To many, a key feature of the New Forest’s natural beauty is the ancient and ornamental woods, and here can be found the greatest concentration of ‘veteran’ trees in western Europe. However, there is much more on offer, including 42km (26 miles) of coastline, the largest area of lowland heath in Britain and three-quarters of the valley mires in north-west Europe, as well as picture-postcard thatched cottages, ancient churches and cosy pubs. And all this located within Britain’s smallest national park, covering just 570 square kilometres (220 square miles).
The New Forest may not be a very hilly landscape and there are no sweeping mountain views, but a walk in the Forest takes you into a part of Southern Britain that William the Conqueror would probably still recognise. Couple that with the fleeting glimpses of wildlife - a deer suddenly stops to look before magically disappearing in the blink of an eye, birdsong mingles with the rustle of the wind in the trees, wildflowers add splashes of colour to the beauty of the enchanting woods, the commoners’ stock grazes the land as it has done for centuries - and you have all the ingredients that make walking in the New Forest National Park such a unique and rewarding experience.
However, this is not some woodland theme park; the Forest is a working environment. Around 7000 commoners’ animals graze the open forest, one quarter of the park is farmland and the forests still produce many tonnes of timber per year. Remember, it is these very activities that have helped to preserve the New Forest over the centuries.