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The unspoilt beauty of the New Forest.

OVER 900 years have passed since William the Conqueror decreed that part of southern Hampshire should be reserved as a royal hunting ground.

And to allow the deer to run freely in his "new forest", the peasants were forced to remove their fences.

Today the New Forest still remains largely unfenced. Indeed it is one of the most unspoilt parts of England, though less than half is now wooded. The rest, apart from villages and farms, is open heathland or bogs.

Five thousand ponies, as well as deer, cows and pigs, wander where they like over much of its 150 square miles, though some roads are now fenced off or have cattle-grids to protect the animals.

The Forest's many paths and tracks offer wonderful opportunities for walking, horse-riding, cycling or simply enjoying a picnic, perhaps by a quiet stream.

A good place to start a visit is the Museum and Visitor Centre at Lyndhurst, the Forest's small "capital", as it has an interesting audio-visual show about the area's history and the constant efforts being made to preserve its character.

The village museum at Buckler's Hard, where timber from the Forest was used to build ships for Nelson's fleet, tells the story of the Beaulieu River and country life in the 18th century.

Other museums range from the Roman Villa at Rockbourne, a village of pretty thatched cottages, to Breamore, an Elizabethan manor house at Fordingbridge.

There are relics of more recent history too. An old railway line which once linked Ringwood and Brockenhurst is now popular with walkers, while some of the flatter heaths still have aircraft runways from the Second World War when the whole Forest was turned into a vast training camp for the D-Day invasion.

Horse-drawn wagon rides operate from Brockenhurst or Burley and you can see otters and owls at the Ashurst Sanctuary or even, after dark, watch badgers from a glass-walled hide specially built near their sett. As space in it is limited, advance booking is essential (ring 01425 403432).

Several beautiful gardens are open too. Exbury is world-famous for its rhododendrons and azaleas, Furzey includes an 18th-century cottage and Braxton, originally a Victorian farm, is filled with sweetly-scented herbs.

At Beaulieu, the great Tudor palace which has been the Montagu family's home for centuries, the National Motor Museum has an astonishing collection of old cars and commercial vehicles dating back to 1895. You can also get a bird's-eye view of the grounds from its mile-long overhead monorail.

For accommodation, there is a good choice of B&Bs and hotels (some with pools), particularly around Lyndhurst and Lymington. Campers and caravanners can book into Hollands Wood, a large camp-site in an oak wood beside the A337 just north of Brockenhurst.

Most of the Forest's pubs serve bar food and several have restaurants too; or for a really local drink, try the English wine made at the Holly Bush vineyard at Brockenhurst or the tasty cider from the Cider Farm at Burley.

For shopping, the long sloping High Street at Lymington is taken over by a lively market every Saturday. Its stalls sell everything from clothes to antiques, as well as local produce like cheese, eggs, honey, fruit and vegetables.

Bournemouth, Salisbury, Southampton and Winchester are all within easy reach of the Forest - or you can pop over to the Isle of Wight as the Lymington-Yarmouth ferry-crossing takes only 30 minutes.

Fact file: For a copy of New Forest Where To Stay 1999, telephone 01703 285000. New Forest Show at New Park, Brockenhurst, July 27-29.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Birmingham Post & Mail Ltd
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Harrison, John (British inventor)
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Mar 28, 1999
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