The rugged landscapes of the New Forest make up England’s newest national park, established back in 2005, a 567-square-kilometer stretch of primeval woodlands, heather-blanketed moors and rolling farmlands, blooming with more than 700 wildflower species. Once the former hunting grounds of William the Conqueror, the area is still managed under his system of verderers (judges), agisters (stockmen), and commoners (land users), and today is most famous for its herds of semi-wild New Forest ponies – around 3,000 native ponies, who roam freely through the parks, alongside cattle and deer.
The New Forest offers ample opportunities for outdoors enthusiasts, with a 235-km network of hiking, cycling and horse riding trails, plus sailing, sea kayaking and water sports along the south coast. Getting around in the New Forest is best done by car or as part of a guided tour, but there are also open-air sightseeing buses that circle the park in the summer months. Villages like Lyndhurst, Brockenhurst and Burley are popular stops, while additional highlights include the 18th-century shipbuilding village of Buckler’s Hard; the Exbury Gardens and steam railway; the 13th-century Beaulieu Abbey; the Rufus Stone, where William the Conqueror’s son was killed; and Lymington, from where you can catch a ferry to the Isle of Wight.
The New Forest National Park is located in Hampshire on the south coast of England and is open year-round, with no entrance fees, except to individual attractions and some private parks.