This weekend we headed for a family bike ride in the New Forest. Although we’ve driven through many times on our way to Wilksworth Caravan Park in Dorset, we had never stopped to go cycling in the New Forest.
With over 140 miles of traffic-free cycle trails and a stunning natural landscape it is a perfect destination for a family day out on bikes. Plus, the area is very flat, so is ideal for children.
There are several bike rental shops in the New Forest. However, after some research we opted for New Forest Cycling in Burley. Located in the west of the New Forest, it provides a central location with a choice of six trails which you can do from the village.
The New Forest National Park
The New Forest is one of England’s 15 national parks. But don’t be fooled by the name, as there is nothing new about it. In fact, the New Forest is over 1000 years old and was even mentioned in the Domesday Book. William the Conqueror created it as his “new hunting forest” back in 1079, naming it nova Foresta. This later translated to New Forest.
Today the New Forest covers 219 square miles of woodland, stretching across Hampshire to the South coast of England. The landscape comprises ancient forest, heathland and pasture land, which is mainly used for recreational purposes.
Burley is a quintessential New Forest village which lies between Ringwood and Brockenhurst.
Burley village centres around the memorial cross. On arrival it was bustling with tourists milling leisurely around the shops. It has several gift shops and a few with homemade local produce, such as sweets or cider.
However, what struck us immediately was the number of shops specialising in witchcraft merchandise. This tiny New Forest village has not only one shop selling witch-related goodies, but two or more. This seems a lot, so I was curious to find out why.
I consequently discovered that Burley has extremely close connections with witchcraft and at one time was home to “Britain’s most famous witch”, Sybil Leek. During the 1950s Sybil would roam the village in her black cloak, accompanied by her pet jackdaw, Mr Hotfoot Jackson. What a cool name!
Unfortunately, Sybil’s idiosyncratic ways attracted a lot of unwanted attention from the press and tourists. Eventually she tired of the unwanted media exposure and fled to the USA, where she became an astrologer and continued to write about the occult.
Today you can still see the shop “A coven of witches”, which attracts curious tourists and those interested in the occult. It has everything you need in the way of dragons, unicorns, fairies, and gothic items.
We had a quick look in the window but had one mission in mind – cycling in the New Forest – so crossed the road to the bike rental shop.
Hiring bikes in the New Forest
New Forest Cycling is Burley’s bicycle hub and has everything you need for a day of cycling; bikes, accessories, and servicing. It is in the centre of the village opposite the memorial. It was quick and simple to hire a couple of bikes and the staff were friendly.
They have a choice of different styles, to suit all ages and abilities. If you need a bit of assistance on the bike, they have electric bikes. For younger riders they have tags-a-longs or child seats for toddlers.
We chose the premium suspension bike, mountain bikes that are ideal for the gravel tracks of the New Forest. However, they do have a superior range for more experienced cyclists. If you are looking for something different, they also have tandems, but you must book in advance.
Although the shop seemed busy when we arrived, it didn’t take long to get our bikes, some maps and we were ready to go. We were also given a small back pack with a pump, lock, and bicycle repair kit (though goodness knows what I’d have actually done with it!)
If you’ve travelled by car, you can park in the pay and display car park behind the neighbouring pub The Queen’s Head. Alternatively, there is free parking up the hill by the cricket club. We took this option, as it is only a 5-minute walk from the village centre.
The Woodland Trail (8.5 miles)
The first of our bike rides was on the Woodland Trail. This traffic-free route starts at Woods Corner, just outside the village, and leads into the South Oakley Inclosure. From here the trail follows traffic-free gravel paths, so is ideal for family cycling.
As the name suggests, the route goes through ancient New Forest woodland. It’s very scenic, with lush greenery and occasional wild roses and foxgloves. It was a quiet route, and I was surprised how few people we saw. However, it was raining when we set off, so that might explain it.
The Woodland Trail is a circular bike route, which leads back to the village. You can take a slight detour via the White Buck Inn. We did try this, but somehow missed the pub, so returned to Burley and had a very tasty lunch at the Queen’s Head pub instead.
The Old Railway Trail (5 miles)
Feeling refreshed after lunch, we set off on our second trail of the day, The Old Railway Trail.
The Old Railway Trail also starts in the village of Burley but heads off in the opposite direction towards Bransgore. The trailhead is at Barbush car park.
The route is a linear trail which follows the old Brockenhurst to Ringwood railway. Completed in 1847, it was one of Hampshire’s oldest lines and known as the Castleman route.
I always love disused railway lines for cycling, as they are so flat. This one was no exception. It was a flat, wide gravel path and perfect for beginners.
The Old Railway Trail has a vastly different landscape to our morning trail. Apart from one tunnel of trees, we had views of bare open heathland dotted with gorse bushes.
As we rode, we saw several reminders of the old railway, including cuttings, level crossings and the stonework of old bridges. It’s a very straight route, so easy to follow and not much chance of getting lost.
At the midway point, you’ll come to The Old Station Tea Rooms in Holmsley. We were still full from lunch, so didn’t stop, but retraced our tracks to Burley.
If you are feeling more energetic, you could continue this railway trail to Brockenhurst (18 miles return).
New Forest ponies
On both trails we saw lots of ponies, though probably more on the Railway Trail. The ponies were often stood on the verge by the roadside, or even in the road. Of course, they have right of way!
There are over 5, 000 ponies roaming freely in the New Forest. Some of them are big and look more like horses, but I’m not an equine expert, so what do I know?
The ponies are owned by commoners, who have the right to graze their ponies. They are incredibly beautiful, but can be unpredictable, so don’t get too close. A couple of them snorted at us, so we kept our distance.
The Deer Sanctuary Trail (9 miles)
Another of the popular routes for families is the Deer Sanctuary Trail. This route starts at Woods Corner and follows in a similar direction to the Woodland Trail. However, two trails in a day were plenty for us, so we collected the car and drove to Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary.
Although deer roam freely in the New Forest, you have more chance of seeing them at the Deer Sanctuary. It has a viewing platform which looks over a large grassy meadow. In summer New Forest keepers feed the deer each day. Obviously, there is no guarantee that you’ll see deer, but you’ll have more chance if you visit during the feeding sessions between noon and 3pm.
We saw a small herd of fallow deer and on the opposite side was a stag hiding in the grass. The platform has a good view over the meadow, and we found information boards with facts about the different deer.
New Forest donkeys
After our stop for deer, we were ready to hit the road back home. As we drove, the roadside was full of ponies, interspersed with cattle.
However, when we got to the donkeys we just had to stop. How adorable are they? Some were rolling, some were standing, and some were just snoozing. And who could blame them? That’s exactly what I wanted to do after a fun day cycling in the New Forest.
How to get to Burley in the New Forest
The New Forest is an easy drive from London on the M3/M27.
Have you tried cycling in the New Forest with kids?
We’d love to hear your comments below.
Pin for later: Family cycling in the New Forest, Hampshire, UK
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