The United Kingdom is home to 15 designated National Parks, areas of natural beauty and historic or cultural significance. Ten of these are located within England and include famous areas such as the Lake District, the North York Moors, and the Peak District. The other five are outside of England, with two in Scotland and three in Wales. Being an American National Parks lover, I was pleasantly surprised to find that we would be staying within one of the newer English national parks. Granted National Park status in 2005, The New Forest is the second most recently designated national park in the U.K.’s National Parks family.
The way that National Parks operate in the United Kingdom is a bit different from here in the United States, though the aim is similar. Like the U.S. National Park Service , the British National Parks system has the mission to “conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage.” There are many stakeholders in the care and management of the parks in the United Kingdom, which include national parks staff, elected members and local governments, and each park has its own National Park Authority. Also, the land within a National Park boundary can include cities, towns, and farms, and as such, much of the land is owned by private landowners. The National Trust and Forestry Commission own large swaths of moorland and woodland, with other organizations and agencies working with the respective National Park authority. This is a bit different in that most national park land in the United States is owned by the federal government, with small portions inheld by private owners. U.S. national parks are operated by a central National Parks Service, which is a bureau of the Department of the Interior, though different American National Parks may have their own conservancies or other partnerships to help with this important task. Nevertheless, the goals are much the same: to preserve our natural and cultural resources.
The New Forest National Park encompasses the towns of Beaulieu, Brockenhurst, Burley, Ashurst, Lyndhurst, and Lymington, as well as other smaller villages within the county of Hampshire, about 80 miles southwest of London. For the first six days of our Great British adventure, we stayed in Lymington, a seaside town known for its yachting and ferry access to the Isle of Wight. The walk from where we were staying to the High Street where many of the shops and restaurants are located was very pleasant, taking us over the Lymington River and its estuary. The cobbled streets were charming with the Georgian buildings built by those made wealthy by the boat-making and salting trades. This scenery made a morning coffee and visit to the local Tesco grocery so much more romantic.
The New Forest is a unique environment that has been created at the interface of nature and human management over the course of centuries. In 1079, William the Conqueror named the ‘Nova Foresta’ as his royal hunting ground. This lovely woodland by the sea was a perfect place for his hunts, and close to his palace in Winchester about 15 miles away. This protected the forest habitat and its ‘beasts of chase,’ however it severely restricted the use of the land by common people. This changed two centuries later when the Charter of the Forest was issued alongside the Magna Carta, giving use of land rights back to farmers in the area. Commoning, the right allowing common use of the lands, is still utilized by some of the farmers in the region. This practice of free-range animals actually helps to maintain the forest landscape, and allows for greater biodiversity. For us, it was an interesting sight. The kids enjoyed seeing the cows, pigs, ponies, and occasional donkey as we drove through the countryside.
I was disappointed that we didn’t do as much exploring in the forest as I’d hoped, though we did take a few walks in the lovely landscape. We were lucky enough to drive through the New Forest every day during our stay in Hampshire, and each drive was truly breathtaking as we soaked in the brilliance of the green trees and fiery autumn leaves, with charming villages set among the Forest. Sure we had to make the drive to get to anywhere we planned to go outside Hampshire, but I count it as fortunate. Driving through the New Forest was just beautiful.
The New Forest is a great place for those who love to hike, cycle, or ride horseback, with miles of trails in gorgeous scenery. There is also camping and ranger-led activities. In addition to the commoners’ animals, we saw a great number of wildlife. The varied ecosystems within the national park allows for rich biodiversity. We saw a number of birds, small mammals, and insects. I had to keep watch for deer as I drove, and was charmed to finally see a good number of deer on one of our last days in the New Forest.
In addition to outdoor sports and historic sites, the New Forest and its communities offer cute shopping and great food. We celebrated Jacob’s eighteenth birthday at a lovely pub in Sway called Hare and Hounds. The food was good and decently priced, but the bread and butter pudding with custard was to die for. And as the legal drinking age for beer and wine with a meal is 16, we toasted Jacob’s birthday with pints of cider and stout.
I would absolutely recommend a visit to a national park when vacationing in the United Kingdom. As it is in the United States, a national park is a great way to enjoy the natural environment as well as rich history of a region. As always, remember that we contribute to the preservation of protected areas. Follow Leave No Trace principles and respect the land so that no matter what country you visit, it’s natural beauty and culture can be enjoyed for many generations to come. Happy trails!
For source info and to plan your visit to the New Forest, visit https://nationalparks.uk/quick-guide-to-the-uks-national-parks#q_8
For information on U.K. National Parks, visit https://nationalparks.uk/home
Other source info:
Bonus share: Bread Pudding
I wasn’t exaggerating when I mentioned that the bread and butter pudding was delicious. I confess that as we bake a lot in our Haasienda kitchen, we are a bit snobbish when it comes to desserts. But the desserts we shared at the Hare and Hounds satisfied every member of the family. In case you can’t make it to the New Forest for a yummy bread pudding, here’s our family recipe. You can use almost any type of denser bread; I recommend banana bread or a good sourdough.
1 1/4 loaf of bread, cut into 1″ slices (enough to fill an 8″ x 8″ baking dish)
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
pinch of salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons golden raisins (optional)
recipe caramel–whisky sauce (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius). Arrange bread, overlapping the bottom of an 8″ x 8″ baking dish.
- In a saucepan over medium-low heat, stir together cream, milk, and salt. heat until small bubbles appear at edges.
- In a large bowl, whisk eggs, vanilla, and sugar. Slowly pour in hot milk mixture, whisking constantly. Pour custard mixture over the bread and sprinkle in raisins. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until custard is set. Serve warm with sauce.
In a small saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Stir in 1 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup heavy cream. Reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of whisky (optional) and cook an additional minute. Spoon over warm bread pudding.