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Image credit: Jim Champion

Surrounded by miles and miles of ancient woodlands, enjoying the change of seasons in the New Forest is a magical experience. As the leaves change colour, the chill in the air grows and the forest animals prepare for the winter, it is the perfect time of year to enjoy an autumn cottage holiday in the New Forest.

Starting from October, the cooler temperatures help the trees change into new colours of vibrant oranges and yellows. Local experts say 2015 was one of the most amazing displays of autumn colours in 80 years and they are hoping for another great autumn in 2016. There are plenty of cottages available in the New Forest and Hampshire, and they are all the perfect launching point for some autumn adventures.

Due to the New Forest's unique mix of deciduous trees, the transition from the greens of summer to the colours of autumn is an exciting one. Colder, damp nights help to make the colours explode. The New Forest, which was originally preserved as a royal hunting ground by William the Conqueror almost 1,000 years ago, is full of ancient ornamental and native trees.

Here are some great ways to experience the change of seasons:

New Forest Ponies and Pigs

In and around the New Forest National Park, there is a thriving population of animals – and it is famous for both its ponies and its pigs. Local residents of the forest commence a yearly exercise to fatten up the pigs and protect the ponies. Although the exact dates vary each year, the Pannage encourages pigs to forage and eat the many falling acorns. A treat for the pigs, ingesting green acorns can be lethal to the ponies.

Throughout September, October and November, hundreds of pigs root around for the acorns and beech nuts in the forest. The pigs range vastly in size and age, and it is quite common to see them roaming freely through the various villages in the region. As the pigs forage, the ponies are free to eat grasses in order to put on some much-needed fat for the winter months.

Although it may be tempting, visitors are discouraged from touching the pigs or ponies when enjoying time in the New Forest.

Image credit: Jim Champion

Walking and Cycling in the New Forest

One of the main attractions of the New Forest is the vast number of walking and cycling trails. There are many guided routes available – all of varying difficulty and terrain. Many of them are themed to allow you to see some great wildlife, take the kids along, or travel from pub to pub through the forest – whatever takes your fancy.

The New Forest Guide has a large collection of walking routes as well as cycling guides available. Many of the routes are downloadable and can run from your smartphone to ensure no-one loses their way in the forest.

Image credit: Chalkie

New Forest Walking Festival

From the middle of October, the New Forest Walking Festival is the perfect opportunity to explore the area and participants in the festival can choose from 80 expert-led walks. With the idyllic autumn landscape all around you, the festival gives walkers of all abilities the chance to enjoy nature.

The Walking Festival runs from 15 to 30 October 2016 and includes the school’s half term. Fun for the whole family, there are Wildlife Walks, Family Adventures, History Hikes, Activity Walks and Accessible Walks. There are both shorter and longer walks to choose from.

Most of the guided walks are accessible by public transport, and organisers offer many of them for free or at discounted rates if you arrive by bus, train, bike or on foot. You can book the walk of your choosing on the festival website.

Image credit: Mike Smith

The warmth of New Forest pubs and tea rooms

After a brisk walking or cycling adventure, the best way to end the day is in a cosy pub. Fires will likely be burning and there will be plenty of great food and cheer on offer.

The New Forest, Ashurst

At this Fuller’s pub, there is a great family atmosphere. For days with good weather, they have a great outdoor beer garden. They also have activities for the kids. The New Forest pub specialises in great traditional British pub food, but also features a wide variety of seasonal dishes and locally sourced treats as well. They have music and food specials each week, so check their website for their latest offerings.

The Crown Stirrup, Lyndhurst

This medieval pub has been a stopping point in the New Forest since the 1400s. It is the perfect place to enjoy some warmth and libation whilst on a walk or cycle ride. It has an expansive outdoor beer garden that opens up to the forest trails and walks. The pub’s name comes from a measuring device – a medieval stirrup – that kept large hunting dogs from being used in the forest and threatening the King’s deer. The Crown Stirrup is dog friendly as well, so it is the perfect place to enjoy an autumn afternoon’s escape with the whole family.

High Corner Inn, Linwood

Although remote, it is considered one of the New Forest’s best-known pubs. With ponies and wildlife always nearby, the High Corner is a converted farmhouse from the 1600s. At the High Corner, the owners are passionate about their food and feature locally sourced items.

If looking for an alternative to the traditional British pub experience, the New Forest is also home to some of the finest tea rooms. For the best in warm cuppas, cakes and desserts, please visit our guide to New Forest tea rooms for more information.