The New Forest National Park is home to England’s most expansive and unenclosed area of woodland, heathland and pasture – little wonder then that it’s an enchanting destination; even in the chill of winter. For those of us that delight in the prospect of fresh air, brisk walks and the opportunity to try new outdoor activities, it’s a veritable haven. That said, the New Forest – like the rest of our green and so-called ‘pleasant’ land – isn’t without its unpredictable weather! But when ominous skies and grey clouds rule the day, there’s still lots to do, see and explore indoors.
Voted the biggest attraction by VisitEngland in 2013, Beaulieu’s a great spot for a day out – or in, as the case may be! Home to the National Motor Museum, which makes motoring history come alive with its varied exhibits, Beaulieu guarantees that the whole family are in for some fun – regardless of whether rally cars rev their engines of interest. The magical car of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang sits alongside F1 machines, and the World of Top Gear is just steps from Wheels – a ride that explores transport from the Stone Age through to the future. Besides the museum, the 13th-century Abbey, Palace House and rose-scented gardens are well worth exploring on a frosty February day; in fact, half-term’s the perfect time to visit. A huge Scalextric track will be in place from 15 – 23 February, and costumed guides will talk you through everything from medieval monks in the Abbey to Victorian cookery in the kitchens.
Once you’ve decided to head into the great outdoors, consider getting a guide – though don’t kidnap the cooks, please. It’s undoubtedly the best way to make the most of the New Forest’s charms this month, heading off the beaten path to spot and identify local wildlife. Speaking of wildlife, have you ever heard of a Fuzzacker? Local lingo for the Dartford Warbler, a pretty little bird that lives and sings among the gorse, it also gives its name to Fuzzacker Guided Walks. Bring your boots, ensure you’re armed with an anorak, and you could soon set of on a tailored adventure. “Offering a wide range of walks and lots of fascinating facts about the history, traditions, and wildlife of the Forest (fancy spotting deer or getting up close and personal to a 400-year-old oak tree?),” the beauty of these rambles is that they can be as relaxed or strenuous as you like.
For those of you eager to really push the limit, however, perhaps a day of kayaking, canoeing, mountain biking or raft-building is in order!
If so, don’t hesitate to check out New Forest Activities while in the area. Offering an incredible array of outdoor activities, from archery and bushcraft to Battlefield LIVE days (no self-respecting kid would be without a laser gun, after all), they have something to suit all groups: friends, families, even fun-loving stags. For me, however, their star attractions are undoubtedly treasure trails: themed walks in which you have to solve a strange murder mystery or complete a special spy mission, they’ll make even your grumpy Granddad grin like a Cheshire cat. And all this while beholding the beauty of the New Forest? It beats sitting on the sofa at home hands-down, even if it’s a particularly frosty February morning.
For more ideas on what to do and where to go in the New Forest – and trust me, this blog simply can’t do the opportunities justice! – head on over to new-forest-national-park.com. The site is a fantastic resource, showcasing everything you’d ever need to know about the area – from its history (did you know you can still find Roman pottery fragments in Amberwood Enclosure?) to its pubs (the Red Shoot Inn has an on-site brewery, creating concoctions like Muddy Boot!). Pete Carpenter – the New Forest born-and-bred owner of the site – has collected endless ideas for New Forest activities and attractions, and proffers plenty of lovely pictures to whet your appetite, too.
So what are you waiting for? Wildlife enthusiast; history buff; adrenalin junkie – the New Forest National Park is a truly enchanting destination for February, whatever your reason for visiting. You can find plenty of great holiday cottages in the New Forest at HomeAway.co.uk.