With virtually all foreign travel grinding to a halt in the middle of last year and all travel plans cancelled, we found ourselves like so many others hunting last minute for a UK ‘staycation’.
With fond memories of childhood caravanning holidays in The New Forest, Hampshire, I knew it would be the perfect place for us to head to. It may not be the most obvious choice for a holiday destination, but it's such a magical place especially for families who enjoy spending their time outdoors. I ideally wanted to recreate my memories camping in my favourite campsite, Ashurst, but due to the pandemic all Forestry Commission Campsites were closed.
With limited last minute availability we ended up staying in a privately-owned static caravan at the Shorefield Country Park in Mildford-on -Sea. Due to the pandemic there were lots of restrictions in place, the indoor & outdoor swimming pools, tennis/basketball/football courts all had to be pre- booked. The changing rooms at the pools were not available (so queuing outside with wet walks back to our accommodation were far from my idea of fun!), but all things considered the park was well maintained, the children enjoyed the indoor swimming pool and loved heading off with their walkie talkies to the play parks on their own, and there is a lovely walk through the park to Milford-on-Sea beach. The caravan we stayed in also couldn’t be faulted either as it was in immaculate condition.
We spent the majority of our week cycling the New Forest trails, (we took our own bikes thanks to the help of Easy Roof Box Rentals), but cycle hire is easy enough to find), along with trail maps widely available and the trails themselves are very well signposted. With over 100 miles of them completely car-free, you are unlikely to get bored quickly! They are a perfect way to explore whether on foot or by bike as they cross through the heathlands, along the coast and of course through the forest itself, and they are perfect place to picnic, refresh your feet in the many streams, and get up close and personal to the infamous New Forest ponies (deer, cattle & donkeys too!) who freely roam the land. The flexibility of the trails means you can do as much or as little as you like. We planned the majority of our own routes (with us only getting lost once because I couldn’t remember a route from my childhood days!) but for those not so confident in their map reading skills or are riding/walking with those with smaller legs, there are lots of circular trails to follow specifically aimed at families of all abilities.
There are plenty of family-friendly days out in the area too; there is the New Forest Reptile Centre and the New Forest Wildlife Park for the animal lovers. The 18th Century village of Bucklers Hard is great for history fans, and with its views and walks by the River Beaulieu it is a great place to visit (and as my children will confirm, some fabulous hills for rolling down too!).
Just around the corner for the petrol heads there is the amazing National Motor Museum, but don’t be put off, even for those not interested in ‘all things motor vehicles’ this is a day out not to be missed. The museum is set in the Beaulieu Estate with its gorgeous gardens, Abbey ruins, the Palace House, there’s a ride on the oldest Monorail in the UK, and the newly opened Little Beaulieu Adventure Play area is one of the best children’s Play Areas I have seen - it even kept my nearly 10 year old amused! But of course, one of the main days out in this area is Paultons Park, the home of Peppa Pig World. We visited seven years ago when our eldest was four years old and not a Peppa Pig fan (don’t ask!). At the time we visited with some family who had slightly older children and it certainly had a wide range of rides for all ages, its not just for Peppa Pig fans.
The New Forest area is also scattered with plenty of little towns and villages to explore like Lyndhurst, Brockenhurst and Lymington or if something bigger appeals Southampton, Portsmouth, and Bournemouth are not too far away. If you wish to head on a bigger adventure, a day out to the Isle of Wight is possible. From Portsmouth you can catch the Hovercraft (foot passengers only) or alternatively ferries depart from Southampton or Lymington if you wanted to take the car across.
Even under the circumstances of all that 2020 threw at us, we had a blistful week cycling around, playing cricket on the village greens, picnicing in the forest, paddling in the streams, mooching the little villages, and generally just letting the world go by in slow motion. It really was a perfect tonic. And with the pandemic still rolling on, I sense we might be heading back sooner rather than later for another ‘staycation’ - which is fine by me!
Westerley Cove at The Shorefield Country Park https://www.shorefield.co.uk/holidays/locations/shorefield-country-park Bike Rack Hire:
Written by Alison Doggrell
Alison lives in Cheshire with her husband and two children aged 9 and 6 years. She loves gardening, photography, travel and planning the next family adventure!