travel to the same place where they were born. Deep in the forest, as many as 10,000 eggs are laid in the gravelly streambeds. In time, new fish will mature in the cold water, and eventually will make their way back to the salt water of the sea.
The New Forest Park Authority also offers a number of tools and resources to aid winter walkers in the forest. There are pocket maps and digital tools to help you get around. Using a smartphone, visitors can download the ViewRanger App. After the maps are downloaded directly onto your device, you will not have to worry about mobile signal dropping out during your adventure.
The park authority reminds all visitors to wear the right clothing while visiting the New Forest during the winter. The weather is often unpredictable, so suitable footwear, warm clothing and waterproofs are encouraged, as parts of some walks can be very muddy. Although local pubs and cafés are never too far away, the park authority recommends bringing extra drink, food, and any necessary medication.
In February, visitors can witness another marvellous spectacle in the forest. Like the trout of early winter, in the later stages of season, the amphibians of the New Forest create a commotion in their efforts to reproduce. These animals also return to the same place they were born.
Around the bogs and ponds, males literally fight for the attention of the female members of the species. Suitors pursue the females, often physically fighting off rivals. When the battling is done, strings of spawn are laid just below the surface of the water. Not a favourable taste to predators, the tadpoles hatch and quickly mature during the winter months in the forest.
Main Image Credit: Nigel Brown (flickr.com)