We explored one of the UK’s newest national parks by bike. Here’s our pick of the best New Forest cycling routes for those of all abilities.
The UK is home to 15 national parks in total. Established in 2005, the New Forest in Hampshire is the UK’s second newest national park and one of the easiest to explore by bike. The park is just an hour and a half from London by train and is home to over 160km (100mi) of excellently maintained (mostly gently) undulating cycling paths – ideal for cyclists of all abilities.
We based ourselves in a cosy little B&B in the well-positioned village of Burley couched in the lee of a hill surrounded by sturdy oaks and lofty pines. The village is in the heart of the national park and has excellent access to some of the best New Forest cycling routes as well as a handy cycle hire shop in the village centre.
We spent three days exploring the area surrounding the village and have put together our favourite New Forest cycling routes. Maps and route descriptions are all available from the Forest Leisure Cycling centre in the village but it’s also worth picking up an Ordnance Survey map of the New Forest before you travel.
1. The Old Railway
Distance: 8km (5mi)
Duration: 1-2 hours
We kicked off our trip with a morning cycle along the disused railway to the beautiful village of Brockenhurst. Once off the road out of the village, the gravel cycling route is almost entirely along the disused railway track. On either side you’ll spot scores of the 3,000 beautiful wild ponies that roam the New Forest. The route stops at the Holmsley Station Tearooms, perfect for a bit of light refreshment before returning along the same route to Burley.
2. The Hill Fort
Distance: 14.5km (9mi)
Duration: 2-3 hours
We combined the above Old Railway route with a challenging jaunt up to the Iron Age hill fort at Castle Hill. Don’t expect to see any soaring fortifications as Iron Age hill forts were essentially earthworks that made use of a natural rise in elevation for defensive advantages. Instead, on a clear day you will get some striking views across the park, usually dotted with grazing ponies, cattle and donkeys.
3. The Deer Sanctuary
Distance: 19km (12mi)
Duration: 2-3 hours
This was our favourite of the New Forest cycling routes we tried as it was almost entirely off-road and offered an opportunity to spot deer. The track meanders north from Burley across Blackensford Brook and Bratley Water, gently climbing up to Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary. We stopped here for a picnic lunch before crossing the road and continuing to Acres Down Farm where cream teas are available. We didn’t complete the full circular route but instead returned the way we had come.
4. Villages, Views and Vales
Distance: 24km (15mi)
Duration: 4-5 hours
This circular route provides an excellent cross-section of the area of the New Forest to the south of Burley, taking in some of the smallest villages in the park. The route is almost entirely on paved road which means the cycling is smoother although there is more traffic to contend with. The real draw for this route is the myriad villages, pubs and tearooms. The Carpenter’s Arms and Three Tuns Inn at Bransgore are both excellent!
5. The Royal Oak
Distance: 51.5km (32mi)
Duration: 4-5 hours
Our final bike ride took us to the northwestern boundary of the national park and was by far the most challenging. We extended our ride out to the deer sanctuary above with elements of the Royal Oak route. Although we didn’t complete the entire route we did get a full day in the saddle. The route is a great mix of country lanes, off-road cycling trails and quiet villages boasting traditional pubs with excellent food.
Not only is the cycling route challenging in length but the route is quite complicated too! Don’t worry if you go off-route though; it’s easy to find your way back to Burley with a smartphone or even the simplest of local maps.
Atlas & Boots
New Forest cycling routes: The essentials
What: Exploring the New Forest cycling routes from the village of Burley.
Where: We stayed at the charming Wayside Cottage run by the even more charming Trish and Ian. The cottage has six delightful rooms, all with wifi, flat-screen TVs, en-suite bathrooms, super comfortable beds and wide windows letting in plenty of light. The cottage also has free parking on site. In the mornings, a delicious (and bountiful) breakfast is served in the elegant dining room and there is tea, coffee and homemade cake available in the lounge throughout your stay.
When the weather’s good it’s worth making use of the grounds of the cottage which is fronted by beautiful purple wisteria. Take the time to have a chat to Trish and Ian who have led fascinating lives as a chef (Trish) and airline pilot (Ian) in Zimbabwe.
Atlas & Boots
When: Alas, you’re never guaranteed a completely dry period in England, but June to August is without doubt the driest and warmest time of the year. However, it’s also peak season and availability could be an issue, particularly during the school holidays from the end of July through August. With this in mind, the shoulder seasons (Apr-May and Sep-Oct) are also good times to explore the New Forest cycling routes.
How: We hired bikes from Forest Leisure Cycling centre that has a fleet of bicycles available including tandem, children’s and electric bikes as well as cycling trailers for dogs and children. The prices below are for 24 hours and include helmets, backpack, pump, lock, toolkit and a mobile mechanic backup. See their website for additional equipment, rates and discounts.
|Adult Premium Suspension||£17.50|
They also stock local guidebooks and detailed maps (also available in their online shop).
Visiting the national park is free and there are myriad free car parks throughout the park with access to hundreds of miles of hiking and cycling trails.
South West Trains run from London Waterloo to several major stations near the New Forest including Portsmouth, Southampton, Bournemouth and Poole. Journey times are usually between 1-2.5h. Additional stations within the park include Ashurst, Beaulieu Road, Brockenhurst, Hinton Admiral, Lymington, New Milton, Sway and Totton.
National Express provide a range of services from London and southern England that stop at Lyndhurst, Lymington and Ringwood as well as other stops in the New Forest.
We were staying in France at the time so took a ferry from St Malo in France to Portsmouth in the UK, which is the nearest cross-channel port to the New Forest at 50km (30mi) and 65km (40mi) from Burley. Brittany Ferries operates a route between St Malo and Portsmouth.
Lonely Planet England is a comprehensive guide to England including the New Forest National Park, ideal for those who want to both explore the top sights and take the road less travelled.
New Forest OS Explorer Map is the most detailed and easy to read map at a scale of 1:25,000. It includes tourist information points, popular sites, viewpoints, places of interest and rights of way information.