The New Forest

By Chrissie Walker


The Jutes were one of the first Anglo-Saxon tribes to live in this area of Hampshire which is now called the New Forest. Following the Norman Conquest, William the Conqueror designated this wooded corner of southern England as a royal forest. The area was cleared for regal entertainment at the expense of more than 20 small hamlets and farms; hence it was considered a ‘new’ forest although it was even then an ancient landscape. Forest laws were enforced to preserve the New Forest for royal deer hunting, and any interference with the king’s deer and its forage was severely punished.

The New Forest was first recorded as Nova Foresta in the Domesday Book in 1086. It is the only forest described in that all-encompassing tome in such detail, so it was evidently unique.  Unique, yes, but not lucky, as two of William’s sons died in the forest: Prince Richard and King William II (William Rufus) lost their lives there. The reputed spot of Rufus’s death is marked with a stone known as the Rufus Stone. The locals viewed these deaths as divine retribution for the destruction of homes and livelihoods.

Over the centuries, deer hunting became less important, and by the 17th and 18th centuries, timber production was the primary economic use of the New Forest. Plantations were created in the 18th century to supply wood to build ships for the Royal Navy. There was even a shipyard actually in the New Forest and the first ship built at Buckler’s Hard was called the ‘Surprise’. Lord Nelson’s ship, the ‘Agamemnon’, was also built at Buckler’s Hard using 3,000 oak trees.

These naval plantations eroded the agreed rights of the Commoners, although the New Forest Act of 1877 reconfirmed the historic rights of the inhabitants and prohibited the enclosure of anything more than the existing 70 or so square kilometers. The Commoners, for that is what the locals are called, had rights of use of the common ground. They could let horses and cattle out into the Forest to graze, they could gather wood, they could cut peat for fuel, they could dig clay, and graze pigs in the autumn to eat fallen acorns.


Deer populations were left unmanaged until the 19th century, when they reached numbers that threatened both the wood and food crops. The Deer Removal Act was established in order to alleviate the problem. Some still remain but in smaller numbers.

In the mid-1800s the London to Southampton railway was extended to Dorchester, making the New Forest more accessible to those wanting to spend some leisure time in the countryside. The numbers of visitors were small at that point but there was a huge increase in tourism in the 1960s and 1970s.  The New Forest remains a popular destination for both UK and overseas visitors who still enjoy the unspoilt spaces and the sight of free-roaming ponies.  Over 3,500 horses are kept in the New Forest and they are one of the iconic and lasting impressions.



But there is more to do in and around the New Forest than watching animals and admiring trees. One can learn a new sport or spend time on the water with New Forest Activities. They provide opportunities for fun and adventure for families, couples, and team-building groups. One can enjoy archery or take a kayak or canoe along the river.

There is something for all ages and abilities.

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Beaulieu is an award-winning family visitor attraction at the heart of the New Forest. There are over 800 years of heritage to be seen on the Beaulieu Estate, which has been in the ownership of the Montagu family for over four centuries.

In 1204, King John gifted the land to monks of the Cistercian order. The Abbey flourished, growing in size and status until the 1530s when Henry VIII launched the dissolution of the monasteries and gave the estate to the Montagu family. Visit the National Motor Museum here and Beaulieu’s sister attraction the aforementioned Buckler’s Hard. Tour Palace House, once the gatehouse of the medieval Beaulieu Abbey and now the home of the Montagu family.

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If you want to see a traditional English garden then spend some time at Furzey Gardens. Set in the heart of the New Forest at Minstead, this beautiful and delightfully informal garden was established in 1922 and is celebrated for its all-year-round colour and interest. They are also the RHS Chelsea 2012 Show Garden Gold award winners and it’s easy to see why. This is a gardener’s paradise and well worth a visit.

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The New Forest offers a host of hotels to fit every budget and requirement. Hotel TerraVina is a stylish boutique hotel for those who have a passion for all things gastronomic and delicious. It has a high reputation for quality of both food and wine. Learn more here



Built originally in the mid 1800s as a hunting lodge, the Balmer Lawn Hotel is a classic Country House Hotel set in the very heart of the New Forest National Park. It has 2 pools and a spa as well as a restaurant which takes advantage of the finest local produce.

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Eat where the locals eat and visit Keats Restaurant in Romsey. This Italian-inspired eatery has been a favourite for the past several decades. Just the place for some hearty pasta.

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The New Forest is a must-visit destination for both local and international travellers. It’s perfect for a day-trip but it’s also ideal for those who want to take a break from cities and enjoy a few days of tranquillity.

That’s the New Forest, naturally.


Read more about Chrissie Walker and her travels at Mostly Food & Travel Journal