Travel: There’s always something new to discover in the secret Forest

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As a huge fan of Thomas Hardy’s novels, I had always wanted to visit the New forest on England’s south coast.

Hardy’s novels were set in the semi fictional county of ‘Wessex’ which was inspired by wild places such as the New Forest.

On my recent trip there I read The Mayor of Casterbridge which brilliantly describes the New Forest landscape.

The New Forest has changed little since William the conqueror gave it his special protection more than 900 years ago.

It was and still is formed by the way animals are farmed in the open forest.

Ponies, cattle, horses, donkeys, deer and pigs graze freely in the forest. The animals even roam into the villages and rub shoulders with locals and tourists.

Anyone owning or renting property that has the right of pasture is entitled to graze stock there.

The New Forest National Park covers 220 square miles of countryside and coast.

I explored as much of it as possible in two days with my husband Mark.

We stayed at an ‘adults only’ caravan site called Back of Beyond near the ancient market town of Ringwood in Dorset.

The site was a perfect base for exploring the wonders of the New Forest.

And on the site itself we were lucky enough to see a herd of deer at sunset.

Little did we know that we’d soon be walking through woodland glades and over heathland with wild horses and pigs. Our first port of call was Lyndhurst – known as the ‘capital’ of the New Forest. William the Conqueror established his hunting grounds there and it is now home to the main New Forest visitor centre. It was a busy little town but what we really wanted to explore was the forest itself.

We headed for the village of Brockenhurst and on the way came across ponies grazing by the roadside and herds of feisty pigs rooting around in the undergrowth.

It was a joy to see these animals in the wild. One pig took a fancy to Mark and followed him around.

We moved on to the delightful waterside settlement at Beaulieu and admired the fine old buildings. Again, Mark was followed by wild pigs! Beaulieu is also home to the National Motor Museum. We drove through the most exquisite native woods past beauty spots with quirky names such as Bucklers Hard and Hatchet Pond, then on to Lymington on the coast.

Lymington is a stunning Georgian market town with narrow streets lined with period cottages.

There was a wonderful atmosphere at the Old Town Quay where fishing boats and yachts jostled in the busy harbour. We stopped off at Milford-on-Sea which has superb views of Hurst Castle the Needles beauty spot and the Solent. The last place we visited was Christchurch Harbour.

Christchurch boasts two rivers, two castles, an 11th Century priory church, a Saxon mill and a Medieval bridge.

After drinks and lunch at the wonderful Ye Olde George Inn in the town’s Priory Quarter, we watched the boaters at Christchurch Quay. Sheer delight.

I can highly recommend the New Forest for a holiday.

It is stunningly beautiful, relaxing and full of surprises.

For more on the New Forest go to www.thenewforest.co.uk.