THE NEW FOREST
This former royal hunting-ground, teeming with wildlife and grazing animals, including the famous New Forest ponies, is 566 sq km of managed woodland, pasture and heath, a wonder of natural history.
An enchanting, informal woodland garden with surprises round every corner. Managed by a charitable trust offering personal development opportunities to people with learning difficulties, every season of the year brings new experiences. » minsteadtrust.org.uk
NEW FOREST WILDLIFE PARK
Near Ringwood, this family-run animal park is partzoo/part-sanctuary, providing a safe environment for viewing a wide variety of mammals, from bison to harvest mouse, taking in wild boar, deer and otters. » newforestwildlifepark.co.uk
Internationally famous as a yachting centre, with three marinas, this pretty town was voted UK’S ‘best coastal town’, citing its transport links and local scenery. Lymington is both a perfect touring base and a ‘fun’ place, in its own right, with independent shops and restaurants dotted amongst high-street names.
The estate has been the home of the Montagu family for nearly 500 years and Palace House, built around the gatehouse of the 13th century abbey, is one of the ten Treasure Houses of England. Most visitors will head for the world-famous National Motor Museum, home of around 250 iconic and historic vehicles, the entertaining Top Gear display and favourite cars from TV and Cinema. Less frantic, but no less memorable, are the gardens and woodland walks, the remaining buildings of the massive abbey and the Secret Army Exhibition, telling the little-known story of Beaulieu’s contribution to the SOE in WW2. » beaulieu.co.uk
Make time for a visit to this living museum of life on the Beaulieu river. The delightful village was, for centuries, home to a thriving ship-building industry - Nelson’s Agamemnon, among many - and the only street, wide and flanked by Georgian terraces, slopes down to the water’s edge. History is in the air and a splendid Maritime Museum vividly brings that period to life, also telling of the contribution made to WW2. After a leisurely river cruise, look in perfectly recreated labourers’ cottages and the Chapel of St Mary (allegedly a smugglers’ headquarters) and relax in the Captain’s Cabin tearooms or, perhaps, the 18th century New Inn. » bucklershard.co.uk
200 wonderful acres of woodland and gardens, most informal, and 22 miles of pathways to explore make for an absorbing visit – even for younger ones and nongardeners. Designed and created for Lord Rothschild in 1919, this botanical paradise surprises and delights, at every turn, with spaces dedicated to regions of the world (‘American’, ‘Japanese’) and individual species (azalea, iris, heather, hydrangea, etc). For those less keen on walking, there is a hop-on/hop-off electric buggy service, with 11 stops around the estate to enable leisurely viewing, and you will love the charming narrow-gauge steam railway, extended and improved for 2017. » exbury.co.uk
Launched in 1978 by the influential master-brewer, Peter Austin, out of frustration with the conglomerates of the day, this traditional ‘craft-ale’ brewery is now firmly established in the region and, under the benevolent protection of Marstons plc, its independent future is secure. Producing a consistent range of quality beers (my personal favourite is ‘ Boondoggle’, a medium-strength blonde ale), and some seasonal ‘specials’, Ringwood is happy to welcome visitors to take a pre-booked tour, in the company of entertaining and knowledgeable guides, to learn about the technique of brewing, the critical factors and the source of the various flavours and colours, before settling down in the Tun Room to sample the wares. » ringwoodbrewery.co.uk