The best way to enjoy the unique landscape of the New Forest is on foot so why not leave the car in one of the many car parks and take a stroll. Walking in the New Forest offers endless walking routes that will take you across a variety of heath, ancient woodland and meandering streams.
At the heart of the New Forest is the 145 square miles of Crown land which is managed by Forestry England where you have freedom to roam but please respect any private property and close gates behind you – they are there to stop ponies getting into areas that they shouldn’t. However, some crafty ponies have been known to take advantage of gullible walkers and follow them through gates so be careful that you don’t fall for this ploy! Generally speaking, if a gate opens out towards you, any livestock should be on your side of the fence and not inside the gate. For the adventurous walker there are loads of tracks that criss-cross the Forest, some of which are gravel but many are simply grass tracks or rides as they are known locally. Whilst a grass ride may be perfect to walk along in the summer they can quickly turn into squelchy mud after periods of rain.
A word of warning – it is easy to get disorientated when walking through woodland as one tree looks like another and routes can look completely different when you try to retrace your steps. However, the Forest is a safe place to walk as there is nothing likely to harm you apart from yourself through lack of preparation. The wild creatures of the Forest are timid and retiring (including adders who hibernate in winter) and if you leave the ponies alone, they will generally leave you alone – its only petting and feeding by the public that gets them into bad habits.
By way of preparation, the OS Explorer Map of the New Forest is a must as it details accurately all tracks, fence lines, streams etc. and is the best means of finding your way around. Secondly, take a mobile phone with you in case of difficulty. Provided it has a SIM card, a mobile phone can connect to 112 and 999 via any network even if the preferred network has no signal or is unavailable. However, if no networks are available calls cannot be made to emergency services – while reception can be patchy in the Forest, there should be at least one network available.
For those more technically minded, there are now some excellent apps available for smartphones that allow you to combine both of these essentials. Excellent apps are available from the Ordnance Survey and Viewranger – both of which use OS mapping and both are available for a variety of smartphones and operating systems. You do not need an internet or mobile signal to use them as they operate off the phone’s GPS technology.
When walking in the New Forest always wear sensible clothing that take account of the conditions and take some liquids with you. Footwear which provides good ankle support is a sensible option especially if you stray off of the gravel tracks where the ground is often uneven and full of potential trip hazards. With these few sensible precautions you will be able to explore the Forest at your leisure and if you’re looking for wildlife, try to wear neutral clothing that blends rather than clashes with your surroundings.
For the less adventurous, Forestry England maintains a number of way-marked trails at popular car parks across the Forest, all of which are on gravel tracks with the routes clearly signposted to ensure you don’t get lost. Full details can be obtained by clicking here. Another option is to obtain a copy of the free New Forest Cycle Route map and walk along one of those routes whilst watching out for cyclists.
Many people walk their dogs in the New Forest and there are no restrictions. However, please remember that the Forest is home to many rare species that can easily be disturbed by dogs, in addition to the ponies, donkeys and cattle that roam the area. Unfortunately, irresponsible dog owners who do not keep their pets under control can do significant harm to the Forest’s fragile environment, especially by chasing deer and disturbing birds during the nesting season – many endangered species nest on the ground. If you cannot see your pet you don’r have it under control!. Please always follow the Dog Walking Code.
Enjoy your walk and please take your litter home with you. Walking in the New Forest is a great way to explore the area. Check out New Forest Nature Photography to sample the sights and animals you can see on your walks across different areas of the National Park.