The New Forest—the old royal hunting ground of William the Conqueror

Imagine a land where wild horses roam free, where deer forage in ancient woodland and fox cubs play on open fields.

Welcome to the New Forest—a vast region of southern England spanning the counties of Hampshire, Wiltshire, and parts of Dorset.

A land of untamed beauty.

Of pastures, heathland, and ancient woodland, dotted with delightful villages, churches, and country houses.

Join us as we explore the New Forest.

A lone wild horse feeding at sunrise. Credit Lies Thru a Lens, flickr
A lone wild horse feeding at sunrise. Credit Lies Thru a Lens, flickr
New Forest Pony by Ceri Jones on 500px.com
New Forest Pony by Ceri Jones on 500px.com
New Forest by Emil Qazi on 500px.com
New Forest by Emil Qazi on 500px.com
Camper Van on a road through the New Forest. Credit Steve Wilson, flickr
Camper Van on a road through the New Forest. Credit Steve Wilson, flickr
New Forest National Park. Credit weesam2010, flickr
New Forest National Park. Credit weesam2010, flickr
The ford over Dockens Water at Rockford in the New Forest. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
The ford over Dockens Water at Rockford in the New Forest. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
An old gate to a field in the New Forest near Highwood. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
An old gate to a field in the New Forest near Highwood. Credit Anguskirk, flickr

History

Prior to the Norman Invasion of England, the area was colonised by the Jutes from the Jutland Peninsula of what is now Denmark and Northern Germany.

Following the Norman Conquest, King William I, commonly known as William the Conqueror, designated the land as a royal forest, reserved for the private use of the King and invited aristocracy.

Created at the expense of over 20 small hamlets and farms, it was a “new” area and the only forest described in detail in the ancient Domesday Book’s “Great Survey”.

A well-worn track in the New Forest near Highwood. Credit Anguskirk
A well-worn track in the New Forest near Highwood. Credit Anguskirk

Mysteriously, two of William the Conqueror’s sons died in hunting accidents in the New Forest.

Folklore has it that the deaths were punishment for William evicting locals from his newly acquired lands.

Richard of Normandy, his second son, died in around 1070, while his younger brother, William would suffer a similar fate 30 years later.

King William II was accidentally and fatally shot with an arrow in the New Forest

Struck by an arrow from one of his own men while hunting in August of 1100, King William II of England died in suspicious circumstances, leading to speculation of murder.

Historian Frank Barlow described King William II as:

A rumbustious, devil-may-care soldier, without natural dignity or social graces, with no cultivated tastes and little show of conventional religious piety or morality—indeed, according to his critics, addicted to every kind of vice, particularly lust and especially sodomy
Rufus Stone near Minstead, New Forest. Credit Avalon20
Rufus Stone near Minstead, New Forest. Credit Avalon20

Marking the spot where the king was shot, the “Rufus Stone” bears the following inscription:

Here stood the oak tree, on which an arrow shot by Sir Walter Tyrrell at a stag, glanced and struck King William the Second, surnamed Rufus, on the breast, of which he instantly died, on the second day of August, anno 1100.

William’s brother Henry was among the hunting party that day and succeeded him as King.

Abanding his brother’s body, he rode straight for Winchester—then the capital of England—to seize the treasury and elect himself King.

Rights of Common

Ancient “rights of common” have allowed local inhabitants to turn horses and cattle out into the forest’s common pasture to graze.

A horse walks in a meadow of Oxeye Daisies at Rockford In Hampshire. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
A horse walks in a meadow of Oxeye Daisies at Rockford In Hampshire. Credit Anguskirk, flickr

Between September and November, pigs can roam freely to forage for fallen acorns and beechnuts.

Pigs and piglets roaming free in the New Forest. Credit ian mcwilliams, flickr
Pigs and piglets roaming free in the New Forest. Credit ian mcwilliams, flickr

New Forest ponies are typically not shy and can be bold enough to seek out a treat.

New Forest Pony. Credit Saffron Blaze
New Forest Pony. Credit Saffron Blaze
New Forest Pony Foal. Credit Stuart Webster, flickr
New Forest Pony Foal. Credit Stuart Webster, flickr
Silhouette of an oak tree at Backley Holmes in the New Forest. Credit JimChampion
Silhouette of an oak tree at Backley Holmes in the New Forest. Credit JimChampion

Wildlife

Abundant with diverse species of wildlife thanks to well-preserved lowland habitats—wetlands, heaths, and deciduous woodland—you’re sure to see some beautiful creatures including several deer populations, of which fallow deer is the most common, but also roe deer, red deer, sika deer, and muntjac.

Fallow Deer. Credit Jiří Nedorost
Fallow Deer. Credit Jiří Nedorost

If you’re lucky, you may see this fine bird of prey—the Northern Goshawk—before it sees you.

Northern Goshawk. Credit Andy Morfew
Northern Goshawk. Credit Andy Morfew

And the pretty Dartford Warbler can be spotted flitting around the gorse.

Dartford Warbler. Credit Paul Roberts, flickr
Dartford Warbler. Credit Paul Roberts, flickr

New Forest National Park

Covering about 120 square miles, the New Forest’s National Park and Site of Special Scientific Interest is the largest contiguous area of unsown vegetation in lowland Britain.

Natural Bridge, New Forest National Park. Credit weesam,flickr
Natural Bridge, New Forest National Park. Credit weesam,flickr
New Forest Ponies and Ancient Oak near Brockenhurst, New Forest. Credit JR P
New Forest Ponies and Ancient Oak near Brockenhurst, New Forest. Credit JR P
The ancient woodland of The New Forest National Park in autumn colours. Credit Tommy Clark, flickr
The ancient woodland of The New Forest National Park in autumn colours. Credit Tommy Clark, flickr
A rural track in Brockenhurst, New Forest, during the Autumn. Credit Jack Pease, flickr
A rural track in Brockenhurst, New Forest, during the Autumn. Credit Jack Pease, flickr
Spectacular beds of heather in September at Broomy Lodge in the New Forest. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
Spectacular beds of heather in September at Broomy Lodge in the New Forest. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
Looking towards Fordingbridge from Milkham Enclosure in the New Forest. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
Looking towards Fordingbridge from Milkham Enclosure in the New Forest. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
Docken Water at Rockford in the New Forest. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
Docken Water at Rockford in the New Forest. Credit Anguskirk, flickr

Villages and Historical Buildings

As eclectic as it is beautiful, the New Forest district is filled with pretty villages and historical buildings yearning to be explored.

Founded by King John in 1203, Beaulieu Abbey was occupied by 30 monks sent from the Cîteaux Abbey, the mother house of the Cistercian order.

Granted a rich endowment and lands in the New Forest, Beaulieu Abbey became very wealthy, with a scale and magnificence befitting its royal foundation until it was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538 and fell into ruin.

Remains of Outer Wall Around Cloister and Foundations of Beaulieu Abbey Church
Remains of Outer Wall Around Cloister and Foundations of Beaulieu Abbey Church
The interior of the chapter house of Beaulieu Abbey, New Forest
The interior of the chapter house of Beaulieu Abbey, New Forest

Once the gatehouse to Beaulieu Abbey, Palace House became the ancestral home of the Mantagu family when it was bought from the Crown following the dissolution of the abbey.

Extended in the 16th and 19th centuries, it is a superb example of a Gothic country house and reputedly one of the most haunted places in Britain.

Beaulieu Palace House, Beaulieu, New Forest. Credit DeFacto
Beaulieu Palace House, Beaulieu, New Forest. Credit DeFacto

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes novels, conducted séances at Palace House and it is claimed he made contact with a ghost.

Reportedly sighted walking through walls and making a lot of noise in the private apartments, a lady in blue is believed to be the ghost of the Countess of Beaulieu, Lady Isabella, who died in 1786.

Beaulieu Palace House. Credit Karen Roe, flickr
Beaulieu Palace House. Credit Karen Roe, flickr
Dining room at Beaulieu Palace, New Forest. Credit Karen Roe, flickr
Dining room at Beaulieu Palace, New Forest. Credit Karen Roe, flickr
Beaulieu Palace House, New Forest. Credit Nigel Brown
Beaulieu Palace House, New Forest. Credit Nigel Brown

Founded in 1952 by Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, as a tribute to his father, who was one of the great British automobile pioneers, the National Motor Museum is hosted in the village of Beaulieu.

1903 De Dion Bouton Model Q at Beaulieu National Motor Museum. Credit Karen Roe, flickr
1903 De Dion Bouton Model Q at Beaulieu National Motor Museum. Credit Karen Roe, flickr

Filled with around 250 vehicles from the late 19th century through decades of motoring history, the museum also features an exhibit of James Bond cars and a special Top Gear exhibit.

1912 Hispano-Suiza Alfonso XIII at the Beaulieu National Motor Museum. Credit Karen Roe
1912 Hispano-Suiza Alfonso XIII at the Beaulieu National Motor Museum. Credit Karen Roe

Noted for its fine collection of paintings and furniture, Breamore House is an Elizabethan manor house in Fordingbridge in the New Forest District of Hampshire.

Completed in 1583 by the Dodington family, it was purchased in the 18th century by Sir Edward Hulse, physician to Queen Anne and Kings George I and George II.

It was used as one of the locations for the 2005 film Pride & Prejudice.

Breamore House, New Forest. Credit Wulfrunian1
Breamore House, New Forest. Credit Wulfrunian1

Nearby is the parish church of Saint Mary, known for its Anglo-Saxon rood and intriguing historical details such as a Puritan-inspired plaque warning patrons to “Avoid Fornication”.

St Mary's parish church, Breamore, New Forest. Credit Plumbao
St Mary’s parish church, Breamore, New Forest. Credit Plumbao

With its cobbled streets, pretty whitewashed Victorian and Georgian buildings, and proximity to the New Forest, Lymington is a popular tourist destination.

Derived from Old English words “tun” meaning hamlet and “limen” meaning elm tree, Lymington’s history dates back to the Anglo-Saxons.

Lymington also runs a ferry service to the Isle of Wight.

The Small Port of Lymington, New Forest. Credit JR P, flickr
The Small Port of Lymington, New Forest. Credit JR P, flickr

In the countryside north of Lymington, beautiful villages like Boldre and Brockenhurst dot the landscape, once described by author and naturalist William Henry Hudson as “‘a land of secret, green, out-of-the-world places”.

Boldre village church, New Forest. Credit Alan Stewart
Boldre village church, New Forest. Credit Alan Stewart
A pretty thatched cottage at Rockford, New Forest. Credit Anguskirk
A pretty thatched cottage at Rockford, New Forest. Credit Anguskirk
Thatched cottage in Brook Village in the New Forest. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
Thatched cottage in Brook Village in the New Forest. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
A pretty thatched cottage framed by an old Oak tree at Highwood in Hampshire. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
A pretty thatched cottage framed by an old Oak tree at Highwood in Hampshire. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
Thatched cottage and geese in the New Forest. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
Thatched cottage and geese in the New Forest. Credit Anguskirk, flickr

Held annually at the end of July, the New Forest Agricultural Show has been running since 1921 and promotes the development of agriculture, forestry, equestrianism and horticulture in the region.

Burrell Steam engine 3902 'Elizabeth', built in 1921, powers a Ransomes threshing machine at the New Forest Show. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
Burrell Steam engine 3902 ‘Elizabeth’, built in 1921, powers a Ransomes threshing machine at the New Forest Show. Credit Anguskirk, flickr

Attending in 2012, Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh honoured the Show as one of the country’s top ten agricultural Shows, attracting almost 100,000 people over three days.

Robey Steam Tractor, 'Our Nipper' at the New Forest Show. Credit Anguskirk, flickr

All that hard work soaking up the gorgeous scenery and atmosphere may make you thirsty and the New Forest doesn’t disappoint, with dozens of old pubs to choose from—as long as you don’t mind the local fauna waltzing by now and then.

The Red Shoot pub in the New Forest. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
The Red Shoot pub in the New Forest. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
The 18th century Alice Lisle inn at Rockford in the New Forest. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
The 18th century Alice Lisle inn at Rockford in the New Forest. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
Families enjoy a Sunday lunch outside the High Corner Inn in the New Forest. Credit Anguskirk, flickr
Families enjoy a Sunday lunch outside the High Corner Inn in the New Forest. Credit Anguskirk, flickr

The New Forest is a place to experience a way of life that’s been preserved for centuries.

Or a place to find peace and solitude.

Just you, the wind, and the wilderness.

Bratley View by Giovanni Giuliano on 500px.com
Bratley View by Giovanni Giuliano on 500px.com
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