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Here's what it's like to live along the New Forest Coast

PUBLISHED: 15:42 15 August 2019 | UPDATED: 15:42 15 August 2019

Lymington River is busy with ribs, yachts and Isle of Wight ferry

Lymington River is busy with ribs, yachts and Isle of Wight ferry

Emma Caulton

Seaside living doesn't come much more swish than the New Forest Coast. We found out more

Heading to the coast? Many Hampshire bods trek south-west over the border into neighbouring Dorset which is better known for seaside resorts and sandy beaches. However, if you yearn for a life beside the sea, you don't need to go that far.

The New Forest's coastline is special: a varied landscape of safe harbours, sheltered lagoons, shingle beaches, pebble spits, Tudor forts and quaysides for crabbing. It extends from Calshot at the mouth of Southampton Water, along Lepe's pine-fringed beach, where you can still explore historic D-Day remains, past bustling Lymington, quiet Keyhaven and foodie Milford on Sea to clifftop Barton on Sea with views across to the Needles - chalk stacks creating a wake-like trail off the Isle of Wight.

For yachties this area is no secret. The Georgian market town of Lymington, at the heart of this stretch of coastline, has a maritime history of smuggling and shipbuilding and is today arguably the UK's sailing capital. And the Solent is considered to offer some of the finest sailing in the world. Sailors have long bought into Lymington for close proximity to the marinas. Plus, there are myriad opportunities for water sports enthusiasts to learn a raft of skills, from sailing to stand up paddle boarding.

Increasingly, however, Lymington attracts landlubbers, whether looking for the breathing space of a second home or a more permanent move. I've heard one such London escapee describe the town as 'Richmond by the Sea' because of its selection of top notch cafes and restaurants, chic boutiques, edgy hair salons, contemporary art galleries and stylish interior stores. In the mix are also old-fashioned fishing net and bucket shops on cobbled Quay Hill, proper local pubs and a busy Saturday market selling everything from freshly baked bread to bric-a-brac. Along with a supportive local community, this gives Lymington a year-round liveliness. That is another advantage: this coastline is not defined by a traditional holiday season. (In my opinion you need to be fairly robust to cope with the closed-down life of a winter in a typical English seaside town.)

This year-round buzz is perhaps due to its relative accessibility. Although it takes time (quite rightly) to drive through the New Forest's stunning landscape, this coastline is within easy reach of Bournemouth, Winchester and Southampton (the latter is also just a ferry ride away over Southampton Water from Hythe Pier). Even London only takes a couple of hours whether by motorway or by train; Lymington is on a branch line with a train service to London Waterloo via Brockenhurst mainline station.

In terms of property, this coast has it all. Lymington itself is a glorious architectural mash-up of Georgian townhouses, Victorian terraced cottages, 20th century family homes on leafy avenues and contemporary riverside apartments. To the east, just across Lymington River, is a quieter, more rural landscape with property ranging from quaint cottages to grand country houses. Charming villages include Exbury, home to world-renowned woodland gardens running down to the Beaulieu River. Buckler's Hard, further upriver is an 18th-century shipbuilding village, and round and about both of these, often tucked discreetly down private lanes, are character homes, old and new, some with access to private pontoons.

On the western fringes of Lymington there's a similar story: big houses in a semi-rural location. However, these are set back from Lymington and Keyhaven Marshes Nature Reserve, a stunning watery landscape of lagoon, mudflat and salt marsh thronging with migrating and wintering birdlife, sheltered by an impressive pebbly bank leading to Hurst Castle (where the Isle of Wight seems to be within touching distance).

Beyond that bank a sand and shingle beach, edged by beach huts and with panoramic views from Hurst Castle to Hengistbury Head, runs past Milford on Sea and Hordle Cliffs to Barton on Sea.

Milford on Sea is a delightful coastal village set around a green where fairs and festivals are frequently held. There is a good selection of stores and services to meet most needs and so many recommended food and drink establishments that Milford has been elevated to serious foodie destination. The local primary (rated 'Outstanding' by Ofsted at its last inspection) is also a major draw for families.

Indeed, most state schools along this stretch of coast are 'Good' according to Ofsted, including Lymington Junior, New Milton Junior and South Baddesley Primary. Pennington Junior 'Requires Improvement' however the new leadership team was recently judged 'Good'. At secondary level both Priestlands in Lymington and Arnewood in New Milton are also considered 'Good'. Impressive independent schools in the area include Walhampton at Lymington, Durlston Court at Barton on Sea and Ballard in New Milton - with academic achievements at all three judged 'Excellent' by the ISI.

As for houses, Milford is known for its lovely Arts & Crafts-style houses, designed by William Ravenscroft and found down wooded lanes, with more modern homes and apartments along the seafront and on the cliff road that runs to Barton on Sea. Developed from the 20th century onwards, the clifftop settlement of Barton on Sea is comfortably suburban. It features good-sized family homes and bungalows that are popular with retirees down wide grass-verged and tree-lined avenues and closes.

Barton's facilities include a clifftop golf course with amazing views and a choice of good restaurants and cafes. Day-to-day essentials are provided by neighbouring New Milton and include butcher, baker, banks and Bradbeers family-run department store. There's a slightly quirky arts centre, leisure centre and even a mainline station (20 minutes more or less to Southampton). Then it throws in super smart Chewton Glen - a country house hotel with award-winning spa and casual dining restaurant with cookery school overseen by TV chef James Martin. And you're reminded that the New Forest coast is that sort of destination - glamour and style are combined with a fresh outdoorsiness and sea views. Perfect.


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