Things to see and do in Ringwood
PUBLISHED: 15:30 17 September 2018 | UPDATED: 15:30 17 September 2018
Avon Valley, Beer and Cake is the ABC of why Ringwood, a busy market town on the western edge of the New Forest, makes a quirkily clever choice for a break away
Cycle, ride or walk into the New Forest that many consider to be at its most peaceful and picturesque in these less accessible northern and western corners.
Bikes are available to hire from the excellent Hockey’s Farm Shop in North Gorley; £12 for a half day including helmet, lock, rucksack and maps. However, horseback is surely the ultimate way to experience the Forest landscape and wildlife. Bagnum Equestrian in Ringwood promises hacks for all ages (from seven up) and all abilities with small groups led by experienced instructors. Riders are taught to walk, trot and even canter in open Forest; £31 for an hour hack. Walkouts (with ponies on a lead rein) are ideal for the novice or younger child (from five up) and priced at £16 for 30 minutes.
If you’d rather explore on foot, there are old smugglers’ roads heading towards Burley, paths meandering alongside Linley Brook or Dockens Water, or tracks around Blashford Lakes – a nature reserve created from gravel pits which is a twitchers’ paradise, attracting birds such as bitterns and kingfishers which you can spy on from one of six hides. Alternatively discover the Avon Valley footpath, a 34-mile long distance route from Salisbury to Christchurch running west of Ringwood. The route is divided into five accessible sections, including Fordingbridge to Ringwood (nine miles) and Ringwood to Sopley (six and a half miles).
Take your pick from classic country pubs in idyllic locations and hidden cafes serving the best cake ever. First those pubs. They include: The High Corner Inn, Linwood, down a track in the middle of nowhere; The Alice Lisle with a dining terrace looking over Rockford Lake; and The Royal Oak in North Gorley, a 17th century inn prettily situated opposite the village duck pond.
As for coffee and cake, on-trend bakery and coffee house Bakehouse 24 wows. Bakers work in full view beyond a timber bar where customers can perch (as I did) to watch dough being pummelled. I tucked into outstanding maple and date cake – light, moist and moreish. One of the bakers, Mark, paused to chat and I was surprised to discover my cake was vegan - it tasted totally indulgent.
There’s also Café Velo, found down one of Ringwood’s inviting twisty lanes, combining cycle workshop with good coffee and a menu that includes veggie and vegan choices.
In fact there’s an abundance of cafes round and about Ringwood. Another is tucked away in Crow Farm Shop (on the edge of Ringwood), a rustic barn of a farm shop selling local cider, chutneys and ales, plus excellent pastries from the Burley Baker (I had a perfect cinnamon bun with gooey toffee sauce) and award-winning pork pies.
Ringwood delivers an interesting shopping experience. Like the cafes, there’s a mash-up of the hip with the traditional. The Furlong Centre is the old cattle market recreated as smart shopping enclave with the likes of Crew, Joules and Gerry Weber. It is nicely done. Yet more cafes, like Boston Tea Party with courtyard seating, help make this a popular shopping destination.
However, it is the High Street proper and the lanes off it which have some real finds. Independents include The Lighthouse Cookshop (check the blue and white striped jugs, mugs and tea pots), Timber, a ‘natural products’ store with organic, Fairtrade and green goods (and a hammock slung outside its entrance), family-run jewellers Allum & Sidaway, and an amazing lifestyle boutique, Calm amongst the Chaos. All clothes are designed, cut and sewn on-site. Fashion designer and owner Frances Farmer set up the studio (out the back) seven years ago in a former butcher’s (the original tiles giving the boutique a cool retro vibe). Her pieces are influenced by relaxed, Japanese cuts, vintage smocks and Scandi chic and she is attracting a strong following locally and customers from as far away as Bath and Winchester.
Frances explained that she started with half-a-dozen pieces and now has 65 lines, including stunningly simple bridal gowns, and fabrics tend to be organic and ethically-sourced. She suggested that some people are bored of samey ‘High Street’ fashion, and like something that’s a bit unique. I covet one of the longline, oversized kimonos in ginger that looks glamorous whether worn over jeans or party frock.
For those not into shopping, Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre on Crow Lane has eagles, owls, vultures, snakes, lizards and spiders to view, plus bird of prey shows, flying displays and reptile demonstrations. This is also a rescue centre caring for wild birds of prey; medical and rehabilitation costs are part-funded through entry ticket sales.
Or what about a tour of Ringwood Brewery – the first micro-brewery established 40 years ago this year? Tours are available weekend afternoons and Tuesday evenings year-round, and every afternoon during summer and include a complimentary drink in the Pin Room or a bottle of ale to take away.
Taste the world without leaving Ringwood. There are Indian restaurants, such as Curry Garden and Indigo Bistro, delicious Italian cuisine at both Lovitaly and V&Gs, Mexican tacos at The Railway on Hightown Road and Thai dishes at Koh Thai (bringing together Eastern flavours with European small plates) and at The Star (otherwise a traditional pub with rooms).
Head south to Bransgore if you’re looking for a village gastropub. This village has three of them! The Three Tuns is a delightful thatched inn with big, sunny field of a beer garden, agricultural tools over the fireplace and a menu featuring local produce such as Mudeford crab soup, plus Ringwood ales. The Crown has a country drawing room styled interior, terrace shaded by a weeping willow and menu with the likes of chicken and pulled gammon pie, and spiced chickpeas, aubergine and spinach burger. Finally, there’s The Carpenter’s Arms, a very popular Fuller’s pub.
So to bed. Moortown Lodge, a boutique B&B in what was once a Georgian hunting lodge, comes highly recommended by locals. This welcoming B&B has it all: comfy beds, tasty breakfasts, luxurious extra touches, and access to facilities in the David Lloyd Leisure Club next door.
Another B&B just north of Ringwood is Blashford Manor Farmhouse with bedrooms and stableyard cottages all recently renovated to a very high
standard and in a lovely setting. But for somewhere grander, Burley Manor House is in a magical location with views over a deer sanctuary and rooms decorated with antiques and rich fabrics.
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