If like me you’ve never been to the New Forest, I recommend cycling 6 miles across the middle of it, in glorious English summer. You pass low scrubby land, dark dappled forest cover, spindly bare trees with dark arms upstretched. On our cycle ride from Burley to Brockenhurst, we passed all these, as well as a fete featuring a fire engine, honeybee stall and women making raffia-and-flower coronets. And of course there were the horses and ponies. They walk nonchalantly across the roads everywhere, nibbling at the grass, loitering like “youfs” and generally acting like they own the joint.
We visited New Forest for the weekend, staying in an economical holiday park and running around in the sun, and it seemed to me a typical British break.
The New Forest was named by William the Conquerer in 1079, who used it for his “new hunting forest”. The ancient systems of managing the forest have endured, with pretty stands of trees, rolling heaths and sun-dappled forests.
This part of the world can seem awash in B&Bs, caravans and holiday parks. We stayed at Shorefield Country Park, just next to Milford on Sea. (They have 5 other properties in Dorset and Hampshire.) The sitting room of our two-bedroom self-catering unit was southwest facing, so on the afternoon we arrived, we relaxed in the waning sun on the sofa while keeping an eye on our daughter in the hot tub. Shorefield has units at different prices and varying degrees of amenities — this one was top of the line.
The entire unit and the park itself was immaculately well-kept, with staff who seemed delighted when you asked them to cut a tag off a pair of new sunglasses or to confirm when the New Forest Bus arrived at the on-site bus stop. The park has an array of areas, almost like neighbourhoods, with different styles of static caravans, chalets, lodges and bungalows. Some are dark and look like wood cabins. Some could have been plucked from suburban America. Others looked straight out of quaint 1950s.
We stayed in Amberwood 45, with a double and twin bedded room. It was a nice unit, very clean with a dining table, television, and two small sofas. The kitchen had a minifridge, hob, washing machine, and plenty of hot water — key after a day spent cycling. A few suggestions: bring your own knife for cooking (the one provided was very dull), paper towels and washing up liquid. You’ll also need to pack towels for baths and pools.
The place has a friendly feeling — fellow guests say hello on their dog walks, kids run round the grass pitch in one area of the park. There are lots of amenities at Shorefield to fill a weeks’ worth of activities: heated indoor and outdoor pools, tennis court, all weather mini golf, game arcade and scheduled kids’ activities like discos (the afternoon session on Friday had toddlers and other under 5s boogie-ing excitedly to Psy). During summer there is a children’s activity programme including a tall climbing wall and AeroBall. Unfortunately the children’s playground that my daughter was most excited about was closed. The office told us they’re waiting for parts and expect it to be open for the summer holidays.
I did get to take advantage of the onsite Elemis Day Spa — one of the reasons this park gets a 5-star rating. Shorefield has made a utilitian space in the main building more welcoming with leather sofas, soft music and the soothing spa-like voices from staff. My half hour back massage was just the right combination of softer strokes and digging-in fingers.
But while there is a lot to do onsite, the location was phenemonal. The New Forest Tour bus, blue route, took us on a tour of the surrounding area and up to Burley to set off on our ride. I wish we’d had all day to take advantage of all three routes and the jump-on/jump-off experience. The buses are open-topped and can take up to 4 bicycles. You could catch the bus at Shorefield (literally just beside the car park), go up to Burley or Brockenhurst, pick up bicycles, and hop on and off all day.
On the next visit, I would also set aside a morning to take the footpath from the park to the sea. We would take the time to kick a ball around the onsite football pitch, spend more time at the indoor and outdoor pool (it got top marks from my daughter although smelled very strongly of chlorine) and try out the onsite mini golf. I’d love to cycle for several days, although I’m not sure we have the stamina of Kirstie and family at the Family Adventure Project, who spend entire holidays cycling from Scotland to Italy or something like that. I might have to in some padded cycle shorts.
We had lunch at the Snakecatcher in Brockenhurst — terrible name, good backstory based on a local character, great casual garden in front and back. It was bliss to sit in the shade of an umbrella, take our shoes off to feel the grass on our feet and drink ice cold beverages (beers for us, mango and apple juice for our daughter).
Later that evening we went to The Beach House in Milford-on-Sea, which was a 10-minute drive, although confident cyclists could just as easily wheel it there. At The Beach House, we sat in the garden where a large tree was perfect for climbing and from which a path leads directly to the sea.
If I had criticisms of Shorefield Country Park, they were minor. The economical finish on our unit was apparent in places: the hooks for curtain tie-backs were falling out of the wall; the fencing around the terrace was — to our surprise — plastic not wooden, although this wasn’t immediately evident. The onsite pizza restaurant served tasty pies, although I wish they’d had large main-sized salads. But these are quibbles in what was a fun, comfortable stay.
I was a guest of Shorefield Country Park, which provided accommodation. Our bike rental was complimentary. As always, all opinions in this review are my own.
Lucy from Dear Beautiful was also at Shorefield while we were. Check out the lovely video of her stay, which includes a peek at nearby Paultons Park, home of Peppa Pig World
Also there was Mummy Daddy and Me Makes Three: She’s got gorgeous pictures of her stay, including a mouthwatering shot of Pimms.
Shorefield Country Park, Shorefield Rd, Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire
Rates for a one-week (7 nights) stay for 4 sharing (4-berth) start at £189/week low season. Our unit would be £322 at that time. High season (July/August) starts at £525/£945 our unit. This is rack rate. Look out for deals on short breaks — some as low as £119 or 25% — on the Special Deals area of the Shorefield site.
What to do:
The New Forest Tour open-topped buses
Where to eat:
The Snakecatcher Pub, Brockenhurst
The Beach House, Milford on Sea