London is one of the most captivating cities in the world, and also the most visited. Therefore, as alluring as it is for London-dwellers and tourists alike, sometimes I find myself pining for greenery and pure naked countryside. If you read my Cheshire Girl article you will know that I’m a northerner with an affinity for the outdoors and so when I heard about the New Forest, what I can best explain as an oasis outside of the city, I knew I had to clear my weekend and embark on a mini New Forest adventure. You can find New Forest in Hampshire, South England; it is a sprawling National Park with villages dotted in it making it a stunning drive!
By road or rail, you can reach New Forest which is what makes it so appealing for Londoners wanting to escape the hustle and bustle. I love a good road-trip and the best way for me to source those hidden gems and wild adventures is to take a friend and hop in a car, which is exactly what I did.
My first stop was at Bartley Lodge Hotel, just on the outskirts of Lyndhurst. We drove along up the drive surrounded by forest, neatly tucked off the main road until we reached a grandiose manor. Inside was in keeping too, wooden panels and flooring and an extravagantly decorated dining room joined onto a conservatory facing the gardens. Yes, this was just the place to enjoy a London getaway.
We arrived Friday evening; the drive had taken around two and a half hours (including a pit stop at the services). Thoroughly exhausted we traipsed up to our room, a big and light well equipped twin room. I always rate hotels that have kettles in them with sachets of teas; it’s so simple yet makes a huge difference to a stay. I love making a cup of herbal tea and lie in bed with a good book and that’s exactly what I did!
Commence the Water Sports
You may remember from my bank holiday escape last year to Woolacombe that I dabbled in stand up paddle boarding (SUPPING). So when I saw that water sports was just one of the activities the New Forest promoted I couldn’t resist taking to the water once again. On Saturday morning my friend and I drove to Milford-on-Sea which as the name implies, is situated right by the sea and just 30 minutes away from our hotel. Milford-on-Sea is a quaint and picturesque little village and it’s where The New Forest Paddle Sport Company has set up shop, specialising in Stand-Up Paddle Boarding (SUPPING) and kayaking.
A bit about The New Forest Paddle Sport Company
The company opened last October and is run by Sean and Claire – soon to be newlyweds! Sean is a qualified paddle board and kayaking instructor and we had the pleasure of his company on our SUPPING experience where we did their newly introduced castle tour. We met Sean in Keyhaven car park which was about a minutes’ drive from Milford- on- Sea. Sean was busy preparing the paddle boards, and when we were ready we hoisted them under our arms and walked to a quiet bay (and the ultimate hidden gem). The area isn’t known for watersports besides dinghy sailing and so when Sean and Claire discovered the area they spotted an opportunity to show visitors and locals alike the beauty of Keyhaven from a unique perspective, from a paddle board. We started off stand-up paddling through the marsh areas which is incredibly scenic and I couldn’t help but feel I was about to explore the great unknown. Once out of the marshland we had to steer through the moored boats. This is where I struck trouble because the wind picked up which meant I had to use my non-existent upper body and core strength – I did feel bad for Sean who had to keep paddling back and rescuing me as I was getting swept back into land while my sporty friend powered ahead and had a good chuckle at my expense! (Why did I bring her?) However, once we changed direction and steered around the spit of land it was smooth paddling on to the English heritage castle, known as Hurst Castle.
Water Sport and History – The Perfect Blend
It was approximately 3 to 4 km and around 2 hours of paddling to the castle, an expansive walled fortress in the middle of the sea connected by a jut of land. Once we arrived, we headed inside and Sean told us a bit about the castle and the interesting role it played in history. Henry VIII built it in 1544 and it later became the prison of Charles I. During the Napoleonic wars the castle was modernised and then again in the 1860s when gigantic armoured wings were built. Hurst Castle has a very unique structure, boasting three lighthouses and inside you will find a lighthouse museum, an armoury exhibition spanning the era of muskets and swords and much more. Entry is £4.80 for adults and £3.00 for children however it’s free as part of the SUPPING tour.
Once inside the castle we changed out of our wetsuits and into our dry ones that had been ferried over for us. As part of the Castle tour with The New Forest Paddle Sport Company lunch is included at the Castle Café. We moseyed inside and I picked a sumptuous brie and cranberry baguette with side salad. You also get a tea or coffee included and a slice of fresh cake so I opted for the wedge of lemon drizzle and my friend for the rocky road. This is when Sean left us to explore the secrets of the castle at our leisure.
We spent a further hour and a half taking in the castle and learning about the history of it. The views were incredibly special and there’s a viewpoint where you can see the renowned Isle of Wight Needles. The area surrounding the castle is quite something too, and is a Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) because of its migratory birds, fish and rare butterflies that make it a great destination for walkers, bird watchers and anglers.
After taking in the sites and buffing up on our history we decided to head back. Included in the tour is a free ferry ride back, which takes around 10 minutes.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Castle Experience Tour courtesy of The New Forest Paddle Sport Company who have created a perfectly tailored tour. I would highly recommend it for friends, families and if you’ve got active friends it would make an awesome group trip! Milford-on-sea is a total hidden gem in itself and one of my favourite little discoveries to date. My tip would be to visit now before the droves of tourists discover it!
Things to know about the Castle Experience SUP tour:
How many: The tours can have a maximum of 6 people on them and a minimum of 2.
When: Tours run every Saturday – it’s best to book ahead.
How much: £35 for an adult and £25 for a child.
Wetsuit hire: There is no wetsuit hire available or in Milford-on-Sea. You can however buy wetsuits from The New Forest Paddle Sport Company and even the paddle boards and kayaks themselves for a discounted rate if you decide it’s your bag. But if you don’t plan on jumping in (or falling in!) then I’d recommend wearing some sports clothes and trainers which is what I wore. I only got my feet wet as you have to paddle out of the bay.
The Gems of Milford-On-Sea
A bit about the town… Milford-On-Sea is incredibly picturesque with cute cobbled streets and colourful houses. Venture along the coastline on a stroll or pop into one of the charming cafes for a bite to eat. Perhaps something stronger takes you fancy; for the best gin head to ultra swanky The Cave and indulge.
I’ll be posting how I got on and what else I discovered on my trip to the New Forest soon!
I’d love to know if you have visited and what you got up to. Does Stand-Up Paddle Boarding take your fancy?