There are many ways to see a country, but none has quite the same feel as a cycling holiday. The open air, the stunning scenery, and let’s not forget the interesting people we meet on the way, they all play a part in creating a memorable experience, but be warned, it can be addictive! If the idea appeals, you need to consider which part of the country to visit, and there is none as well prepared for biking as the New Forest.
The New Forest
This is one of the largest areas of forest and heathland in the south east of England, incorporating parts of Hampshire, Wiltshire, and Dorset. This pocket of green stretches from Southampton to Christchurch, in Dorset, and is known as the New Forest National Park. Established in 2005, the park is made up of grassy heathlands and boggy wetlands, covered with long bracken and gorse. The forest trails are breathtaking, and perfect for a mountain bike, with over one hundred well-marked, off-road routes to explore.
Situated inside the New Forest National Park, this sleepy village is a mere 15 miles from Bournemouth, and is the point where the north and south weirs interject. With donkeys and ponies a regular sight, it is like stepping back one hundred years. Its old world charm is visible everywhere, with quaint shops and restaurants, and a watering hole for the animals.
There are many bike rental shops, where you can choose the right bike and head off on one of the many trails through the surrounding forest. You can also rent helmets, shorts, and they have a quality selection of cycling jerseys, and other essential accessories.Brockenhurst enjoys road and rail links with the rest of the country, so it is easily accessible. With a range of accommodation available, including camping facilities, this is the ideal place to spend your nights, while exploring the trails by day.
The riverside town of Fording bridge is called the gateway to the New Forest, and has a long history that dates back to the Domesday Book. The famous landmark is the medieval bridge, with its seven arches. Formerly a commercial centre and industrial town, the town was also noted for smuggling, with the notorious Captain Diamond spending his days at the hostelry. Today there is a selection of restaurants, shops, and pubs, with a museum, where you can learn about the famous artist Augustus John.
The New Forest cycling network
The New Forest has both on and off-road trails, with many that suit families with young children. There are more than one hundred miles of way marked, off-road cycle trails, and with a forest in motion, expect to meet farmers, and don’t be surprised if you startle a few animals. There are rules and guidelines to follow while in the park, such as,
- Allow others to overtake by pulling into a verge.
- Cycle only between the numbered markers.
- Take care when passing people or animals – Ring your bell to make them aware of your presence.
- Do not drop litter
- Do not feed the animals
Technology to the rescue
With GPS and satnav, one can easily locate the best places to ride through, and your bike rental shop will supply you with the equipment you need to make sure you know where you are going.
Long distance routes
Some of us prefer more of a challenge, so why not experience a 15-mile run from Hyde to Fritham, across the Hampton Ridge. Fritham is the home of one of the oldest pubs in the New Forest, the Royal Oak, and its serene lanes are a joy to ride. With an early morning breakfast, you will arrive in Fritham in time for lunch, where you can enjoy a traditional ploughman’s lunch. Remember to take your camera, as the wildlife is abundant, so you are sure to get some great pictures. On the way back, stop at The Fighting Cock, to rehydrate yourself before heading on to Fording bridge.
Lyndhurst to Burley
This is considerably longer at 25 miles, yet easily done in a day. Start with buying fruit and vegetables in Lyndhurst high street, then visit St. Michaeland All Angels cemetery, where the girl who inspired Lewis Carrol’s character in “Alice in Wonderland” is said to be buried. This trail takes you to Burley, via Minstead and Boulderwood, where you can watch the deer from a viewing platform. Burley has a witchy feel about it, with ponies wandering around, there is even a place called The Coven of Witches. Try the New Forest ice cream, or cream tea at The Old Farmhouse, before heading off. If you are feeling energetic, there is another route that takes you back to Lyndhurst, and you should be back in time for a tea in the high street.
Lyndhurst to Hatchet Pond
This short eight-mile trail takes you to the largest body of water on the open forest. The track is mainly gravel with the last half a mile in a quiet lane. It was created in the 18th century to power a grain mill, and apart from being the habitat for many species, it is also a great backdrop for a picnic. You will need to cross one busy main road, so take care.
A biking holiday requires a level of preparation, it isn’t a good idea to buy accessories at the cycle shops, as they are rather on the expensive side. You would need a good pair of sunglasses and a spare pair if possible. The right clothing, and of course, a protective helmet is a must have item. Wear bright coloured clothing, and make sure you are visible in the dusk hours. A small repair kit is also a good idea, in case you get a puncture or have a minor repair job to do. You camera is something you really should take, or perhaps a GoPro on your helmet, to capture the scenic trails for your friends to enjoy.