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Your children will love the New Forest. Katie Taylor suggests where to take them…

Family-friendly activities in the New Forest

School holidays and half terms were always at least in part spent in the New Forest when my younger brother and I were children. Now that my parents, as my grandparents before them, live ‘on the forest’, I’m taking great pleasure in introducing my three-year old son Ali and his baby sister (and I should say, my husband too...) to some of our favourite haunts, and discovering new places to explore. Here’s what you need to know about going to the New Forest with a young family...

1. It’s not all forest; in fact that’s something of a misnomer, as the majority of the landscape is moor and heathland, punctuated by woodland, with the odd stealthy bog to keep things interesting.

2. You’re going to need to at least feign an interest in the ponies that live here. There are lots. And lots.

3. If you prefer your animals captive, New Forest Wildlife Park has butterflies, lynxes, wallabies, otters and more besides. For sheer joy, there’s not much that can beat a tiny person marvelling at colourful butterflies for the first time.

4. Take a Baby Björn/sling/carrier if your little one is small. Getting the buggy’s wheels stuck in a cattle grid is no fun for you and provides a somewhat terrifying experience for a baby.

5. As everyone knows, young children adore quoting Alan Partridge, so they’ll love the opportunity to emulate this scene and check out a ‘cracking owl sanctuary’ in Liberty’s Owl, raptor and reptile centre.

6. Take wellies or walking boots. Walks are more fun with wellies and, knowing the English climate, chances are you’ll need them.

7. Check your boots for wildlife before putting them on. 

8. Walks are more fun with a stick.

9. Burley is the sort of village our American friends would call ‘quaint’ and is really a tourist trap tenuously themed around witches. As far as I can tell they had a white witch called Sybil Leek living here in the 1950s and that’s about it... In Burley you will find gift shops filled to the rafters with spooky tat. As a child, I LOVED it, and have learned, to my chagrin, that Ali does too.  Sometimes we make an additional shop at New Forest Cider, where ducks, chickens and geese prove to be an added draw for him, and the Burley Fudge shop is a must – their fudge is delicious and never lasts long in our house.

10. Take a bird-spotters’ guide to amaze your children with your fantastic avian knowledge, or involve them in working out what you’ve spotted on your adventures.

11. When the weather is really rubbish, and you HAVE to get out, Ringwood Health and Leisure Centre (which boasts the dual claims to fame of having been the site of TV’s The Brittas Empire and where I achieved my 5 metre swimming badge) has a decent soft play facility.

12. Though it’s not, strictly speaking, in the New Forest, on glorious days you might feel the draw of the sea and the beach, in which case pootle down to Hengistbury Head and board  the Noddy Train. Waving to anyone you see while on the train, or when viewing the train from the road, is obligatory.



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