After the excitement of Christmas, the New Year and Valentine’s Day, the final rungs of winter can be a challenge for those of us in need of a little vitamin D. During the cold, dark months it can be tempting to emulate friends from the animal kingdom and go into hibernation in the evenings and weekends, but in reality one of the best ways of boosting your mood is to go outside and get active. Although many of us may currently be longing for our next holiday, you don’t need to travel half way around the world in order to gain a refreshed perspective and an invigorated mind.
Often, a change of scenery is all we need, and the perfect way to give yourself just that is by treating yourself to a holiday cottage in the New Forest for a few days. If you are fortunate enough to be visiting the region, you will find that there are plenty of activities and events to help you to beat the winter blues and bring on the joy of summer a little early. Here are a few of our favourite suggestions.
Spot adorable wildlife in the New Forest
Although for many people, February and March are simply months spent waiting for spring to truly bloom, Andrew from the New Forest Explorers Guide explains that this time of year is actually prime for those with an interest in wildlife. He says:
“Choosing a favourite time of the year is often a challenge, but for those with an interest in the natural world, late-February takes some beating, for by then the countryside has woken up after the rigours of the winter months. Resident birds are singing, wild flowers have started to make long-anticipated appearances and butterflies take to the air on sunny days. Add into the mix ever-increasing daylight hours, and it is obvious that spring is just around the corner.”
One of the easiest ways to get a quick pick-me-up in the New Forest is by setting out for a brisk walk through the Forest itself. Walking has many benefits, including boosting happiness-inducing chemicals in the brain, improving circulation – thereby increasing energy – and getting you out in the daylight for a vitamin D boost. Taking a stroll through the New Forest is even better, as you are able to take in the unadulterated beauty of the idyllic glades, heathland and rolling moors of this ancient woodland.
When visiting the New Forest during February and March, you can expect to stumble across dazzling beds of snowdrops and bluebells, giving the forest that fairy-tale atmosphere that guarantees to bring a smile to your face. You will also be able to spot the first signs of new life at this time of the year, with chicks chirping, and perhaps even some new-borns emerging. The New Forest Wildlife Park is a fantastic place to visit if you want to see lots of adorable animals but you are visiting outside of the birthing season, as it is home to giant otters, bison, polecats, wolves, lynx, pine martens and even wallabies. Throughout February half term, they are offering exciting Animal Encounters daily, where you can get up close to these curious creatures – a sure-fire mood booster!
Feed the soul
The old Shakespearian saying goes, “If music be the food of love, play on” – but the reverse also applies – food may also be the music of love, as sampling a delicious dish can often be just what we need to lift the spirits. If you’re a foodie on holiday in the New Forest, you are in the right place, because the area is full of fantastic cooking. From Michelin-starred restaurants in Hampshire to quaint tea rooms in the New Forest, plenty of epicurean experiences are waiting for you to delight in them. Why not treat yourself to a New Forest breakfast with friends or a partner, a decadent meal full of produce from the New Forest Marque Suppliers. All of the fruit, meat and vegetables in this locally-sourced experience come from the local area – you will even enjoy bread that has been made using wheat that has been grown, milled and baked within the Forest.
If you’re a budding cook or fancy yourself as something of a sommelier, you will love the New Forest’s many interactive experiences and tours. From Andwell Brewing Company’s brewery tours to the Three Choirs Vineyard’s wine tasting sessions, to the chocolate-making workshops offered by Chocolate Craft in Alresford, there is something to cater for any guilty pleasure. Learn about how your favourite food and drinks are made, try the ultimate in fresh produce and perhaps even take home a tip or two to save for the future.
Alternatively, those simply looking to treat themselves to a truly special meal can spend an evening wining and dining on the superb Michelin-starred gourmet dishes of The Terrace at the Montagu Arms Hotel, or indulging in some true comfort food courtesy of Ruby Red’s Burger Shack in Winchester. Here, indulge in everything from local burgers packed with flavour to pulled chipotle chicken and even frozen cocktails. Southsea is a fantastic day out for those in search of an upmarket lunch, with Southsea Beach Café offering delicious local seafood and more unusual dishes like ox cheek grilled cheese. Just down the road, The Courtyard Café treats guests to everything from chestnut and lemon pepper risotto to herb-crusted tuna steak. Whatever tingles your taste buds, you are sure to find a dish in the New Forest that will bring you happiness via the stomach.
Cheer the kids up at Adventure Wonderland
If you are a parent, you will be more than aware that it is not only adults who can become a little fed up during the dreary weather. On the weekend, treat the kids to an exciting day out at the New Forest’s number one family theme park, Adventure Wonderland. Nick Rowe from the park explains that this is the perfect location for the kids to let off some steam – without having to tidy up after them! He says:
“Open every weekend, from February onwards, the rides and attractions include Turbo Teacups, Curvy Caterpillars, Wild Bill’s Runaway Train, the ever-popular Cuddle Corner Farm and the largest natural hedge maze in the South (wellies recommended). The vast indoor Aztec adventure play centre, Wild Thing, is open daily throughout the winter, so if you need weekday fun, or it’s raining, Adventure Wonderland won’t let you down.”
He continues, “It’s also the ideal venue for a children’s party or a school visit, and visitors are welcome to enjoy an outdoor picnic or select a sumptuous snack from the indoor café.” There is also disabled access and free parking, meaning that this really is the perfect easy-going, yet exciting, day out for any family.
Feel the rush cycling in the New Forest
Many health professionals attest that the best way to lift your mood is by doing exercise - and what better way to do so than by cycling through the gorgeous landscapes of the New Forest? Zak Kempson from Cyclex admits, “I enjoy the Forest in a variety of ways; jogging, walking and driving,” but points out that “cycling however, has the unique ability to carry you further on your own two legs.”
He explains why the New Forest is such a fantastic place to get out on two wheels: “With the 100 miles of off-road cycling routes, it's not too much of a bother to breathe in the pine scent of the evergreen woods, visit one or two beautiful villages and head back on an entirely different route through an ancient sleeping oak forest or see the last of the heather on open heathland.
The early morning misty scene stretching across the heath, or the surprise glimpse of a rare White Buck slinking through the Forest. The early sunset silhouette of the trees brings the chilling wind, and the fire in the hearth of a local pub to warm you up again... These are my memories of cycling in the New Forest.”
Then there are the health benefits of cycling. Like walking, riding a bike gets us out in the sun (or rain!) and it also releases serotonin, a chemical in the brain that improves the mood. It is somewhat more effective as a form of cardiovascular exercise, though, as you can reach a faster pace and often are more likely to push yourself as you get that adrenaline high on the long down-hill stretches. Zak points at that, as there are not too many hills in the Forest, it is relatively easy to ride up to 20 or 30 miles off-road at your own pace in a day, taking in all the sights.
Zak concludes, “Whether you are starting your morning with a ride, or taking a much-needed day break, you can count on the New Forest to recharge your mind, body and soul. You can get the same experience in any season, although in the winter, the Forest is at the height of its mysterious charm, so if you can brave the elements and get out there, you will reap the benefits!”