Out & About: The New Forest & Dorset

3 delightful destinations and the best things to do whilst you're there

Three fabulous areas and inspiring ideas on what to see and do whilst you're there, this guide to New Forest National Park and Dorset explores the heathland and woodland in the New Forest, the glorious Cranborne Chase and the dramatic Jurassic Coast in Dorset. From cool cafes, farm shops and heritage treasures, to scenic trails, wildlife hotspots and country activities, there's something everyone will enjoy.

 

1. LYMINGTON, HAMPSHIRE

Lymington is located on the coast at the southern edge of the New Forest and is easily accessible from the A31/M27 west of Southampton, via the A337 through Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst.

Best things to do while you're there: The fascinating and beautiful medieval forest and heathland of the New Forest is best explored on foot or by bike. Waymarked woodland paths and tracks and breezy heathland trails delve deep into the Forest landscape - circular walks and off-road cycling routes, the latter also combining gently rolling Forest fringe lanes, are available from the New Forest Heritage Centre in Lyndhurst. Pick of the Forest walks are the gentle riverside walk from Beaulieu to historic Buckler's Hard and the impressive Tall Trees Walk on the beautiful Rhinefield Ornamental Drive. The less energetic should jump on the open-top bus for a very informative audio tour of the National Park. For a stunning drive link the Rhinefield and Bolderwood Ornamental Drives for a fascinating insight into this ancient forest, once a Royal hunting ground. Heritage highlights include the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, the tiny Maritime Museum in timeless Buckler's Hard, and Exbury Gardens on the banks of the Beaulieu River. Foodies can take home wine from Setley Ridge Vineyard, tip-top ale following a tour of Ringwood Brewery, and award-winning cheeses from the farm shop at Lyburn Cheesemakers in Landford. If time allows, take the ferry to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, enjoy a bus tour of this beautiful island, or walk through the serene Yar Valley and climb Tennyson Down for fabulous sea and Solent views.

Where to stay: Set in over five acres of grounds beside the Avon Water on the edge of the New Forest, Gordleton Mill is a delightful creeper-clad 17th-century inn with a stunning riverside terrace. Explore the pub's rambling 'Secret Garden' with a drink in hand in summer - the Art Walk is full of unusual artworks, sculpture and exhibits - and bag the inviting wing chairs by the log fire in the bar in winter. Relax in one the beamed lounges - you can see the original mill workings from one - and enjoy imaginative pub food in the smart dining room that overlooks the terrace and gardens. Cosy, contemporary ooze home comforts. View inn >

 

2. FARNHAM, DORSET

Farnham is a sleepy village, enticingly lost within the rolling folds of Cranborne Chase and filled with timeless thatched cottages. Just a couple of miles north of the A354 between Salisbury and Blandform Forum.

Best things to do while you're there: Walkers should head for lofty Win Green, the highest point in the Cranborne Chase for an invigorating walk along the ridge-top ox-drove and panoramic views south towards the Dorset coast and Salisbury Plain to the north. Below is the Nadder Valley, criss-crossed with footpaths leading to the ruins of Old Wardour Castle hidden away in secluded woodland, and the village of Tisbury, noted for the 1,000-year-old yew in the churchyard, and its splendid thatched tithe barn. Two ancient hillforts - Badbury Rings and Hambledon Hill - are close by and worth the climb. On the doorstep is beautiful Larmer Tree Gardens, where balloons also alight for a three-hour drift across the stunning Wessex landscape. Stately piles include Italian-inspired Kingston Lacy near Wimborne, the lush landscaped gardens at Stourhead, best enjoyed in autumn for the amazing colours, and impressive Wilton House. Mystical Stonehenge is a short drive away - be sure to arrive early to miss the crowds. Salisbury is must-visit for its majestic cathedral as is the market town of Shaftesbury for famous Gold Hill. There's golf at nearby Rushmore Golf Club and shooting can be arranged in season. Foodies should seek out the rustic café at Pythouse Kitchen Garden at West Hatch.

Where to stay: At the heart of the timeless thatched village of Farnham is the 17th-century Museum Inn, a traditional Dorset inn with a relaxed fomely feel. Original features in the three civilised beamed rooms around the bar have been retained, so expect yellow-washed walls, flagstone floors, crackling log fires and scrubbed tables, which perfectly set the scene in which to enjoy some superlative modern British cooking, local ales and top-notch wines. Eight comfortable rooms and Moles Cottage, a self-contained thatched cottage (popular with families and shooting parties) sleeping 16 behind the inn, complete the serene rural picture. View inn >

 

3. DORCHESTER, DORSET

Dorset's county town is located off the A35 between Blandford Forum and Bridport.

Best things to do while you're there: With rolling downland to the north and the coast a few miles south, Dorchester is the perfect base for exploring the Isle of Purbeck and the dramatic Jurassic Coast - there's so much to see and do. The town is the centre of Thomas Hardy country, so literary enthusiasts will find Hardy's Cottage at Higher Bockhampton and the Dorchester Museum fascinating places to visit. Other cultural highlights include 15th-century Athelhampton House, just outside the town, the magnificent terraced gardens at Mapperton House, and beautiful Sherborne, with its ancient abbey and medieval buildings. Don your walking boots and explore sections of the exhilarating South West Coast Path, notably the dramatic Purbeck coastline, taking in Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door, and the stunning high cliffs on the awe-inspiring Jurassic Coast west of Bridport, a true walking experience. Great walking country too around Abbotsbury and the famous Chesil Beach, while the downland trails around Cerne Abbas are also worth exploring. On the unique Isle of Purbeck you can visit Corfe Castle, take a trip on the Swanage Heritage Railway, walk the coast path to Old Harry Rocks, and watch wildlife at Arne Heath Nature Reserve. Foodie haunts include the Hive Beach Café at Burton Bradstock, the New Inn at Cerne Abbas, the Symondsbury Estate Café, and River Cottage near Axminster for inspiring cookery courses.

Where to stay: Having once entertained and hosted monarchs (Queen Victoria) and musicians (The Beatles), new life has been breathed into the King's Arms, an iconic, 300-year-old building on Dorchester's High Street, following years of neglect. Interior design flair has cleverly transformed the once faded interior without losing the period style and retro feel of the place. Modern fabrics and vintages touches blend effortlessly, there's a fabulous new bar, 30 stylish bedrooms, and modern British food is delivered from swish open-to-view kitchen. View inn >

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