Every Boxing Day, families around the world get together to spend some quality down-time together. This is the day of relaxation after the rush of Christmas and before the busy New Year celebrations and, whether this means going for a long hike with loved ones or a short stroll with the kids, a family walk is the perfect pastime. Nigel Owen from Walking Picnics and New Forest Nature Notes says, “Boxing Day is always the day to get out, walk off all the food and drink from the day before, and experience the tranquillity of the forest.” The beautiful scenery and calming atmosphere of the New Forest is the perfect place for a walk that will help you to regenerate before the second phase of the festive season.
Derek Tippetts fromThe Real New Forest Guide suggests that the 220 square miles of the New Forest is a unique area offering excellent opportunities for walks long and short. He says, “Armed with my OS Explorer map of the New Forest, which shows most walkable tracks, I love to explore different routes and despite having lived in the area for over 30 years there is always something new to discover. Even in the winter when the forest is at its quietest, there is nothing quite like a walk on a crisp frosty morning, when you often stumble upon some of the timid wild deer that roam freely.”
However, you don’t have to be an expert walker to enjoy all that the New Forest has to offer. Sylvia Sanders from Walkingworld points out that the New Forest is fun for all the family, “It has boggy wet areas which, if properly dressed for, the kids will love. It also boasts miles of well-maintained tracks which are suitable for walking, cycling, buggies and even wheelchairs. There are plenty of car parks, some of which are free, providing endless possibilities for walking” in different areas of the forest. So, whether you’re looking for a gentle wander or a day-long ramble, here are some top suggestions from outdoor experts on where to walk in the New Forest this Boxing Day.
The New Forest heath comprises a series of diverse open landscapes around the national park. From heather-dominated heaths to vast grasslands, bogs and mires, each area of heathland in the forest has its own unique ecosystem. In fact, the New Forest is home to the largest heathland in Europe, with 10,000 hectares of land to explore.
Nigel Owen comments, “The New Forest is particularly beautiful on a clear, crisp winter’s day,” and suggests that visitors “walk up onto the open heath, and you can be alone in huge, panoramic skies, with a carpet of heather, interspersed with scattered gorse bushes and old, gnarled holly trees. The fallow deer will be up there, tucked under the lee of a small valley, or deep in a tangle of gorse.”
Nigel Parrish from New Forest Guided Walking agrees, speaking of the charm of “quiet winter glades, open heathland and grassy lawns.” This time of year, he says, “you can see winter bird visitors, the iconic New Forest pony and in the denser woodland fallow and roe deer.
Of course, what the New Forest is famous for is its expansive woodlands. The historic national park consists of the ancient forest, the local coastline, rivers and Lepe Country Park, but one of the most festive experiences is a simple walk through the heart of the woods itself. Nigel Owen recommends “strolling on the gravel forestry tracks through towering oaks and beeches, watching for flocks of winter thrushes eating the holly berries.” Nothing could be more festive than this.
David Stewart recommends beginning a relaxed woodland walk at Lepe Country Park. He says: “You can easily spend a whole day at the Country Park. It has a large car park with a café, toilets and information centre. Here you can pick up a free leaflet and learn how important this area was during WWII before and after the D-Day landings. It's a great starting off point for coastal and country walks.”
During a woodland walk in the forest, you will see ancient oaks with their autumn plumage or, if you’re lucky, a dusting of snow. Feel the leaves crunch beneath your feet as the crisp, clean air blows away that post-Christmas lethargy. As Nigel Parrish notes, “A host of well-surfaced tracks and paths are great to walk on in wet weather, or head off onto a ‘forest ride’ or two with the wellies on for some winter, wet weather fun.”
Routes to walk in the Forest
There are countless woodland areas to explore in the New Forest, so depending on your level of ability there will be various different routes you could take through the woodland. Here are a few New Forest experts’ favourite trails in the Forest.
Nigel Owen says that his favourite walks include “the route along the top of Hampton Ridge, between the Forester’s Arms in Frogham and the Royal Oak in Fritham; or down through the woods from Bolderwood into the Highland Water enclosure and the Canadian memorial.” Alternatively, he suggests the Tall Trees trail from Blackwater along Rhinefield Drive, for its “huge avenue of dark Victorian fir trees, and the oasis of the Blackwater Arboretum with its formal planting of exotic trees.”
Derek Tippetts, on the other hand, suggests that: “A good place to start a walk is at any one of the 130 Forestry Commission car parks scattered across the Forest.” For more reserved walkers or those with small children or elderly individuals, he recommends the “excellent short circular waymarked walks (up to two miles) starting from Bolderwood and Blackwater car parks where toilets are also available.”
Lyndhurst is a particular favourite of David Stewart. He says, “Lyndhurst is known as the unofficial capital of the New Forest. There is plenty of parking with a well-signed posted visitor centre making for a good starting point to plan any New Forest stay.”
He continues, “Everyone who goes to the New Forest should go to Bucklers Hard, an historic boat-building village where several ships that fought in the Battle of Trafalgar were constructed using timber from the forest. I recently undertook a challenging walk from Beaulieu to Bucklers Hard (2776), which is a route that takes in the best of the area along the riverbanks with plenty of attractions.”
Nigel Parrish says that a favourite walk for New Forest guided walking can be found near Fritham: “From here you can head west across Fritham Plain along the main gravel track and through Sloden enclosure, north to pass through the western tip of Alderhill and return across Hampton Ridge and Ashley Cross Head into the Island Thorns enclosure via Crock, and back to the start.” He adds, “If you like a long guided walk, give Nigel a shout at New Forest Guided Walking who has, over the last few years, sought out the more interesting paths and areas of the forest to walk, weaving them into a range of interesting walks.”
JR Hackney from the Taxi Driver provides several suggestions for different walking routes that are perfect for Boxing Day. This website provides easy guided video walks, with commentary, in the New Forest for families and beginners. Their top five best walks for the festive season are:
- Lepe Country Park to Exbury Gardens 7 miles
- Acres Down to Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary 5½ miles
- Lyndhurst to the Reptile Centre 5¾ miles
- 4 Keyhaven Nature Reserve to Hurst Castle by small ferry 7¾ miles and a longer walk
- Fordingbridge to Woodgreen, Hale and Godshill 10½ miles
During these routes, there are plenty of interesting things to see and do. At Lepe, Hackney suggests that visitors should park at the side of the Solent and walk up to see the Lamas and the tiny steam trains. At Acres Down, their guided walks take groups close to the deer in the local sanctuary, whereas at Keyhaven Nature Reserve walkers can stop to watch the plentiful birdlife then take a short trip on the tiny ferry to historic Hurst Castle. Hackney concludes, “All these walks are excellent for teaching children about nature and how the forest works.”
Tips for walking in the New Forest
Although the New Forest is an area of relatively easy-going terrain, there are a few elements that you may want to bear in mind for a Boxing Day walk. Nigel Parrish recommends that visitors to the area remember to “wear proper walking boots or wellies as many parts of the forest are wet at this time of year. Don’t forget your waterproofs and a spare jumper in case the weather turns.” JR Hackney echoes this sentiment, pointing out that “the forest soils can quickly become waterlogged with winter rain so unless you know the area, it is best to keep to gravel tracks at this time of year.”
Nigel also suggests that those looking for a leisurely waymarked route should head along to one of the Forestry Commission car parks where a number of colour-coded routes will guide you through the enclosures. And, as he points out, “at this time of year the days are short, so don’t leave the pub too late after lunch to start your walk unless you have a torch with you….”
JR Hackney emphasises: “There is really nothing not to enjoy on a walk through the New Forest, but please follow the golden rule - don't feed the ponies."