We went to find out what it's like to live in the New Forest
PUBLISHED: 10:50 03 August 2018 | UPDATED: 10:51 03 August 2018
Outdoorsy types who want to get away from it all should head to the New Forest
Is living in the New Forest like being on perpetual holiday? That is possibly the draw for retirees. Meanwhile others have taken a break there, fallen in love with the area, and bought a house. I can understand why. For those of you unfamiliar with the New Forest, it is neither new nor heavily forested. It was so-named by William the Conqueror as his new hunting ground nearly 1000 years ago in 1079, and the ancient system he put in place to protect the landscape is still effective today - through Verderers, Agisters and commoners who oversee, manage and use the Forest respectively. Between them they care for an area unique in Southern England, a managed wilderness of heathland with wide horizons and ancient woodland where ponies, donkeys, cattle and pigs (come autumn) wander free.
It is a popular destination for holidaymakers, especially since its designation as a National Park in 2005. It is perfect for the active as the Forest is a natural gym while its coast, sheltered by the Isle of Wight, is renowned worldwide for sailing. Yet, this escape is within easy reach of major cities such as Southampton and Winchester. London is only an hour and 40 minutes (more or less) from Brockenhurst mainline station. Nearby Southampton International Airport provides access to cities across Britain and Europe, from Aberdeen to Amsterdam and Dublin to Dussledorf. In short, the New Forest allows many to live seemingly far away from the madding, modern world, yet still able to do the day job.
It draws escapees from Hampshire, the Home Counties and London, including families in search of a better quality of life, retirees looking for quiet and community, and those attracted by the area’s opportunities to run, ride, cycle, kayak, sail or simply stroll. But where to buy? The New Forest SSSI encompasses 120 square miles and the National Park covers 219 square miles – a vast chunk of land for a property search. However, this is narrowed down by specific needs.
First, consider commute. Those who regularly travel by rail to work will centre property searches round the mainline station at Brockenhurst, although stations at Ashurst, Sway and Hinton Admiral also provide a mainline, but less frequent and slightly slower, service. Those who prefer to drive will consider villages and hamlets within easy reach of major road networks. Going east to west, these include: Ashurst and Woodlands near the A326 with access to Southampton; Brook, Bramshaw and Minstead, close to junction one of the M27; Burley and Hangersley, both not far from junctions on the A31; and Hale, Hyde and Woodgreen on the Forest’s western boundary with access to the A338 for Salisbury.
Second, what about pastimes? Watersports enthusiasts will want to be close to the coast. If Lymington is too busy, look at East Boldre and East End east of town or Sway and Hordle to the west. However, southern New Forest tends to be more popular (and pricier) than northern New Forest (perhaps due to the coastline and trainline). So, if seclusion is a major motivator, head north. It is just as pretty with lush valleys and Poohsticks bridges over burbling streams. Purchasers will also find money goes further – a boon for those wanting an equestrian estate.
Third, families may be concerned about school catchment areas. Actually, bar the odd exception, all state primaries are rated at least ‘good’ by Ofsted, with an impressive number considered ‘outstanding’, among them schools in Sway, Hordle, South Baddesley and Bransgore (by the way, Bransgore village is often overlooked, yet has great facilities including a choice of good pubs and access to both Forest and coast). Secondary level tells a similar story – mostly ‘good’ with Arnewood Academy at New Milton rated ‘outstanding’. At tertiary level Brockenhurst College is ‘good’. Local independents also impress with the likes of Ballard, Durlston Court and Forres Sandle Manor all considered ‘excellent’ by the ISI (Independent Schools Inspectorate).
Foodies will be delighted with the quality artisan producers, farm shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants liberally sprinkled throughout the Forest. It started with Chewton Glen - one of the first country house hotels ever. Its restaurant is Good Food Guide recommended and its latest development, The Kitchen, a casual eaterie with cookery school, is headed up by James Martin. The New Forest is also home to the first of the eclectic PIG group (Brockenhurst), stylish Lime Wood with Hartnett Holder & Co restaurant (Lyndhurst), The Terrace at The Montagu Arms (Beaulieu), Riverview restaurant at The Master Builder’s (Buckler’s Hard) and Cambium at Careys Manor (Brockenhurst again). Head north for The Bell Inn (Brook), The Three Lions, a gem at Stuckton, and good pubs such as The Forester’s Arms (Frogham) and The Royal Oak at Fritham – a proper Forest inn. Fab farm shops include Setley Ridge near Brockenhurst and Hockey’s at South Gorley. Meanwhile artisans produce everything from gin (Dancing Cows) to goat meat (Cobley Wood Farm).
As for property – the New Forest has more than its fair share of dream homes: elegant Edwardian country houses, farmhouses, traditional thatch cottages and even sympathetic new builds. However, these tend to be rare as development in the national park is restricted. Check out Dock Lane, Beaulieu, for mid-century aesthetics (and share of a private jetty for access to moorings). If it’s brand new, coolly contemporary you want, you’re more likely to find it on the fringes of the Forest -such as glam new builds beyond Ringwood.
If you settle in the New Forest, you’ll be in good company: residents include Chris Packham and Esther Rantzen. There are probably many other familiar faces, however the New Forest is where even the well-known can escape.
Agent talk - Alan Mould, Director, Spencers New Forest
“I like the New Forest for its gentler pace of life and the sense of community that so many other places have lost. When I set up the original company, Spencers of Burley, 12 years ago, before joining forces with Rob Batten to form Spencers New Forest, it was very much with the thought of becoming part of that community, supporting local concerns and causes, and all our offices (we now have four offices across the New Forest and a dedicated lettings office) still strive to do that.
“Even though many villages in the New Forest have a fair share of second homes, they still manage to retain their community spirit. It is one of the primary reasons why we see so many people moving to the New Forest from London and the Home Counties, especially families fleeing the city for village life. We also get a number of buyers repatriating to the New Forest from around the world. Overall, however, the split between those moving to the New Forest and those moving within the area is roughly 50/50. It shows that once here, people stay here, upsizing or downsizing as required.
In terms of popularity, little changes as Brockenhurst, Burley and Beaulieu properties always tend to sell at a premium. However, a lot of other villages represent very good value, especially when compared to London prices.”