Trees & Seas in the New Forest and Dorset Coast
As lockdown eased in England during the school summer holidays of Covid-19 pandemic, we were originally supposed to be setting off in our VW T5 campervan for ten nights in France, but the quarantine measures imposed meant that we didn't want our daughter to miss any more school time so we decided to stay in the UK. Apparently, everyone else decided to do the same as availability at campsites was scarce and many insisted that you have your own toilet and shower facilities which we do not.
After a lot of searching and many, many phone calls, we finally found availability for five nights at Green Hill Farm Holiday Village in Langham on the northern edge of the New Forest. Now, a family friendly campsite on a Holiday park is not normally top of our list, but hey, beggars can't be choosers. On arrival we were met by friendly staff all wearing masks, given a welcome pack and shown where to pitch up our campervan in the overflow camping field. We chose a camping spot in the non-electric grass field and parked up. A quick inspection of the toilets and showers was a welcome relief. Both were posh portacabin style, but very clean (in fact they were cleaned every three hours by staff during the pandemic) and the showers were lovely and hot.
As for excursions, well The New Forest is a walking or cycling paradise. A five-minute drive out of the campsite and you are into the forest with 490 square miles of ancient woodland to explore with hundreds of free parking spots allowing you to move around freely. You will no doubt encounter a free-ranging pony, donkey or cow wandering a village green or across the forest moorlands for which this region is famed. At one parking spot a pony wandered up to our van and nosed its head in our door for a snack! They are very docile however, and generally pay little or no attention to cars or pedestrians. The New Forest itself has a bevy of way-marked paths for walkers and cyclists and you could easily spend a week exploring.
We parked up at one of the many free of charge car parks in the Nomansland area of the New Forest and followed one of the waymarked cycle paths through the forest. The paths are all fire roads with hard packed gravel and there are many bike-hire businesses in the local vicinity to rent from if you haven’t bought your own. After our ride - along with many stops to build dens, climb trees and to watch the famous free-roaming horses wandering around- we finally ended our day at The Lambs Inn pub for a well earnt drink.
As for nearby excursions, Green Hill Farm Holiday Village is suitably located for quick access to Poulton’s Park, Home of Peppa Pig World, but we satisfied ourselves with a half our drive down to Hurst Castle. The castle was originally an artillery fortress built by Henry VIII in 1544 and remained in military use until 1956, playing an active role in both World Wars. The castle is built on a Solent overlooking the Isle of Wight and can be accessed by a little ferry shuttle or a walk along the ‘Needles Passage’ which can be submerged at high tide.
We opted to travel out via the Hurst Marine ferry (£5 per person adult. TIP: Go early to avoid queues as the boats can only take on 12 people) and then to walk back along the Needles Passage shingle causeway which took about forty minutes.
Tip: Stop off at the little village of Milford-on-Sea on your drive home to pick up some fresh produce for dinner or for a cold drink on the picturesque village green!
After five nights exploring The New Forest, we moved on for the second part of our holiday and continued down towards Dorset to the idyllic country village of Church Knowle for our next campsite. Here at Piggl we prefer a back to basics campsite with peaceful surroundings and easy access to outdoor activities and excursions. You won’t find Church Farm Campsite listed on any booking websites; they don’t even have their own website, but that makes this small, simple campsite even more appealing. We actually had to pick up the phone and call the host Kath to book our pitch! The campsite itself is located on a working farm and is an easy, five-minute drive into the surprisingly popular town of Corfe and a twenty-minute drive to the Dorset coast.
Church Knowle village is surrounded by the rolling Purbeck Hills with plenty of walking routes. The village itself has some charming stone houses, a small playground and playing field and most importantly The New Inn Pub which is only a two minute walk from the campsite. TIP: We recommend booking your dinner table in advance as this popular pub fills up fast.
The food menu at The New Inn is varied with plenty of fresh fish, portions sizes were generous and overall, the meal was great. The staff were also friendly, welcoming to families and were coping well with the ‘new normal’ of one-way systems and socially distanced table service. They also had a hatch out to the garden for those wanting to order food and drinks to eat in the beer garden.
Within easy reach of the campsite is the popular village of Corfe where the National Trust property, the ruins of Corfe Castle attracts busy crowds and can make driving through and parking somewhat tricky. We managed to secure a free, one-hour parking bay on the Highstreet and opted to follow a National Trust history walking path around Purbeck Hills looking in on the ruined castle instead of braving the crowds. We would recommend this common history walk to avoid the crowds and to still get a breath-taking view.
If you are a National Trust member then you can take advantage of free members parking at some of the more popular beachside carparks. We visited the sandy seaside of Studland Bay and donned our wetsuits for swimming and bodyboarding in the sea.
Alternatively, head to the abandoned Tyneham Village when you can park, explore the church and empty stone houses left by Tyneham Villagers in 1943 who had to evacuate as the military wanted to use the area for training. A short one mile walk (about 20 minutes) from the village on a waymarked gravel path leads to Worbarrow Bay - part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. The Bay is not overcrowded with visitors and is a wonderful location to swim, explore the shingle beach or to access the coastal path walks.
The next day we set out for a typical day at the seaside at Swanage. The day proved to be typically British by raining and blowing 50mph winds. Undeterred we donned our waterproofs and walked along the sandy beachfront with waves raging and salt wind blowing in our faces.
Happily, after some well-deserved fish and chips and an obligatory trip to the 2p slot machines in the arcade, the sunshine came out and we ended up stripping down to ‘pants of shame’ and swimming in the sea in our underwear in the sunshine! Swanage town allows you to park all along the seafront (pay and display parking) so we grabbed a spot for our van, slid open the side door and enjoyed chatting to passers-by with a mug of hot chocolate and occasional dips in the sea.
On our last day we wanted to go paddle boarding. We capitalised on the local knowledge of our fellow campers and drove a short distance to park at the nearby Redcliffe Farm Campsite which is situated on the edge of the River Frome and has its own private slipway for easy access onto the river. The campsite owner will drive past and charge £7 (cash only) for you to park for a day. We loaded our Red Paddleboards with a picnic and G sat on the front of one and we set off upstream. A 15-minute paddle brings you to the beautiful market town of Wareham where you’ll need to duck under some low arched bridges to carry on upriver. We carried on paddling for a couple of hours before returning to the van for a hot drink and to dry off.
And there ended our fabulous week in the New Forest and Dorset. We battled a bit of bad weather and found lots to do even though most museums and visitor attractions were closed due to the pandemic or sold out their ticket allocations already to people far more organised than us! Overall, we’d recommend this region to anyone with a campervan. If you enjoy walking, cycling or any type of water sports then this region is definitely for you and there’s no end to the fun to be had in the trees and on the seas!
We have been travelling in campervans for over 15 years, taking in the best that the UK and Europe has to offer. By sharing our adventures, insights, recommendations and reviews we hope to inspire you to explore more!
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