The New Forest was actually created in AD1079, when King William the Conqueror decided this wildlife-abundant spot in Hampshire would make ideal hunting ground for him and his fellow Norman nobles once they’d finished business at the Tower of London. The area is still a favourite destination of sightseeing Londoners, who are drawn here both by its easy accessibility and sheer beauty.
Despite King William’s best efforts to cull the local deer population back in the late 11th century, this large expanse of woodland and heath is still an area of incredible biodiversity. Roe, red, fallow and sika deer roam freely here, and many other rare species of animals can be found amongst its trees. The most obvious presence, though, is that of the wild ponies who graze undisturbed throughout the region.
If the idea of a gentle stroll through sylvan woodland doesn’t appeal to your kids, there are plenty of other child-friendly cards you can play. Toddlers can be taken to Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park, where they’ll be enticed by everything from riding on Grandpa Pig’s miniature train to eating a cornet from Miss Rabbit’s Ice Cream Parlour.
Older children will enjoy Beaulieu National Motor Museum, which is currently exhibiting 50 original vehicles from the James Bond films. Or head out onto the lake at the New Forest Water Park to sample wakeboarding, waterskiiing or simply being pulled around at high speeds on a giant inflatable banana.
The New Forest National Park is also one of the best places in the UK for cycling, and its relatively flat landscape allows entire families to take to two wheels for days at a time. With more than 100 miles of off-road cycle routes, the forest offers safe conditions for those who’ve just shed their stabilisers, as well as all the stunning scenery and inviting country pubs that grown-ups can handle.
How to get there: From London, take the M25 south, take junction 12 to the M3, then turn off at junction 12 to the M27 where the New Forest will be signposted.
Travel time: Driving from London takes around 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Where to stay: A gorgeous country retreat just outside the forest village of Brockenhurst, The Pig (01590 622354) is a firm family favourite. With acres of verdant grounds – including its own walled kitchen garden – it is ideal for those with energetic children. The head chef, James Golding (previously of London’s The Ivy) serves up stylish, yet wholesome, modern British cuisine in the superb restaurant. Family rooms are from £229.